A halo car is an automaker's most desirable model. It's meant to bring new customers into dealerships with the hope that they'll buy another car in the lineup. It's often a test bed for performance technology, and it's usually inserted at the top of the company's lineup. A halo car shows what a company is capable of, and it can change an automaker's overall reputation.
With the release of the 2008 Volvo C30, Volvo is offering what one company executive calls a reverse halo car. Although this two-door hatchback comes in at the bottom of Volvo's lineup, Volvo hopes it can bring new people into its dealerships and give the company a sportier reputation.
The C30 is a new model for Volvo, but it shares most of its mechanicals with Volvo's compact S40 sedan and V50 wagon. While similar to these cars, the C30 has considerably less standard equipment, allowing Volvo to make it its lowest priced car.
That value pricing doesn't make the C30 a typical economy car, though. Instead it's more similar to the Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI class of sporty hatchbacks, a fun-to-drive car aimed at younger buyers.
And fun to drive it is: The C30 is Volvo's best handling car. It has good steering feel, stays flat in corners, and is nimble enough to slice through traffic. The 227-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine provides plenty of punch to keep the fun coming. Ride quality is generally good, though it can become a little hard with the available 18-inch wheels.
Inside, the C30 offers a pleasant, fairly roomy cabin for four. The standard cloth upholstery is a unique fabric that resembles wetsuit material. Room up front is plentiful, and the controls are easy to spot and use. The two-door body style makes getting into the backseat a bit of a hassle, but the rear seat is comfortable for two passengers, provided they're not NBA players. Those rear seats fold down to create a large rear hatch area with lots of carrying capacity.
As Volvo's lowest priced car, the C30 is a bit raw. The five-cylinder engine is powerful, but makes coarse sounds. The cabin isn't as well insulated from exterior sounds as other Volvos. Road noise is especially noticeable on rough pavement, a problem exacerbated by the open hatchback body style.
Overall, the Volvo C30 is good looking, fun to drive, and offers the easily accessible cargo utility of a hatchback. Volvo's value pricing makes it affordable, but it also means that the standard equipment list is light (cruise control isn't standard). Volvo offers numerous Custom Build Options, so buyers can personalize their C30s, much like the Mini Cooper. With a few well-chosen options, the C30 can be a fine choice.
The 2008 Volvo C30 is offered in two trim levels, both with front-wheel drive and a 227-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is a $1250 option.
The C30 1.0 ($22,700) comes standard with cloth upholstery; air conditioning; keyless entry; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; height-adjustable manual driver's seat; outside temperature display; power windows, locks and mirrors; 50/50 split-folding rear seat; 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with eight speakers and MP3 player connectivity; and 205/50R17 all-season tires on alloy wheels. Options include the automatic transmission, sunroof ($1,200), leather seating surfaces ($1,200), and Sirius satellite radio ($625). The Climate Package ($675) includes heated front seats, headlight washers and rain-sensing wipers.
The C30 2.0 ($25,700) adds painted wheel flares, side skirts, and spoiler; 215/45R18 summer performance tires; a 650-watt Alpine stereo with Sirius satellite radio with six-month subscription and 10 Dynaudio speakers; sport suspension; and aluminum dash inlays. In addition to the 1.0's options, the 2.0 offers a power driver's seat ($450), a DVD-based navigation system ($2,120), and all-season tires on 17-inch alloy wheels (no cost).
Volvo encourages customers to personalize their C30s by offering several Custom Build Options. There is a one-time $300 charge for any car ordered with one or more Custom Build Options. These items include cruise control ($185), fog lights ($295), trip computer ($100), bi-xenon headlights with washers ($700), heated front seats ($450), power-retractable rear-view mirrors with puddle lamps ($250), alarm ($200), automatic climate control ($250), keyless starting ($450), power driver's seat ($450), power driver and passenger seat ($900), the Alpine/Dynaudio stereo ($800), interior air filter ($200), Homelink universal garage door opener ($225), and auto-dimming rear-view mirror ($150).
Safety features include the mandated dual front airbags plus side-curtain airbags for head protection, and side-impact airbags for torso protection. Active safety features consist of anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control (ESC), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Rear obstacle detection is a $400 option and Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is a $695 option. Both are part of the Custom Build Options list.