2012 Volvo C30 DRIVe two-door four-seat hatch 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, six-speed manual transmission, 84kW/270Nm: $36,150 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
It might be one of the ‘greenest’ cars on the planet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun behind the wheel of the Volvo C30 DRIVe.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a Volvo connoisseur for years. Ever since I had a bit of a go in the factory tuned 850R back in the days when Volvo drivers were supposed to be painfully slow and a major facilitator of the modern-day road rage phenomena. The 850R was still one of those ‘boxy’ Volvos, but by gees, did it hammer along.
It seems our rather over-enthusiastic test drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 850R would have a life-long impact (in a totally positive sense) on those with good enough eyesight to see a pale yellow blur as it flew past them. Certainly it changed my opinion of what I previously considered to be nothing more than a Swedish-built safety device.
Contrary to popular opinion though, Volvos have always had a rather sporty engine note and performance overall has been better than the general perception. They’ve also always represented Euro luxury at a bargain price, and that’s still the case in several automotive categories.
The Volvo ‘R’ cars were another breed of Volvo altogether though. These were bona fide high performance machines that were held in high regard by car enthusiasts all over the world. Certainly my test drive of a V70 R wagon several years later, was considerably more fun that I ever anticipated. This was a seriously potent family wagon that offered race car-like performance and ride, but with a price tag of just on $100,000, it was only ever enjoyed by cashed-up management types and dentists.
The Volvo C30 T5 is another Volvo with a performance skew. It’s also one of the coolest hatches on the market with an unusual design inspired by the world’s first sports wagon: the Volvo 1800ES.
With its five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine developing 169kW and 320Nm from 1500-5000rpm, this thing gets along just fine and can cover the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.7 seconds.
The Volvo C30 DRIVe is another kind of C30 and although it isn’t going to break any land-speed records in the open category, it does offer surprisingly strong in-gear acceleration across the ratio range, provided the rev counter is anywhere north of the 1750rpm mark.
You would be forgiven for thinking this DRIVe variant of Volvo’s C30 line-up meant ‘e’ for electric, or at the very least, a hybrid of sorts. The fact is it is neither. The DRIVe is powered by a small displacement 1.6-litre diesel engine with start/stop technology and a diesel particulate filter.
Unlike the hotter C30 T5 turbo petrol variants, the DRIVe is all about delivering ultra low fuel consumption - and it delivers in spades. Moreover, this just-released 2012 model does so without the need to sacrifice those creature comforts that you expect from this marque.
Standard kit includes rear park assist, auto-dim rear-view mirror, cruise control, audio streaming and Bluetooth phone connectivity, LED daytime running lights, and USB input for iPod connectivity on top of an already extensive inventory of premium features, too many to list in this space.
Volvo’s now standard eight-speaker High Performance Sound is simply brilliant and far better than many optional audio systems in other premium cars. With a sound system this good, you won’t mind the peak hour crawl, at least occasionally.
It’s not just the obvious kit either. There are features such as power windows, electronic climate control with pollen filter, sports leather steering wheel with tilt and reach adjustability, as well as real aluminium inlays and leather accents on the gear knob and handbrake lever.
Even the plastics and soft material on the dash are of a premium quality and nicer to touch than what you’ll find in the very best of Japanese-built cars. The trademark Volvo floating console still looks seriously cool and all the switchgear is nice and tactile and mostly well laid out.
What the Volvo C30 DRIVe misses out on is leather upholstery, and Volvo does leather better than most. You can of course upgrade for $2500, but frankly, I found the fabric seats more than comfortable, especially on cold winter mornings.
There’s no proximity key with this model either, that’s a $700 option across the model range, but the key fob is ultra lightweight and for those that like to surf or dive, you can slide out a tiny aluminium key from the fob that will slide into your leg rope or wetsuit pocket and leave the main body of the key in the car, without worrying about the possibility of thieves looking for an easy score.
Satellite navigation is also an expensive option across the model range and Volvo would probably do well to look at a less expensive alternative in the near future given the inexpensive cost of some very good portable units these days.
The Volvo C30 uses a four-seat architecture, which means plenty of room for four adult passengers, despite the tapered roofline to the rear of the car.
