Volvo C30 1.6 DRIVe (2010) long-term test review

Published: 06 January 2011

Volvo C30 goodbye – 6 January 2011

I was sad to see our Volvo C30 1.6 DRIVe go in the end. A car that once had me frowning ended up putting a big smile on my face. Why? Because the C30 does everything it needs to do, eats up motorways with ease and comfort – and proved that a modern diesel is an equal to the current crop of hybrids.

Fuel consumption was really good in the end. We averaged 53.3mpg over half a year with the car – not quite its 74.3mpg claim, but then we rarely match the official figures. Nonetheless, we reckon an average of nearly 55mpg in a peppy mid-sized hatch is good. If I were still running the C30 on CAR’s long-term test fleet, I’d certainly see a few more pounds in my pocket with the current VAT rise.

Ours had the upgraded Volvo stereo and this proved very useful on a long motorway journey. And not just the British motorways – it performed pretty well on the autobahns in Germany too earlier in the year.

I had the C30 DRIVe version and would recommend the 1.6 derv over the musclier 2.0 D. It saved me money and still gives a pretty darn good performance.

It even shone on a track afternoon at Bruntingthorpe, paying testament to those Focus-related underpinnings. It wasn’t just me behind the wheel – the more ruthless Ben Barry had a go too and reported a tidy-handling chassis. So the 53.3mpg actually isn’t looking so bad now.

Our C30 had a lot of extras on it. Many of them I wouldn’t recommend, but keyless entry is brilliant and makes a small but marked change each and every day. The sat-nav took some getting used to, but made getting around Germany earlier in the year much easier.

Downfalls? There weren’t many. We all found first gear reluctant to pull away easily, while second proved too high. A classic eco-car with high gearing to ease those economy figures. Shifting the front seats for rear passengers to get in and out proved tricky. And I really can’t think of anything else.

Perhaps I’d spec a more sober white or black next time; the burnt orange was not really my style. Would I buy one, if the funds weren’t an issue? Yes I would.

Sealing the deal – 7 October 2010

Here’s a curious aside on the Volvo C30, and indeed every current Volvo in the range. A few months ago I spent a morning with the bungee-corded Volvo design director, Peter Horbury – he who came and shaped modern Volvo then left for a big job in Ford America and has now returned to Sweden.

He told me a little snippet about the HVAC controls (that’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning to you and me) in Volvos. You see the clever, graphical picture on the climate control buttons? A simple illustration of the human body, allowing you to direct air to your nether regions or the windscreen. Works a treat.

Problem is, Horbury told me they refer to it internally as a seal balancing a ball on its nose. I drove our C30 last night and remembered this titbit as I steered the C30 along country lanes in a wintry dusk light. The problem is, once you’ve seen the Volvo seal, you’ll never forget it…

By Tim Pollard




Total mileage



Overall mpg



Fuel costs



Other costs




Looks great



Tall gearing



Hot steering wheel – 19 July 2010

Noticed a couple of things this week with my C30: firstly the radio and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel tend to heat up on long journeys. A strange thing to notice, but my hands are definitely warming up when resting my hands at the quarter to three position.

Come winter time this actually might be quite handy. The steering wheel itself isn’t heated, but as someone who suffers in the winter with cold hands on a permanent basis, this could prove useful to me. Has anyone else noticed this on their C30s? Do click ‘Add comment’ below and let me know I don’t have a rogue Volvo or dodgy thermostat!

Secondly I realised how much I rely on the automatic key sensor function. I drove the Kia Sportage this week and was made to rustle through my bag to find the key whilst juggling my laptop, handbag, gym kit and shopping. Made me realise how dependent I’d become on keyless entry.

The Volvo’s system is brilliant. With keyless entry and go, it’s a simple matter of balancing everything on one arm while I open the door, jumping in and starting up – all with the key in my pocket. Very handy.

Ben Barrys view – 19 June 2010

Really fond of SJ’s C30. I think it looks great, the interior has some really interesting textures and it’s actually great fun to drive despite the meagre power-to-weight ratio.

By Ben Barry


Tall gearing causes occasional stalling – 16 June 2010

The DRIVe C30 has taken in many a long trip. Trekking to other countries, heading as south as Dover, as far north as Cumbria and a fair few places in between. While I expect a Volvo to be comfortable on long journeys, you would be forgiven for doubting that this would be as comfortable as say a Volvo C70. Well having driven one of these bigger Volvos earlier in the month, I’d say my Volvo C30 was better and less wallowy. Large doesn’t always equal luxury.

The suspension provides a soft, comfortable ride over most of the country roads I endure en route to work, and it gobbles up motorway journeys with comfort and ease.

I don’t make a habit of stalling cars but when I first took ownership of the Volvo C30, I found I was quite frequently. I still do it occasionally now –  I blame the tall gearing. You get used to it though, and have to pick a lower gear than you would normally. Sometimes coming into a roundabout, second is just too tall and you have to snick into first. Not ideal, but then this is the price for tall gearing and those low, low, low emissions and consumption figures. 

The flipside is that long journeys are whisper quiet and unstrained. Engine noise is quiet, and the comfy ride and seats soften the back and bum ache you can sometimes endure on longer journeys.

Sarah-Jayne Harrison

The sound of music – 19 May 2010

I had a Skoda Yeti for the weekend and while I was pleasantly surprised by it, it let itself down in the stereo department. So it was a joy to get back into my Volvo C30 and listen to a real sound system – one that’s far better equipped for my type of bass-laden music. The C30 copes with rumbling basslines particularly well. Maybe it’s something to do with the quality speakers removing some of the tst tst tst from an over-excited treble in many cars.

