There are many forgotten cars on the roads these days. Cars you see in line at Taco Bell waiting for a Doritos Locos Taco that cause you to take a second and think to yourself "oh yeah, that's still a thing!" The Volvo C30 is one of those cars and, perhaps for that reason, this is the last year they'll sell it here. You'll never forget the Volvo C30 Polestar, though.
(Full Disclosure: Volvo wanted me to drive the C30 Polestar so bad that they brought it by the office, where I spent a weekend flinging it around Northern New Jersey. People on the street probably thought it was just a fast-moving Smurf.)
In the '90s and '00s, Volvo applied a little badge that said 'R' to a number of cars, but the important ones were wagons. Sweet, sweet, turbocharged wagons. But towards the end of the decade, Volvo declared there would be no more 'R' cars.
I was sad.
But then the mad Swedes at Polestar came to the rescue. Their first cars were balls-to-the-wall concepts that would never hit production, but this limited edition C30 (only 250 are coming to America) is just a mild tune (power is up to 250 HP, 273 lb-ft) and subtle graphics/sticker package.
Those small improvements move its price to the edge of VW Golf R, WRX, and Evo territory. It has the appearances of a fun car, but is it worth that high price of entry? For a lot of people, it really isn't a great choice. But, for certain people, it's the only car they should buy.
I find the C30 incredibly attractive. Seriously. Nice, swooping lines, lots of glass, and clever little rear hatch. It's just glass when you open it up, which is far better than opening the entire rear end of a car for most purposes. It pays homage to the P1800 ES in its shoulder line and hatch, which is wonderful.
The only shortcoming is I find the front a little over-styled. Designers may have taken the word facelift a little too literally, because the car looks like it's constantly surprised and shocked that it's actually on the road, driving around.
I should also note that for the first time since I've tested cars, I got into an accident with the C30 Polestar. And by "accident," I mean I was hit in the rear quarter panel when I was 3/4 of the way through an intersection. Not my fault, but it sucks a lot. Good news is that the Volvo was still drivable and it lives up to its safe reputation.
In terms of interior design, the C30 is like walking into a very cool Swedish design museum. It's clean and uncluttered. There's the super thin floating center console, small, delicate buttons, blue gauges. I initially looked at the charcoal and white seats and thought that they were awful. Seriously ugly. (Should note that I had to grab a shot from Volvo for the interior, and this isn't the interior of the car I drove. Volvo didn't have any pictures of it on their media site. Apologies all around.)
But then I sat in them, and looked around. I can't imagine anything that would match the interior better.
There is also a lot of glass, which makes the Volvo feel open and airy; It's a genuinely pleasant place to be. But for some reason, outward visibility just isn't there, at least out of the sides. I think the wee-little mirrors have something to do with it.
So the Polestar has 250 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, which is only delivered to two of the wheels. And they're the front wheels. Asking front wheels to deal with, well, any power, is a recipe for a torque steer pie.
And every time you get behind the wheel and step on the gas, the 'vo cuts you a fresh slice of it. I've driven cars that are way worse than this with less power though, so it isn't the worst thing in the world.
Supposedly the Polestar makes a lot more power than Volvo is saying too. I'd believe it, because once you get used to the touch of torque, this thing hauls. In a straight line, it's pretty damn sprightly with a nice little warble out of the tailpipes. There is a little turbo lag, so dropping a gear or two is a big help.
Polestar means performance, so I was expecting something that rode like it had solid shocks. Instead, it was unexpectedly comfortable. While I appreciated that on the highway and around town, I figured it might be a bit of a detriment when it came to handling...
…and I was very right. Let's start at the top, shall we? The steering is super light and basically numb. You turn the wheel and the car goes where you point it, but there is zero feel. I've eaten yams with more steering feel than the 'vo.
Once you're used to the steering, throw it into a corner. I mean really throw it. You'll be greeted by an unwillingness to turn that can only be rivaled by Margaret Thatcher. Understeer is the default, and only, setting for the C30. It's a tough car to drive fast, just because it isn't communicating to you through the wheel.
For a car that is a special, performance edition, you'd expect the steering feel to be bang on, especially when a company that builds race cars is behind the process.
Have you ever been cleaning your house and accidentally stepped on a sponge? No? Well, go step on a sponge real quick and then come back. I'll be here.
Did it? That's what the brakes are like in the C30. They're soft. They aren't bad, but they're soft. Which is too bad.
So the handling and braking aren't that great. But you're holding out hope for the gearbox.
Don't. While the shift action itself isn't awful (although the throws are a bit long and vague) this transmission's biggest issue is the clutch. A good clutch feels analog. It has a defined engagement point and comes on progressively.
The 'vo has a vague digital switch. I found it tough to make any semblance of a smooth take off without a ton of concentration. Quick shifts were nigh on impossible since you can't feel where the clutch engages. Sometimes you're lucky and nail it dead on, most times you aren't close to getting it right.
The driving part of the Polestar, a car I'd been looking forward to for months, was a let down. That really disappointed me.
But hey! It had a really bangin' stereo. If Polestar wants to get into audio tuning, then please, be my guest. It sounded great.
And the turbo five cylinder has this nice little guttural sound. It isn't loud or obnoxious, but it lets you know it's there.
The Volvo has nav, satellite radio, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, etc.
That's not the issue, although the nav system is pretty awful.
The problem comes with how they operate. The interior design, which I stand by as lovely, makes the toys nearly impossible to use. For instance, the nav is operated in two ways. There are controls ON THE BACK OF THE STEERING WHEEL that you can't see. There is also a handheld remote control like you have for a TV. Seriously. Come on.
The center stack also has tons of tightly placed buttons, which made them nearly impossible to touch without taking your eyes off the road for a long time to discern what you need to press. So… Design: High marks. Usability: Not so high.
Here's another conundrum. The C30 Polestar is not cheap. In fact, it's rather expensive. As equipped, the 'vo is $35,545. There are a lot of other cars you can get for that money. There are also a lot of better cars you can get for that money. This is not a value proposition.
But Volvo buyers have always been a unique breed, much like Saab buyers. They like cars that are different from the norm. The C30 is definitely different. It's not better than it's competitors. If you buy this car, it's because you want this car, and only this car. It's the perfect car for the Volvo fanboy, but it might not be perfect for anyone else.
Engine: 2.5L Turbocharged I5
Power: 250 HP at 6,000 RPM/ 273 LB-FT at 1,500 - 5,000 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed Manual
0-60 Time: 5.9 seconds
Top Speed: 140ish mph
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,211 LBS
Seating: 4 people
MPG: 21 City/29 Highway/24 Combined
MSRP: $28,850 ($35,545 As Tested)