- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

Volvo has built its worldwide reputation on building safe cars. In public opinion polls, the Swedish automaker is often cited as the car company that focuses the most on automotive safety.

Volvo has earned this reputation honestly, as their cars and SUVs routinely populate “best” lists compiled through U.S. Government and insurance industry crash testing. Take for example the Volvo 240, produced from 1974 to 1993. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it’s one of the safest cars ever built, with an astonishing driver death rate of just 0.1 per 10,000 registered vehicles for models built from 1990-1993. No one died in a single vehicle or rollover crash in a Volvo 240 between 1990-1994. Impressive safety credentials indeed.

But the knock on Volvos has always been their lack of style, and the good folks in Volvo’s hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden have been listening. Consider the C70 Convertible, and the S40 Sedan and V50 Wagon.

They retain all the safety that is the hallmark of the company, while establishing style points to attract new consumers to the brand.

The C70 Convertible, for example, offers a slick, retractable metal roof, and is the only convertible available with side head airbags.

For 2008, the C30 Coupe is an exciting blend of old Volvo and new. It’s a surprisingly affordable, fun to drive offering.

The test C30 2.0 had a funky blend of “Cosmic White” metallic paint with chocolate brown wheel arches and lower fairings. It was a striking combination that turned heads at stoplights. Folks had a hard time believing it was in fact, a Volvo.

Overall styling of the C30 is similar to the iconic P1800 ES Sportwagon (built in 1972-73), right down to the all-glass hatch. Taillights flank the rear glass from the C30’s beltline up to the roofline. A roof spoiler (standard on 2.0 and R-Design) provides downforce at speed and also serves to keep the rear glass clean.

Three versions of the C30 are available: Versions 1.0 (MSRP $22,950) and 2.0 ($25,700), and a limited edition R Design model (also $25,700).

The C30 2.0 comes standard with a five cylinder turbocharged engine that pumps out 227 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed manual or five speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel drive C30 accelerates well, with power to pass available without having to shift down a gear. Ride quality is also very good, impressive because the C30 handles very well. Oftentimes cars that have good handling have harsh ride qualities due to stiffer spring and shock absorber rates.

The C30’s interior features Volvo’s signature slim stack center console. This wafer thin console offers storage in front and behind, helps to give the interior a more open feeling. Seat material is a combination of Volvo’s synthetic “Kalix” and “T-Tec” materials - both are durable and easy to clean.

Aluminum dash inlays and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are additional interior highlights.

Many upscale manufacturers have aligned themselves with high-end audio companies to build special sound systems for their vehicles. Audi’s Bang & Olufsen system is an example of this. But it’s very pricey - costing about $6,300. Volvo has contracted with Danish firm Dynaudio to accomplish the same goal at a fraction of the cost.

The system in the C30 (standard on 2.0 and R-Design) features ten speakers, 650 watts and Dolby ProLogic II Surround Sound. Using the steering wheel mounted audio controls to control the volume on my iPod, I was thoroughly impressed with this system. “Concert Hall” quality sounds like a cliché, but that’s exactly what is sounded like to me. This sound system adds big value to an already aggressively priced offering. You can add the Dynaudio system to Version 1.0 for just $695.

On the safety front, it’s a Volvo. I don’t really need to say more. This car continues the sterling safety legacy of the brand.

Nearly every available safety feature in Volvo’s repertoire, including electronic stability control, is standard on the C30 (Volvo’s blind spot monitoring system not available on the C30).

To me, this car is a no-brainer. It’s priced like the Korean and Japanese brands, with the solid feel and world-class safety of the European marques. I challenge you to find a better driving, more reliable, safer coupe at a better price than the C30.

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