Without the burden of a fifth passenger that also means a tonne of luggage space behind the rear seats. Fold them almost flat though, and there’s no reason why you can’t use it as a small station wagon. It's also got one of the lightest tailgates in the business, which opens and lifts with fingertip pressure and presents the perfect load height when you're struggling with multiple grocery bags.
Styling-wise the Volvo C30 DRIVe is slightly different to rest of the model line up, with certain aerodynamic additions needed to reduce drag and thereby reduce fuel consumption to below 4.0L/km. For example, the chassis height has been lowered by 10mm and wind-deflecting wheels that are shod with low-rolling-resistance tyres are fitted.
The latest DRIVe model also gets a six-speed gearbox, which replaces the older five-speed unit for a more efficient spread of ratios and better all-round performance.
Turn the key, which Volvo mounts on the left-hand side of the steering column (it’s a safety thing) and the turbo-diesel kicks over in a split second. It’s got that diesel clatter all right, but inside the cabin it’s very well muted and indiscernible when you're punching along in fourth enjoying your favourite tracks streaming from your iPhone.
The manual shifter is silky smooth and it’s a relatively short-throw gearbox. There’s heaps of low down torque in every forward gear ratio, with third being especially versatile. We didn’t do many highway kilometres and thus, rarely ever got into sixth, as it’s a reasonably tall ratio and more suited for sustained long distance travel.
With 270Nm coming on song from 1750rpm and a light and easy gearbox, you can drive this so called eco-mobile with more spirit than you can believe. In fact, it’s a lot of fun and dead easy to drive. The only issue that really annoyed me was the lack of any Hill Start Assist feature on the car for easy starts when you’re on a steep incline. That situation was accentuated somewhat, due to our test car having a late clutch take up. To be fair though, that may have been wear and tear from previous drivers.
Start/Stop technology plays a significant role in the quest for ultra-low fuel consumption in the Volvo C30 DRIVe. From the moment you crank over the diesel, the start/stop function is automatically engaged, which means that whenever you come to a full stop and put the car in neutral with your foot on the brake, the engine will cease to run. It will seamlessly kick over again from the very instant that you depress the clutch, allowing for completely smooth getaway.
It’s a little strange, if not irritating at first, but within a day or two it won’t bother you. You can always switch it off via the small ‘DRIVe’ button near the hand brake, but it will automatically engage when you start the car again.
Dynamically, the Volvo C30 DRIVe is as good in the handling department as any other C30, which by any standard is excellent. Weighing in at a lightweight 1327kg, there’s little if any body roll on turn-in, and more than that - the car feels positively planted at speed.
If you want further improved performance in the bends you can choose to option the Sports Chassis for an extra $800. That will add stiffer springs, firmer shocks and stiffer stabiliser bars, but go ahead and take it for a test drive before you make that decision, because I feel it may not be necessary.
The Volvo C30 DRIVe is fitted with a superb sports leather steering wheel that feels more like that from a BMW, although not quite as chunky. The steering feel is first-class, with plenty of weight from dead centre and a good deal of accuracy from the electro-hydraulic system.
The low-resistance tyres are less comfortable than even the lower-profile rubber on the T5 R-Design but there is no question that they help in reducing fuel consumption.
Not once did we get to drive Volvo C30 DRIVe as the factory intended it to be driven. We were having way too much fun to attempt to be frugal. We drove it as we would a hot hatch all week and still managed 5.1L/100km.
Don’t let the published 0-100km/h sprint time of 11.3 seconds bother you if you’re looking at a acquiring a stylish euro - it’s just not an issue. The Volvo C30 DRIVe is one of those cars that if I didn’t have to return it after a week, I’d be quite happy to have it in my garage permanently, perhaps not in this colour though.
We’re also pretty certain that on a good long trip with plenty of highway kilometres, we could easily better the combined fuel consumption figure of 3.9km/100km for the Volvo C30 DRIVe, and will attempt to do so later in the year.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned safety once in an entire Volvo review, it's because you already know the story. It’s a Volvo and it’s all here: ABS EBD, EBA, EBL, DTSC, IDIS, WHIPS and six airbags. You can also get the optional BLISS (Blind Spot Information System) for $1275 and it’s well worth it.