Volvo C30 T5 R-Design full review

THE C30 T5 R-design looks fantastic, simple as that. Everywhere it goes it gets that extra glance. You can feel from inside the cabin that as you drive by, people stop what they’re doing to catch a glimpse of something they can’t quite put their finger on. Then their eyes fixate on the male gender symbol with the diagonal strikethrough line on the grille. And you can almost see what’s running through their minds: slight confusion as they try to comprehend whether they’re supposed to like something from the stereotypical box-maker or if someone’s gone way left field and based their tuning company around the Volvo brand.

What you should do is simply hit the like button in your brain and find out more about this stunning hatchback. Here’s the lowdown on what the C30 R-design is all about. The body has had some minor facial reconstruction so that the headlights now curl around the side of the bonnet and towards the wheel arches. That’s it, really. Most of the key changes are in the handling and steering department. On this, the R-design derivative, the springs have been stiffened up and the dampers adapted to optimise cornering ability. These changes all form part of the ‘dynamic’ chassis package along with a lower steering ratio which quickens direction changes and response time. Inside it’s the same combination of leather and something that looks like aluminium but has a warmer touch. All Volvo owners will be able to find the familiar buttons blindfolded, or at least adapt to any minor changes without hassle.

Any performance upgrades? The Volvo uses the same five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged motor that is so effective in the Ford Focus ST. In the previous generation C30 the engine didn’t seem to take on the same exciting and vigorous form that it did in the ST, and this translated into a very mild 8.24 second drag to 100kph for the C30. The ST was a second faster. The new evolution of the C30 with its suspension mods has closed that gap considerably, so much so that the two cars are now almost identical. The C30 we tested reached 100kph in 7.18 seconds, a vast improvement. This makes quite a big difference in the average hot hatch buyer’s life, I feel. Hot hatches are made to look racy, beefed up on big wheels and accentuated wheel arches. The battle for the top step of the hot hatch podium has been a constant see-saw battle between Ford, VW and Renault, with the likes of Mazda and Opel hot on their heels. Volvo has never really looked at this as an area to make its mark, and the first generation C30 felt more like a dabble into foreign waters from the Swedish manufacturer than any kind of full assault on the hot hatch world.

The new C30 makes more of an effort to catch up to the rest of the market by modifying the original C30’s weak points – handling and excitement. The suspension is better and the steering faster, and this makes a difference to straight-line performance. But what about when the road isn’t exactly straight? Can it match its competitors there?

The short answer is no. It’s definitely better, however, and that makes a difference. At least now the C30 range can be considered in the hot hatch debate, whereas before it was a forgotten name. The chassis on its own is good. It sits firmly in the corners and feels compliant as you swoop through the bends. The sharper steering is where the let down comes in. It’s fine for town driving when no real feedback is necessary through the wheel but when you want to open up the pipes and clear the throat, it’s nice to know that you and the wheel can work out an understanding whereby it tells you what the wheels are doing and you riposte with an input of some sort. Sad to say it just feels numb compared to the top-tier hatches.

The reason I say the Volvo can now mix it up with the big boys is that none of the others have the looks to match the C30. Hot hatch scoring as I see it is split 50/50 between looks and performance. The Volvo scores very high in the looks department and moderately well in the performance section. Added up it leaves it in the top bracket. You may not be the fastest to get everywhere and the thrill seeker inside you may be left a little short, but upon arrival all that fades away as you close the door and walk away from the best looking car in the segment. And yes Scirocco, you’re included in that.

Should you go out to your nearest Volvo and buy a C30 R-design? Why not, the other hatches are all too common on the road anyway and Volvo will always offer something unique and distinctively different. You may want to hold on until a little later in the year before parting with your hard earned R341 000 though. A familiar name is poised to take back its crown at the top of the hot hatch fray, and that’s the Renault Megane Sport. As you’ve no doubt read, Renault’s sports hatches are always brilliant and the new one looks a stunner. But if you look at the Renault and still want the Volvo, fair enough.