The Volvo C30 T5 has never gained a reputation for being a headlining hot hatch and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that it bears the name of a Swedish marque that has virtually no motorsport track record in South Africa.
When the C30 made its debut, it heralded a bold direction change for the Swedish firm. Traditionally, Volvo was a fringe manufacturer through most of the 1980s and ’90s, but under Ford’s ownership (when it formed part of the Premier Automotive Group of brands) the Swedish firm decided to, inter alia, extend its reach into the luxury hatchback market, that’s how the C30 came into being…
It is a funky little car that, stylistically at least, took a big step away from the conservatism that Volvo is known for, but the punchy T5 offers the biggest smile per mile factor by a long way. Considering my affinity for fast hatchbacks it is unsurprising that I would opt for the Golf GTI-rivalling range leader if I had to pick one C30 model.
The C30 T5 rides on the same platform as the highly acclaimed older generation Ford Focus. That is to say it has independent suspension on both ends – MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at rear. However, on the R-design model the suspension has received a major revision. Shorter springs offer a lower ride height, uprated mono-tube dampers are suited to match and stiffer anti-roll bars have been fitted to quell body roll. Volvo engineers went one better and reduced the steering ratio and mounted the steering rack sub-frame on stiffer bushes for more precise driver inputs and feedback.
The result of the changes can really be felt through the steering and platform as the R-design model can really be flung around with more ease and confidence than earlier cars without the sportier set-up. There’s still more body roll on turn in than one might expect from the most hardcore of hot hatches, but despite the suspension mods the C30’s ride quality is still quite comfortable and composed in everyday driving conditions – a trait that many testers liked.
More significant than the R-design upgrades that any T5 buyer is privy to, is that the test car delivered to us had a Polestar ECU upgrade. Polestar is Volvo Cars’s official racing and performance partner. Not only does the firm develop and run Volvo’s entries in the Swedish and Scandinavian Touring Car Championships, but Polestar offers power upgrades for Volvo road cars in several markets – including the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Poland, Finland and China – and South Africa has just been added to that list.
In standard form the T5 has an in-line, turbocharged five cylinder that produces 169 kW and 320 N.m of torque at a low 1 500 r/min. Thanks to the Polestar mod, this particular R-Design produces 184 kW at 5 500 r/min and 370 N.m at 3 000. In CAR’s zero-to-100 km/h sprint test of this unit there wasn’t a significant time gain when compared with a T5 model tested a few years ago. Subjectively, however, there are differences, such as noticeably more in-gear urge especially through the mid- and high engine speed range. And then there’s that distinctive off-beat warble from the five-pot too.
The refreshed C30 is a known quantity now, but while there’s a lull in the market before the introduction of hot Ford Focus or BMW 1 Series models, the Audi A3 is on run-out and products such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Alfa Romeo Guilietta QV seem “a bit pap” considering the T5’s outputs, this model makes a good case for itself. It will appeal to those who want individuality and performance, but don’t want to shout about it… Worth a look.
Price: R336 400 (excluding Polestar ECU upgrade for approx. R10 000, available Q2 2012)
Engine: 2,5-litre in-line five cylinder
Power: 184 kW at 5 500 r/min
Torque: 370 Nm at 3 000 r/min
Acceleration: 0-100 km/h in 7,47 secs
CAR fuel index: 10,44 litres/100 km