Our C30 long-termer comes with the High Performance Audio system 1xCD/Radio, 4 x 40W amplifier, USB and auxiliary input (MP3 and WMA compatible), and eight speakers. It costs £400 as an upgrade. I’ve looked and I’ve looked – but I still can’t find the last two speakers!

My absolute favourite feature on the stereo is the ability to control my iPod via the steering wheel. It’s far more effective than my previous Clio GT steed, where you had to have the iPod on your lap and flick through songs. Plus the Volvo system brings up the track listing and artist as it plays. Changing playlists is a bit awkward, though, as you have to first access the playlist from the centre console before reverting to the steering wheel controls.

All in all, our upgraded Volvo C30 sound system gets the thumbs up from ear. Or is that an ear-up?

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

Wind Noise – 13 May 2010

I’ve noticed that the C30 has a slight issue with wind noise – but oddly only on the driver’s side. It’s particularly annoying at high speeds, when it can bluster so much it sounds like the door is ajar. It’s a minor annoyance and at first I thought I just hadn’t quite closed it all the way. Perhaps the seal is loose, but I tend to rely on the stereo to cover it up.

After my recent move even further away from the office, I’m thankful to have the C30 DRIVe version. While not reaching the target 74.3mpg, and no longer achieving the 64.3mpg we managed on the first tankful, it is now averaging 47mpg which is still sufficiently cheap enough not to have to take out a bank loan for diesel each week.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

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Snowbombing 2010 road trip – 12 April 2010

No sooner had my new Volvo C30 long-term test car arrived at CAR Towers than I whisked it off on what will possibly be the longest road trip it may encounter in its lifetime: a quick jaunt to Austria and back via Frankfurt. We’re running the eco-friendly stop-start DRIVe version, with its saintly 99g/km of CO2 and 74mpg claimed economy. Perfect for saving money on a pan-European blast then.

The idea was to join the Volvo-sponsored Snowbombing event in Austria. So it was that I booked a week’s holiday and joined a mass exodus of C30s, XC60s, C70s, V50s – plus a rather strange Addams family car (complete with rooftop coffin), wonderfully kitted out Ghostbusters vehicle and various other cars.

Breaking my European duck

Not having driven in Europe before, I chickened out of the first leg of the journey to Frankfurt and handed the keys over to my co-driver. A minor detour took place once due to a particularly fussy sat-nav, but otherwise it seemed to work better on the Continent than in the UK. The C30 proved a comfy place to be a passenger (in the front seat at any rate) and I was able to snooze away the miles. Until a very loud Ferrari F430 passed us by!

We broke our journey in Frankfurt’s Achat Plaza and the next morning – feeling accustomed to these roads – I took the wheel and we continued our drive to Austria. Occasionally we passed another Snowbombing car on the autobahns and gave a friendly wave or toot. This road trip isn’t a race to see who gets there first, but about trying out our new long-termer on an extended test and having some fun along the way.

Which explains why all participants stopped off in Mayhofern for a few silly games arranged by Volvo. I say silly, but actually the extreme apple bobbing that consisted of picking out pineapples, onions, carrots and then finally apples looked quite extreme. Especially in the heavy rain… Scooby Doo’s head got the brunt of it.

Eventually, we arrive in our Mayhofern destination to be greeted by locals and tourists alike. This is where I sign off until the return trip (three days skiing – hence me booking it as holiday) during the Snowbombing festival.

The return leg

The good news is that I survive my time on the slopes intact. The bad news is that we’re driving home from Austria to Calais in one fell swoop, rather than breaking overnight. We left at 8.00pm, music at the ready and made good time reaching Calais 12 hours later. My co-driver endured a numb bum after a while, but being quite small I fitted the seats more snugly.

It was at Calais where I got my first look at the Peugeot RCZ in the metal. Sitting atop a car transporter, its defining rooftop bubbles gave the game away. Very neat. We were just glad to have crossed western Europe so fast – it had been a relatively monotonous drive through the night broken only by derestricted autobahn sessions where we homed in on the C30’s 121mph top speed.

Back in the UK, I really noticed the change in people’s driving manners. In Germany drivers might sit on your bumper in the fast lane and flash to move slower vehicles over, but consequently people have better lane discipline and traffic flows more smoothly. Britain is the reverse, stubborn drivers rarely moving out of the way even when they’re not overtaking. Not so much fun this side of the water.

How did the C30 cope on our marathon journey? It quite transformed my opinions after a lukewarm initial reaction. For an eco special fitted with winter tyres, it was a blast to drive. On the autobahns at three figure speeds it felt stable and planted and the flexible 1.6 diesel appears to have a little more to give when switching from cruising to overtaking.

It’s less good at urban speeds, such as when you come into a roundabout. Second is so tall that you can bog down cruising up to a junction and then trying to accelerate away – so you have to reach for first more often. There are no such problems in the higher gears. One other glitch we noticed on our long drive was the badly sited HVAC controls. They’re so close to the gearlever, that you can pinch fingers if you’re not careful.

Fuel consumption stood at 49.6mpg. In an eco special! Hey-ho, we could have got closer to the claimed figure if we’d have stuck to 70mph, but where’s the fun in that?

Would I do this road trip again? Without a doubt, in fact I’m already planning it. Would I do it again in the Volvo C30? Yes: good fuel consumption, plenty of room for two passengers and a load of luggage (in fact you could get three in). The fact that it’s a Golf-sized hatch with hybrid rivalling emissions, economy and free road tax is the icing on the cake. Read my first long-term report in the June issue of CAR Magazine.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison



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