Test Drive: 2011 Volvo C30 T5

By Kevin Harrison

Have you ever seen a flock of seagulls fight each other for a piece of bread crumb? Or if you don’t live on a coast, have you ever seen a flock of any-birds fight for a piece of bread crumb? There’s always that one lone bird that fights his way in there only to come up short. And then you end up feeling a bit bad for him because he worked so hard to get a measly morsel of someone else’s discarded lunch but the other seagulls were just more aggressive and driven to get that food.

Volvo is a bit like that bird that tried to get in but didn’t quite make it. It’s not as if they’re not trying, every single model in their lineup is now quite attractive, offers exceptional performance, plus boat loads of safety and luxury. Yet their sales numbers have not seen a whole lot of improvement. Volvo doesn’t usually get mentioned in the same sentence as BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz – the big seagulls that always get the bread crumbs.

The C30 is meant to help lure people into the brand and is marketed as a sporty alternative to the BMW 1-series, Audi A3 and Lexus CT200h. Has it got what it takes to grab a piece of the proverbial bread crumb?

The C30 was initially introduced back in 2007. The styling paid homage to the P1800ES – a hatchback from the 70’s that gained unique style from it’s glass hatchback. The C30 has the same rear end design complete with the glass hatch. In fact, the look of the C30’s rear is probably its best side. The long rear lights typical of Volvo wagons/SUV’s makes it completely recognizable as a Volvo all while the slanted forward glass hatch, large bumper, and short overhang give it a unique look from the rest of the family. Dual exhausts and a roof spoiler lets everyone know that the C30 means business. For 2011 the front facia is completely new and now works a lot better with the rear end styling. The side profile is also unique. Combined with aggressive alloys, the overall look gives the C30 a lot of road presence.

For 2011 the base 2.4i model has been dropped. The only model now available is the T5 which means a turbocharged 5-cylinder. Volvo has been using T5 engines ever since the 90’s and while it’s a unique engine, it works out quite well. It produces 227 horsepower and 236 pound feet of torque. It will go from 0-100 in 7.1 seconds with an automatic transmission or 6.7 seconds if you opt for the optional 6-speed close ratio manual transmission. If you choose the latter, which you really should, you’ll more than likely have to special order it. Apparently Volvo doesn’t sell many manual transmission vehicles period. In fact they account for less than 10% of their overall sales and that number is probably less now since the S40, V50 and new S60 don’t offer them anymore. The C30 is the only Volvo you can currently buy with a manual transmission. Anyway, if that 0-100 time seems sluggish for a small car with 227 horses the reason why is due to the C30’s weight. It’s quite heavy because, being a Volvo, it is jammed full of safety technology. This is good if you ever get T-boned by a Hummer, but not so great for fuel efficiency and performance.

As a result, acceleration is a bit interesting. The numbers on paper make it seem a bit slow and when you first get in and drive the C30 T5, the numbers seem accurate. However once you drive it a bit longer, the C30 actually ends up feeling faster than when you first got in. This sensation is surely driven (excuse the pun) by tire squealing every time you stomp your right foot down, even with the traction control on and even in my tester’s 5-speed automatic. The good news is, torque steer has no home here and neither does turbo lag. When you put the power down, it’s there and ready to go. Gear shifts in auto mode are a bit schizophrenic, as if it’s changing it’s mind when you stomp on the throttle. It can’t quite decide which gear is the best to be in for the amount of power you desire. Sometimes it switches between gears so fast that it feels like it’s a diesel engine set up. This problem is easily fixed in manual mode, and fixed even better with the 6-speed I would imagine, since you can get it to its 7,500 rpm red line much easier.

When the C30 is not being pushed hard, it feels like the base 2.4i used to feel like: comfortable & quiet – a real pleasure to drive. Only stomping on the throttle awakens the turbo and the C30 becomes a different animal.

Handling is good, but the C30 is outdone a bit by its competitors here. It feels sure-footed and stable, but it’s almost as though the C30 is working hard to achieve those results where it just comes more naturally to, say, the BMW 1-series. With that said, the C30 does not disappoint for thrills when pushed to the limit, it just feels as though it could be a bit tighter. It’s almost like going to Subway then realizing halfway through that they’re out of pickles. The sub will still end up tasting good, but you know if could have been a bit better with the pickles.

The interior is excellent with quality materials, good ergonomics and a unique overall design. The “waterfall” centre stack looks cool and allows for storage space in behind. My only real gripe is that the steering wheel felt a little too big, as if it was taken from a bus or something. But the interior of the C30 is a very nice place to be. Being a 4-seater, rear space isn’t exactly plentiful but four adults could definitely be comfortable for shorter trips, especially since the rear passengers get bucket seats like the front passengers do. And my goodness are the seats ever comfortable. Orange stitching around the seats help give liven up the interior a bit with a more sporty look. As comfortable as they are, though, they could use a bit more side bolstering for aggressive driving. Volvo would be well advised to offer some sort of sport seat option in the C30.

The rear hatch won’t give you insane amounts of cargo room, but it is quite adequate for every day driving, especially with the rear seats folded down. Watch when loading and unloading objects however. The unique rear design means it’s pretty easy to accidentally scratch the paint of the rear bumper.

So then, I’d say the C30 is a very good car completely worthy of your consideration. It is, however, that lone seagull that couldn’t quite get at the crumb of bread in terms of performance; it is outdone by its competitors (if only slightly). But maybe it’s being stacked up against the wrong competitors. Volvo very much wants it to compete with premium German cars, however with the C30 T5’s relative low starting price and decent power, it seems to be more of a Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed3, Mini Cooper S and Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback competitor. And when it’s stacked up against that lineup, it very much is the seagull that was able to get the bread crumb. It is an excellent, comfortable daily driver that can offer up satisfying doses of performance should the mood strike you.

Do yourself a favour and put the C30 T5 on your shopping list if you want a good looking, comfortable daily driver with a light under its bushel.

Base Price: $30,995


  • Eye-catching exterior styling
  • Excellent interior layout/quality materials
  • Very comfortable seats
  • Decent performance when desired
  • Virtually no torque steer/lag
  • Low starting price
  • Standard safety features galore


  • Rear seat room is tight
  • Big steering wheel
  • Inconsistent automatic
  • No sport seats available

Overall: 8.5/10

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2 Responses to "Test Drive: 2011 Volvo C30 T5"

  1. I agree, I think the C30 is more of a GTI competitor. When stacked up against that competition the C30 is definitely near the top.

  2. I’ve always wanted a hatchback but one with a bit more class. I think the C30 looks like the right choice.And thanks for sharing the interior shot- I hadn’t really gotten a good look at it before. I was just reading on the Bob Penkhus Motors blog about the C30 and now I’d really like to check one out based on these reviews.

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