Point of (in)Difference – 2006 Volvo C30

Different is good – right? Try telling that to Volvo.

Image: sundaytimes
Image: Sunday Times

In the push for growth and profitability, conformity rules. The market isn’t habitually keen on niche cars and tends to reward bravery by studiously ignoring it in favour of something more conventional. Volvo played it safe with the C30, but not in terms of positioning, concept or indeed style. Intending to sell 65,000 per annum; when production ceased in 2013, an unsubstantiated 208,000 were sold amounting to about 29,000 per annum over seven years. Profitability was likely to have been marginal to non-existent, which may (at least partially) explain why Volvo elected not to replace it.

There were other reasons too. The Swedish marque embarked upon a roller coaster ride following Ford’s acquisition for a reputed $6.45bn in 1999. The American multinational was reputed to be in the habit of saddling the balance sheets of its trophy wives with the costs of purchase, necessitating (often ill-advised) product expansions. Once Volvo became part of Ford’s sprawling Premier Automotive Group, a good deal of cross-pollination took place, amongst the first being the handsome S40/V50 series, based on engineering elements of the second generation Ford Focus.

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But even if it was decreed that the C30 was not to be an especially practical design, it would be a characteristically safe one. Its style being directly inspired by 2001 Safety Concept Car, created in Peter Horbury’s California studio with exterior styling by Stefan Jansson. The aim behind the SCC was to find a means of packaging a host of innovative safety features within a more alluring, dynamic silhouette – or to put it another way – to ‘sex-up the safe’.

The design came about as an amalgam. Horbury chose Jansson’s original theme as basis, upon which elements from alternative proposals were blended into a single form using advanced computer modelling. As Jansson pointed out to Car Body Design: “The design of a car needs to have one author. It needs to be conceived as a whole so it can later be perceived as a whole.” A core element of the shape was the style of the glassback rear hatch, which provided a clear reference to the preceding P1800 ES and 480ES coupé’s.

Five years on, sans rear doors and a good deal of conceptual addenda, the production C30 was launched to a broadly warm reception. Technically identical to its bigger brother in all key areas apart from overall length and having emerged with most of the SCC concept’s style intact, Horbury’s studio produced a neat, bobtailed coupe/hatch while not majoring on practicality, appealed strongly (to some eyes at least) on appearance. Launched with eight different engine choices – (Volvo, Mazda and Ford units according to Car) – the pick of the range arguably being Volvo’s own 2.5 litre five cylinder unit. Car‘s Ben Oliver tested a T5 model in the December 2006 issue, praising the C30’s looks, quality interior, pliant ride combined with good body control, strong performance and outsider appeal, gushing: “Different would have been enough. But different and good is so much better.”

Not that it made much difference, 2007 was the C30’s best year but it never came close to reaching its sales targets. In 2011, it received a modest facelift, major changes being reserved for the nose with new larger headlights and a reshaped more upright grille. Engine choices were rebalanced towards diesel and an ultra- economical DRIVe version was added. Sales were largely confined to what marketers like to call ‘downsizing empty nesters’ who weren’t necessarily bothered about luggage capacity – (with the rear seats down, there was a modest load bay) – but valued the image, style and compactness.

That same year, Ford offloaded Volvo to Geeley Automotive for $1.8bn as they cleared the decks of European-based distractions and any hope of a premium presence. Under new ownership, facing falling sales and a chronic loss of direction, there was little appetite to replace its slow selling coupé-hatch, so in 2013, it went quietly of its own volition – largely unmourned. The market at which it was aimed in 2006 now sits firmly in the crossover camp.

I have a genuine soft spot for the C30. I’ve always fancied one in a similar way that I’ve always quietly hankered after an Alfa 145. Both have a similar leftfield appeal, although the Volvo is not only more accessible – (when did you last see a 145?) – but also a palpably more viable ownership proposition. Volvo lost the bet on the C30’s sales success, but gave us one of the last compact hatches to offer something different – and different is good – it’s just unfortunate the market can’t grasp that.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Point of (in)Difference – 2006 Volvo C30”

  1. I’m with you on this one Eóin. Only a four seater but much nicer interior than the A3 or any other hatch. There was a “design” model with lovely leather and nice little touches everywhere you looked. I think it’s probably the last car sold that was only available with 3 doors . Even the basic 1.6 engine was acceptable and it really was a nice place to be.

  2. A lovely car; shame that it was never offered as a five door, as that would’ve ignited sales. I also think they could have offered a larger boot aperture on the five door, making it a five door shooting-brake-coupé, if such a thing could exist.

    1. You mean a five-door hatchback, presumably…

  3. Conceptually, the VW Scirocco is similar – another appealing car that doesn’t seem to have sold brilliantly, and will be replaced by a ‘cross over coupe’ monstrosity. The C30 is nice, but must be marked down because it lost the frameless doors in transition from concept to production model. Unforgiveable, really.

    1. Is the lack of frameless doors really so important as to be unforgiveable? I can´t see´d they have made much difference to the car´s appearance.

  4. Yes, 10 years ago the C30, the Alfa 147 and the Citroen C4 Coupé were my favourite compact cars with a sporty touch. They are all of the same size, but the C30 seems to be the smallest of them and a little bit more unfashionable in a very likeable way.
    I also do like the interior with ist rational elegant style and – what i really love- with a red carpet floor. I had a Peugeot 205 GTI with a red carpet since then i am looking for that detail. Sothe C30 is on my list of nice affordable cars to buy and drive a few years.

    1. Hello Markus: when I saw a C30 in a showroom the daft parcel shelf really bothered me. It´s very deep so when you want to put it somewhere there is not much room for it. Having said that, it´s not really a deal breaker. Eoin has reminded us what a pleasant vehicle the car is and unlike many specialty items it had a full range of engines and trims. Were 5 doors needed? Perhaps but the style depends on 3. Maybe you could say the IP was too similar to S40´s. The 406 coupe had the same “problem”. Overall, yes, it is really a decent and individual car that ought to have done a lot better. I might add it to my list of nice cars that had nice features that the public were to dim to grasp.

    1. Yes, definitely! I wonder if it goes together with that red carpet…
      I remember that I once went into the configurator for the C30 when it was still available, and I soon gave up because there were so many options, but whenever I chose one, it was not compatible with what I selected before.

      As you might see, I’m another one who was (and is) interested in that car. Actually, one of the few 3-door cars I ever considered. I think it commes across enough coupé-like not to fall into the ‘3-door hatch’ category, which I’d reject.

  5. I like Volvos, I mean the boxy ones they did until the ’90s. I don’t like what they did since, but I happily make an exception for the C30. I think the funny curvature works on this car where it fails for me on the larger models (especially those horrible SUVs).

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