What was tested? 2008 Volvo C30 2.0 ($25,700).
Price as tested (including $745 destination charge): $26,445.
It's not uncommon for carmakers to try to move their lineups upmarket.
"Halo cars" are often built not to sell more vehicles but to create an upscale image for an entire brand, as was the case with the Ford GT and Dodge Viper. Then there are companies like Volkswagen, which a few years ago tried famously -- and unsuccessfully -- to become a luxury car company that could sell $100,000 limousines.
Volvo has the opposite goal.
Until this year, the company's stable was filled with sensible, safe, luxurious cars that were quite nice, but their price kept them out of reach for some budget-conscious buyers. The very cheapest S40 sedan cost around $25,000, which was $5,000 more than the cheapest Toyota Camry, $7,000 more than a base Honda Accord, and $8,000 more than a similar Chevy Malibu or Ford Fusion.
Now Volvo is moving deeper into affordable-car territory with the 2008 C30, a spunky hatchback that starts around $22,000 but still maintains Volvo's standards for safety and comfort.
It also tries to inject some personality into the mix.
Based on the S40, the two-door C30 represents a dramatic styling change from the old Volvos of yesteryear, which were designed to look exactly like Velveeta boxes. While the new Volvos are definitely starting to look handsome, the C30 steps it up a notch with a funky, expressive, French-looking back end.
A huge glass hatch dominates the back, making it look ... well ... interesting. Huge tallamps stretch all the way up to the roof, and well-defined haunches give it a muscular demeanor.
And it doesn't just look the part, either. As part of Volvo's strategy to simplify its engine lineup, there's only one powerplant available -- a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder that makes 227 horsepower. That's more than enough to pull Volvo's bigger cars with ease, and it's rocket-like in the little C30.
Unfortunately, the car doesn't make good use of the power. Relatively narrow tires struggle for grip when other compact cars would have plenty of stickiness to spare. It's handling is mediocre, partially because the vehicle is so heavy, but also because so much of that weight rests up front.
Then again, Volvos are supposed to be more about safety than speed. Thus it is with the C30.
This car uses varying grades of steel to help control intrusion into the passenger compartment if you're in a wreck. It also comes with what Volvo calls Dynamic Stability Traction Control -- which is basically a computer that helps you keep control of the car in emergencies -- and electronic brake force distribution, which serves a similar purpose.
The C30 is quite comfortable in the front seats, with enough hip, knee and head room to make you think you're in a bigger car. The back seat can hold two adults, although it's definitely a tighter squeeze than up front.
Overall, the C30 is a great car for people who want two-door sportiness, a very European design and Volvo's reputation for safety. It's proof that Volvo can offer a new, more affordable type of car without compromising its values.
Pros: It's a good car for people who like the safety and sensibility of Volvos, but it has the added benefit of a low price and unique style.
Cons: It's not as sporty as most other premium compact cars.