Volvo has long been lauded for its propensity to take radical design concepts to production nearly unaltered. You would struggle to tell the XC40 from the 2016 Concept 40.1, and electric performance brand Polestar’s first two models still look like they’re from another age entirely.
Then there’s the 2001 Safety Concept Car (SSC), which took elements from the timelessly elegant P1800ES estate and found its way into dealerships five years later in the form of the radical C30. This three-door premium hatchback returned Volvo to a segment it hadn’t touched since production of the divisively styled 480ES ended in 1995. It also strengthened the firm’s reputation for prioritising safety with innovative functions including a ‘Blind Spot Information System’ and software that detects if the driver is distracted.
Sitting atop then-parent company Ford’s front-wheel-drive C1 platform (as found under the contemporary Focus and C-Max), the C30 could be specified with a comprehensive array of petrol and diesel engines, topped by the 227bhp T5 2.5-litre five-cylinder that also powered none other than the C30’s unruly Focus ST cousin. This gave it a 0-62mph time of 6.7sec and a top speed of 149mph when fitted with the Getrag six-speed manual gearbox. Be warned, though: you’ll pay upwards of £3500 for this hot hatch, and don’t expect to see its economy climb much above 25mpg.
More frugal and accessible are the 2.4-litre petrol straight five, the range-topping same-sized diesel variant (which still offers pleasing amounts of pep) and an array of Ford-and Mazda-developed four-cylinders ranging from 98bhp to 176bhp. Every C30 is as mechanically durable as you would expect, if not particularly poky.
If hypermiling is your thing, your best bet is a good example of the diesel-powered C30 DRIVe, produced from 2009, which came fitted with a tweaked ECU, an aerodynamically enhancing bodykit, low-resistance tyres and taller gear ratios in the name of improved efficiency. The result was figures of 73.4mpg and 99g/km of CO2, making it more efficient than even the second-generation Toyota Prius.
■ Suspension: Wandering, vague steering is usually caused by worn front dampers, which can also lead to dangerously irregular tyre wear. Top mount bearings, lower arms, drop links and tie bars are prone to wear, so budget for replacement and a full alignment if the car hasn’t had recent suspension work.
■ Interior: The air-con system is fragile, with the condenser and compressor prone to failure, so crank it up on the test drive. The mechanism that lifts the screen out of the dash can cause problems. Check for signs of water ingress along the top of the windscreen, as vibration breaks down the seal over time.
■ Electrics: The ABS pump module is a weak spot and is likely to need replacement if the warning light is illuminated. The central electronic module is located beneath the glovebox, where it’s vulnerable to passengers’ feet and can throw up various faults. Some owners complain of poor headlight performance, too.
Also worth knowing
The rear wiper is prone to ‘drooping’ over time and spoiling the look of the C30’s bluff rear end. Later cars featured a lighter wiper arm that put less strain on the mounting. Swapping them over is easily done, but complete removal is also an option, with blanking plates supplied by killallwipers.com.
How much to spend
£1000-£1999: Early 2007-08 manual cars with the 1.6-litre diesel engine.
£2000-£2999: A mix of pre-facelift C30s, mostly in automatic, R-Design guise.
£3000-£3999: Well-equipped, post-2010 facelifted cars with tweaked styling and some options added.
£4000-£5000: Desirable high-spec models, including T5s, with low mileages and long MOTs.
One we found
Volvo C30, 1.6D DRIVe, 2010.10-reg, 91k miles, £3945: Tempting though it is to plump for the titillating T5, this more reserved diesel variant offers greater efficiency. It’s packed with kit and has the six-speed manual ’box, so you needn’t completely sacrifice driver engagement.