Volvo, looking to offer an affordable car to the U.S. market, rejuvenates a model from the past with the 2008 Volvo C30. This new small car borrows much from the Volvo P1800ES, produced from 1972 to 1973, down to the shape of the back glass. Similar to the Mini Cooper, the C30 represents a very attractive modern take on a classic design.
The C30 is a classic hatchback, with two long doors allowing access to the backseats. These seats fold down to maximize cargo area. Like the old P1800ES, the C30's hatchback is all glass. Its styling is superb, with a softly curved front end and a belt line that stretches back across haunch-like rear fenders. Those rear fenders give the back a wide stance, giving the C30 a sporty look.
Volvo also jumps on the trend to offer personalization with the C30, similar to the Mini Cooper and the Scion xB. Volvo claims that more than 5 million configurations can be derived from the C30's customization options. Amongst its accessories, you can get many youth-oriented touches such as bicycle, snowboard, and surfboard racks. Volvo even offers a walnut steering wheel for the sports car purist.
Test the tech: Surrounded by sound
The Volvo C30 is available in two trim levels, Version 1.0 and Version 2.0 (names obviously come up by marketers with no knowledge of software development). Version 2.0 comes standard with a Dynaudio premium audio system, pumping 650 watts through 10 speakers. This system has Dolby Pro-Logic II surround sound and lets you fine-tune it with forward and rear 5 band graphic equalizers.
Normally, we would expect to be impressed by an audio system of this caliber, but when we tested the Volvo S80 with a similar system, we found that backseat occupants didn't get to enjoy the audio. With the C30, we did a simple test to determine whether the back seat would benefit from this system by using a sound meter to check the decibels in the front and back seats.
Beyond the graphic equalizers, this audio system lets you further tweak it by turning the surround sound from minimum to maximum. In normal driving, we found the maximum surround setting to deliver superb audio, with a really immersive experience. Running the dial up from minimum to maximum surround creates a dramatic difference, causing incredible separation. We really like the way different instruments seem to come from all around, with exceptional clarity and a seamless transition in emphasis around the cabin.
For our quantitative testing, we played a section from the Gorillaz Demon Days CD at half volume. We measured the decibels in the front and back seats, with surround at full and at minimum. With full surround, we got an even decibel measurement of 78 in front and back. With surround off, we saw a 5 decibel difference, with 80 in front and 75 in back. We tried the same test with a steady tone, this time getting 83 decibels in front and 82 in back, with surround on full. With surround off, we got 85 decibels in front and 83 in back.
From these results, and our own qualitative testing, we found that the backseat isn't left out in the surround-sound experience, as it was in the Volvo S80. The even decibel ratings in our music test shows that the maximum surround setting spread the audio out evenly through the cabin. The steady tone test showed less variance, but this test is less realistic as it only used the higher frequencies, and nobody drives around listening to a steady tone.
In the cabin
The interior of the Volvo C30 is well-designed and built, and we particularly like the floating stack, a panel holding audio and climate controls mounted in the center of the dashboard. This panel also has a keypad, which only served to call up radio station presets in our test car. However, if you get the Bluetooth hands-free cell phone option, you can use the keypad to dial phone numbers. The steering wheel is satisfyingly thick, and has audio and cruise controls mounted on its spokes.
There's very little difference between the Version 1.0 and Version 2.0 trim levels, except for the sound system. As we mentioned above, the premium sound system uses Dynaudio speakers and has superb surround sound. We did notice one problem with the audio, which might have been a glitch in our test car: We heard bass pops from the front tweeters. We heard it most while playing a White Stripes disc, so you might want to bring similar music along to the showroom.