- Distinct Volvo retro P-1800 styling
- Responsive low-end torque
- Fun-to-drive 6-speed manual
- Black alloy wheels provide a mean sporty look
- High-end power a bit lacking
- MPG doesn’t meet expectations
- Limited cargo space
Nowadays it seems like every major manufacturer has a compact hatchback offering on the market, what with oil prices still sky high and the Federal government increasing corporate CAFE standards. Apart from a few distinct models such as the MINI Cooper and the Fiat 500, most of these hatches look very much alike. But those cars are a dime a dozen, especially if you live on the coasts.
Sure, the VW GTI offers a spirited drive, but the styling doesn’t exactly call attention to itself in a crowd. If you’re into something more distinct yet less flashy, then a Volvo C30 is worth considering. It features a very unique rear hatch glass that stretches all the way down to the rear bumper, affording great visibility when you back up and a retro nod to the even-more unique Volvo P-1800.
If you’re into a bit more spirited driving, then you should consider a C30 T5 R-Design. Although the C30 doesn’t appear as streamlined as the P-1800, the R-Design edition adds a body kit to make up for that.
Want a Volvo C30 that’s truly distinct? Then go for a C30 T5 R-Design Polestar limited edition. There are only 250 in this world. It uses the same turbo 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine but with 23 additional horses squeezed out of it and the ride is tightened down even further. OK, so it’s a little flashier than the standard C30, but it’s extremely rare.
On paper, the C30 R-Design Polestar edition looks super fast. So I had fairly high expectations as I walked up to the tester. Seeing the Rebel Blue hot hatch in person reminds one that this is no ordinary C30. The Polestar C30 R-Design looks sporty on the outside with its black alloy wheels and R-Design body kit with a kickin’ R-Design grille, front spoiler, and rear decklid spoiler.
The theme carries to the interior of the C30 as well, with split leather/Flextech upholstery and aluminum accent pedals. The C30 looks fast, but when I fired up the T5 and threw the transmission into first gear, I was somewhat taken aback when I floored the gas pedal. Don’t get me wrong; the R-Design Polestar C30 was quick, with plenty of low-end torque delivered starting at 1,500 RPM. It just wasn’t that quick off the line. The Swedish compact was respectable but won’t win you any drag races. But then I took the C30 onto the freeway and accelerated while shifting all the way to 6th gear, and a smile began to form on my face. The gearbox is smooth, and the power delivery out of the turbo five cylinders was silky.
Then I steered the C30 off the freeway and onto the curvy bends of Highway 17 up the Santa Cruz Mountains near the eBay office. My smile became wider. The R-Design Polestar edition means the car was tuned to be more reminiscent of the rally edition Volvo and features tighter suspensions and a quicker turn-in ratio. Yes, the C30 is front wheel drive and torque steer is evident, but it handled confidently around the curves and went where I pointed the nose. I loved turning out from the office parking lot in the C30, squealing the tires and feeling the traction control kicking in.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The C30 features a classic Volvo interior that’s very Scandinavian in philosophy. It is very functional, with easy to reach controls and big graphic icons that were easy to learn. Clean lines and clutter-free expanses are the overarching theme. Yet the interior is also luxurious. The leather surfaces feel rich to the touch and tightly stretched on the seats. The plastics also exude quality. The seats are very supportive as in other Volvos I’ve driven before, and visibility was fantastic with an expansive greenhouse that wraps around the car. Functional luxury, if I have to coin a term for it.
The only part of the C30 interior that I found intriguing was the flip-up navigation LCD screen that comes with its own remote control that’s stored in the center armrest. I couldn’t figure out a way to open it up without fumbling for the remote and pushing the button. Feels like an afterthought.
What others are saying about the Volvo C30?
What a sublime ride. The torque plateau goes from 1500 rpm all the way to 5000, which makes this supremely satisfying to drive on the street. It’s not necessary to rev the bejesus out of it to enjoy the drive. The five-cylinder turbo engine gives the smoothest power delivery I’ve felt in some time—not peaky, not harsh, just a constant supply of power no matter what revs. It’s very satisfying.
When you’re taking it easy, this C30 is also quiet as a polite dinner crowd after a tasteless joke. It also returns great gas mileage for the performance, averaging 27 mpg under our use. I love the blue color, and I think it’s a fine alternative to the look-at-me boy racers. In that same regard, the engine is also a bit too quiet. If you buy one, open the intake just a bit so you can hear that mean five-pot and its compressor a little better.
It’s a very torquey unit, with plenty of low-down grunt, which is perfect for squirting through city streets. It also offers a glorious howl of a soundtrack once you get it jogging.
The best way to sum it up is to call it a mad little car. It’s got the unassuming personality yet it’s capable of tearing your hair out if you stir its emotions. And on that ‘sleeper’ merit, it’s well worth looking into if you’re in the market for a cool hot hatch.
The good: The 2.5-liter turbocharged engine gets a horsepower and torque bump with the 2013 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design’s Polestar limited-edition package. Audio quality from the premium stereo system is quite good.
The bad: The handling of this performance variant isn’t as sharp as I’d like. The navigation system and infotainment interface are complex and frustrating to use.
The bottom line: The 2013 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design is a fun and stylish little hatchback in its own right, but the performance, tech, and value of this Polestar limited edition all fall short of the competition.
Apart From the Crowd
The C30 has been around for a few model years now but the distinctive design is still fresh. The rear end of the hatch is definitely the winning focus of the car and will be key to making this car unique as the P-1800 still is to this day. It is almost equally rare to spot a C30 hatch as it is to find a P-1800, so you’ll never have trouble locating your car in the Walmart Wholefoods parking lot.
In addition to distinct looks, the C30 R-Design also affords fun and spirited driving around town, in the hills, and on the highway. It is a luxury car and has the price to match, starting at just under $28,000 and quickly climbs to over $35,000 MSRP with the R-Design Polestar package and the Platinum option package that includes navigation and a glass sunroof.
One certainly has lots of options these days in that price range especially for a hot hatch, but none is as uniquely quirky as the Volvo C30 R-Design. Polestar edition or not.
2013 Volvo C30 T5 M R-Design Polestar Limited Edition
- Engine: 2.5L DOHC I5
- Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5000 rpm
- Torque: 273 ft-lbs. @ 1500 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Drivetrain Layout: front engine, front wheel drive
- Suspension: struts w/anti-roll bar front, multi-link w/ coil springs and anti-roll bar rear
- Fuel Economy: 21 city / 29 hwy mpg
- Price as tested: $35,545