Volvo C30 1.6D DRIVe Review

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Volvo C30

Road Test

Volvo C30

Model/Engine size: 1.6D DRIVe SE Start/Stop

Fuel: Diesel

Fuel economy combined: 74.3 mpg

Green-Car-Guide rating: 8/10

The Volvo C30 1.6D DRIVe offers 99 g/km CO2, 74.3 mpg, refinement, individuality and, of course, safety – so if you want high miles-per-gallon, should you consider this car?

Volvo has been steadily reducing the CO2 of its models over recent years and the 99 g/km CO2 C30, part of the ‘low emission’ DRIVe range, is the latest reduced-carbon incarnation of this car.

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This diesel C30 is capable of such efficiency thanks to a number of features, including an intelligent Start/Stop system, which switches the engine off while at a standstill. Volvo’s system has an additional small battery which runs equipment such as the stereo when the car is not running, and it steps in to power the air conditioning if necessary. The standard larger battery has also been upgraded to handle up to 175,000 Start/Stop cycles.

In common with the systems of other manufacturers, the Start/Stop needs certain conditions to be in place to operate, and there are many occasions when it chooses not to cut the engine.

This technology is claimed to reduce fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions by four-to-five per cent in mixed driving conditions, and up to eight per cent in urban traffic.

Although the Start/Stop function is a key reason for the low emissions, you can actually switch the system off using the DRIVe button in the centre console.

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The C30 also has a regenerative charge facility. This charges the battery as soon as the driver releases the accelerator or brakes while a gear is engaged. By harnessing the car’s kinetic energy, the alternator doesn’t have to use diesel fuel as a power source to recharge the car’s battery. It’s claimed that this feature can result in fuel savings of between two to three per cent.

The car also benefits from improved aerodynamics. It has underbody panels, a covered grille and rear spoiler, and a rear diffuser. Front airflow deflectors have also been moulded into the body in front of the wheels to help channel airflow, and a lower, front lip spoiler has been added.

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All DRIVe models benefit from a lowered chassis – ride height has been dropped by 10mm. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but this improves fuel consumption at the same time as lowering the centre of gravity, which also improves the car’s handling.

You may notice that the C30 DRIVe model features rather flat and shiny-looking wheels, which are designed to reduce drag. Not surprisingly, these come with Michelin low rolling resistance tyres.

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Engine and gearbox management software has also been optimised for economy. The C30 has electrohydraulic steering, and low friction transmission oil has been used in the gearbox.

An addition that definitely relies on the driver to action is the Gear Shift Indicator, which suggests the optimum time to change gears and so achieve better fuel consumption.

The combination of all the above means 99 g/km CO2. So, what does this feel like?
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Volvo claims that its cars don’t have any downsides as a result of being super-efficient. The overriding feeling is that the C30 is smooth and refined. While the C30 is hardly a hot-hatch, with its 1.6-litre diesel engine and 5-speed manual gearbox, it does drive remarkably well when you bear in mind its very low emissions. The engine is generally quiet – more so than many diesels – but it doesn’t like being pushed. The refinement is only spoilt by an element of ‘transmission snatch’ in the drivetrain if you lift off the accelerator.

The C30 shares its platform with the outgoing Ford Focus, which enjoyed universal acclaim for how well it drove. But whereas the Ford was tuned on the side of sharp steering and dynamic handling, the Volvo feels more safe, solid and refined, with a comfortable ride – so living up to the sort of values you would expect from a Volvo. However there’s not much grip from the front wheels when pushed to the limit in the wet.
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The C30 is a relatively small car; sharing the same engine with its larger saloon and estate family members means that the performance feels slightly better in the C30. It only has only five gears; although third, fourth and fifth gear ratios have been increased in the interests of economy, it feels like fifth gear could benefit from even longer gearing – or that a sixth gear might be even better.

Inside the car, the dashboard is stylish and simple, with its ‘floating’ central fascia. However there are a few quirky ‘Volvo’ touches. There are small fiddly buttons at the bottom of the central fascia, behind the gear lever, such as for the air conditioning, which are difficult to reach. Our test car had sat nav, but the button for the sat nav screen was hidden behind the steering wheel.

There’s not quite enough gap between the clutch and the central transmission tunnel to rest your left foot while driving. A small, trivial thing maybe, but something that can be annoying on a day-to-day basis. And in the interests of safety, the car doesn’t like letting you into the passenger door or boot.

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Equipment levels are good, and Volvo is proud of the quality of the audio system in particular. There’s even a digital readout on the rear view mirror telling you which direction of the compass you’re heading in.

One of the biggest issues with the C30 is the space in the rear. It only has two back seats, and access to these, with the front seats that seem to slide forwards and backwards too easily, is difficult. The boot is also small, and in particular the access to it is very restricted.

This is related to the shape and the styling of the car, which is more coupé than practical hatchback, with the rear styling reminiscent of the 1970’s P1800. The overall styling, which has recently enjoyed a mid-life refresh, is one of the more youthful Volvo designs, but it may not be to everyone’s tastes.

The C30 does feel much higher quality than most other cars in this class, and it’s also likely that the reliability will be good.

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We may have left the issue of safety to the end, after all the talk about the car’s low emissions, but remember that safety is a key element of the Volvo brand. So perhaps not surprisingly, the C30 has a whole host of safety features, with Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) and Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS). It gets a five-star score in the Euro NCAP crash tests.

The C30 DRIVe range starts at £18,905 in ES spec. In SE spec, as tested, it costs £20,720. It may sound expensive compared to rivals such as the Golf, but it does have a decent basic specification.

We didn’t manage 74 mpg, but we did average 60 mpg over our test, which is impressive. Thanks to its 99 g/km CO2, Volvo is very proud that this C30 is exempt from the London Congestion Charge (as well as from road tax).

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Summary

All cars need a particular place in the market. There have been increasing numbers of green cars, but if you wanted a small green car that also stood for high standards of safety, then you may have been disappointed. Volvo is filling that niche with the C30.

The C30 1.6D DRIVe is smooth, refined, quiet, civilised, comfortable, safe, high quality, easy to drive and of course low emission. Volvo is pretty much correct when it says that the efficiency of this car doesn’t come with any compromises. The main issue with the C30 is the very small boot space, combined with the relatively high price. As a result, the C30 1.6D DRIVe gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 8 out of 10. It’s very refined and economical, but if it was more of a driver’s car and had more space in the rear, it may score more highly.

Paul Clarke

Fuel economy extra urban: 85.6 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 61.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 99 g/km
Green rating: VED band A – first year £0
Weight: 1370 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 13%
Price: £20,720 (From £16,295 to £23,290)
Insurance group: 8
Power: 107 bhp
Max speed: 118 mph
0-62mph: 11.3 seconds
DPF:  Yes

Keywords: Volvo C30 1.6D DRIVe SE Start/Stop review, Volvo C30 1.6D DRIVe SE Start/Stop road test