Like many countries, Sweden has contributed to making the world a better place.
The Swedes' hard work, ingenuity and long winter nights have led to a smorgasbord of accomplishments: the milking machine, the propeller, dynamite, Nicklas Lidstrom and lutefisk. All hail from Sweden -- though, honestly, lutefisk can stay there.
Now, there is the Volvo C30 -- a luxurious sporty compact that can get you from Gothenburg to Stockholm faster than you can read "The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking."
The C30 is a peek at the future of compacts -- small, powerful and speeding up to pretty darn expensive compared with typical small vehicles. But this is no pickled herring.
The C30 Version 1.0 starts at a reasonable $23,445, including destination charges, but the price jumps nearly as fast as my grocery bill when I add a couple bottles of Akvavit and Absolut. My Version 2.0 model, which I tested for a week in January, had a starting MSRP of $26,445 and window sticker over $30,000 for the four-person compact.
Too much? Not if you want a car you can park almost anywhere, drive with impunity and still maintain stylish good looks with loads of safety features.
In fairness, some of that high price stems from the wide array of options available on the C30. You want it, Volvo will sell it to you. Just make sure the check clears.
It's all part of Volvo's custom-build program. Volvo offers 17 exterior colors, 12 interior colors and 30 options in an a la carte menu. Bi-Xenon gas discharge headlamps ($700), cruise control ($185), power driver's seat ($450), navigation system ($2,120), ash tray ($25) -- the list is extensive. There are 430 combinations -- 70 more combinations than the number of C30s sold last month.
It may take a while for Americans to embrace the European trend of compacts costing as much as midsize sedans -- if not more. But eventually, we will. Volvo has it right, creating a more performance-oriented compact instead of a cheap and cheerful one. There are plenty of those out there. But that's changing as more carmakers begin to offer small cars with more posh features than Hildas in Helsingborg.
Already, European carmakers are selling speedy compact hatchbacks such as the Mini Cooper S and Volkswagen GTI. BMW will add the 1 Series later this year.
Funky looks stand out Like the competition, this compact stands out with its funky looks and strong performance. It may be a little gangly, especially from the backside, but it chews up the road like Bjorn Borg chewed up tennis balls.
Quick and nimble, the C30 gives any driver more fun for the money. While testing the C30, I often found myself wanting to take corners a little faster each day. The five-cylinder 2.5-liter turbo-charged engine offers slightly more torque than horsepower, adding to its spirited ride. Producing 227 horses and 236 pound-feet of torque (both at 5,000 rpm), the engine provides push-you-back-in-your-seat pickup.
A downside for some is that the engine requires premium fuel and gets 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. However, the turbocharged engine -- another Swedish invention -- discourages fuel-sippers. It's just too much fun to blast off at stop lights or drop two gears on the highway and sprint past that gravel-hauling trucker. It's quicker than it looks and has a fun go-kart-like ride on city streets. It bobs and weaves through Detroit's best orange barrels.
Better yet, the European sports-tuned suspension bites down on corners and the front-wheel drive keeps the C30 sure-footed on snowy days. Torque steer was noticeable on fast starts, but it was also expected and didn't feel overly aggressive.
Mated to a six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is available), it's easy to flog this car around town or on the highway, where only the C30's size might hold you back -- it feels small crisscrossing a concrete field of SUVs and semi trucks.
That's because the C30 is slight in stature. It's only 167.4 inches long, 70 inches wide, 57 inches tall and weighs less than 3,000 pounds. But its 103-inch wheelbase gives it a smooth, clean ride on the highway. By comparison, the top selling Toyota Camry sedan is 189 inches long with a wheelbase only 6 inches longer.
While small on the outside, the inside -- at least the front -- feels spacious. There are 42.3 inches of legroom and ample head room (38.2 inches). The backseats are buckets -- which means there's only room for two people. The dash is fun, flowing and functional, straight from IKEA's playbook. The slim center stack, which is making its way into many Volvos, provides storage behind the heater controls. It's a feature no other carmaker pulls off as elegantly. The gear shifter cants forward and two convenient cup holders make it easy to shift 'n sip. The entire dash uses smooth curves and soft materials to give it a luxury feel.
All of the controls are straightforward and let you keep your eyes on the road -- another easy task behind the wheel of the C30 because the lines of sight are excellent at every corner.
The stereo cranks as well. ABBA never shrilled louder than on the premium 650-watt Alpine surround sound 10-speaker system. It's a lot of sound for such a tiny space and helps cover up the car's rather loud road noise seeping through all of the glass and tires.
Rebel with a cause From the front, the C30 looks more like a traditional Volvo: Square-headed with stoic straight lines. The C30 stays as conservative as a Lutheran square dance. But move past the big air intakes below the bumper and snub nose front end, and the C30 takes on a much more rebellious stance.
In fact, the entire backside of this hatchback draws your attention as quickly as the glimpse of a tattoo at the small of a woman's back. You've just gotta look.
The tall taillamp stretches along the all-glass hatch, filling out at their base to follow the car's curvy figure. The trapezoidal-shaped dual exhaust is flush with the rear bumper. The rear spoiler at the top, tempting and suggestive of the car's hidden speed. This back end is downright sexy and the best piece of Swedish automotive erotica since the Koenigsegg CCX.
However, not everyone will feel the same about the C30's polarizing exterior, which is the point. You will either love it or hate it, think it's worth every penny or take one look at its backside and say, "What were they thinking?"
Its superb performance and front-seat comfort, however, are undeniable. It's fun, it's sporty and it makes every trip as enjoyable as pancakes and lingonberries.
Volvo C30 Type: Compact, front-wheel drive three- or five-door hatchback Trims: T5 Version 1.0, T5 Version 2.0 MSRP
Version 1.0: $23,445*
Version 2.0: $26,445*
Powertrain: T5 5-cylinder turbocharged engine
Power: 227 horsepower, 236 pound-feet of torque
EPA mileage: 19 mpg city / 28 mpg highway
Notes: Fun and sporty, the C30 makes compacts luxurious.
*Includes $745 shipping
Overall: HHH 1/2
Exterior: Excellent. Distinctive design makes the C30 stand out in a crowd.
Interior: Good. Spacious for a compact and laid out well. Only road noise deflects from overall package.
Performance: Excellent. Turbocharged engine provides plenty of power. Sport-tuned suspension hugs curves at high speeds.
Safety: Excellent. Volvo continues to lead with safety features. Driver, side, head curtain airbags, whiplash protection, side impact protection and more.
Pros: Sporty compact combines luxury and performance. Great around town and good on long trips with two people.
Cons: Pricey compared with some compacts. Uses premium fuel. Could get you a few tickets, if you're not careful.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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