Short and Swede

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2007, 12:00am

That taxi driver is in for a ribbing from his mates. Perhaps he glanced at this test car's grille and thought that lane space was as good as his. After all, a goody-two-shoes Volvo seems easy meat in the cut and thrust of Kwun Tong traffic.

But the Volvo C30 is deceptively adept in the dice of Wai Yip Street. With the slightest tease of its 2.5-litre turbocharged engine, the Swedish coupe-hatch zips past a truck and into a space between two buses, shattering the cabbie's lunch-break cred. Right in front of his mates.

Yuppied up from the Ford Focus platform in Belgium, the C30 promises 320Nm of torque at 1,500 revs and sprints to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds. Such poke could make you the first Volvo driver in Court No2.

The 220 brake-horsepowered C30 seems built for licence points. Short front overhangs give you a fine view of the road and even goad you into competitive lane changing amid a chorus of angry horns. The side visibility is surprisingly good, too, given the rise of the window sill line along the car's rather heavy flanks. Even with a passenger, you can spot the near-side creep of scooters, and easily adjusted side mirrors offer generous views to the rear. You don't really need the blind spot information system option (HK$15,500), which alerts you to rear and flank movements, but the blink of its light under a side mirror is a fine boast. The side mirrors also compensate for the thick C-pillars in one of the most intriguing car rears since the 'shakin' that ass' Renault Megane II.

The back end is so prominent that Volvo and local magazines present it rear first, to highlight big, bright, Smart-like lights that might deter tailgaters in the crazy spray of monsoon airport runs. The glass boot door's a boon in parking, too - if it's not packed with shopping.

A throwback to Volvo's old P1800ES and 480ES perhaps, the rear hatch is light to lift and the rear-seats can be easily adjusted one-handed. The C30 gives you more than 364 litres of secure, well-ventilated space for a beagle, or 1,010 litres if you fold the seat back for a St Bernard. Its front seems sawn off an S40, but it's as vital as the more photogenic rear as it contributes to the model's five-star adult, four-star child safety rating in the New Car Assessment Programme's crash tests. The bonnet only rated one star for pedestrian safety, but passengers are protected by an energy-absorbing structure in different steels. In a frontal collision, the outer layers of the bonnet absorb impact, while a steel structure under the dashboard is said to prevent engine components being pushed into the cabin.

Designed by two women, Maria Uggla and Cecilia Stark Berglund, the interior's airy, even in black and grey and black, and the black plasticky panel finishes that yuppies might scorn as cheap also seem easy to clean after beach runs. Volvo seems interested in making passengers feel more comfortable than impressed, and the jams of Kowloon West are liveable thanks to a fine Dynaudio stereo and plush, comfy seats that even come in black or grey and white, or brown trim.

The rear's a bit tight, and the front seats take an age to move forward (and lack a memory) but the aft view's good. In most saloons, rear passengers get a faceful of front headrest, but Volvo has moved the back seats into the centre for a roomier effect.

You can customise the car with a full Heico body kit (HK$90,110, by Robinhoon Racing; tel: 2666 9990), but I'd leave the C30's design as is.

It's a feelgood car, almost an extension of the home, from the clarity of an uncluttered, ergonomic dashboard to the optional personalised engraving of the metal central console. Uggla says it's her favourite touch, but the buttons seem small.

Storage space is adequate, although the glovebox is small, but there's a thoughtful cubby behind the console for toll money and an MP3 player socket.

The C30 brakes well in traffic and emergency stops, but there was an un-Volvo-like grinding sound from the front axle when setting off from the lights, in both test cars. Only the Post raised this issue, the dealer says. The noise is brake vibration, 'related to the European requirement for longer service intervals', says Volvo Hong Kong spokeswoman Alice Siu.

'In an effort to reach these extended intervals, additional brake friction material has been added to the pads. When new, this can cause a vibration within the friction material at low speeds. This will disappear as the friction material wears down, and will likely reoccur when new pads are fitted. Most European car brands have the same issue as they're also trying to make their brake pads live to the extended intervals,' she says.

The Focus feels friskier, and the smooth BMW 130i (HK$433,000) is greener at 198 grams of CO2 per kilometre, but the C30 is a fine, clean (208gpk) family drive and boasts more extras than its competitors. The suspension's a little clumpy, and the smaller two-litre (174gpk) would suffice at Hong Kong speeds, but the C30's Geartronic changes are smoother than some overseas reports suggest and the ride's solid for car-sickly children and dogs.

The C30 is aimed at the young, but its direct steering could tempt mums out of their hulking seven-seaters, and its safety and visibility enables granny to whisk her lawn bowls foursome through tunnel traffic to Sports Road. But then the marque has Ford's hot-hatch expertise, and has introduced funky, feminine touches to its designs. That's why the C30's such a good spin in Kowloon. Ask a taxi driver.