The car that delicately sips its fuel

Ryan Borroff
IF YOU’RE the kind of driver that gets their kicks out of economy and efficiency and can’t wait for the advancing wave of super economical electric vehicles to get here, then Volvo’s C30 1.6D DRIVe could be the car for you.

The coolest thing about Volvo’s C30 DRIVe Start/Stop model is undoubtedly reading the LED screen in front of the steering wheel which always seems to read “450m to empty tank”, regardless of how many trips you’ve made. It sips so little fuel it’s virtually teetotal – in a publicity stunt, it was driven from Land’s End to John O’Groats without refuelling.

Which is pretty clever. Thanks to its fuel efficiency of more than 74mpg, refuelling is not something you’re going to need to worry about very often. Any performance compromises with its tweaked 107bhp 1.6 litre diesel motor are surprisingly bearable. The car feels speedy enough and the engine, though loud around town, is surprisingly quiet on the motorway. In fact there’s not much here to grumble about. The car seems quick and, despite a lack of oomph at the top end the drive, was perfectly satisfactory. The handling was better than expected, if a little softer than I would have liked and the Start/Stop system worked fine.

Looks-wise, the C30 is attractive. It’s undoubtedly the looker in the Volvo range, not a brand known for its aesthetic appeal in the past. The C30 won’t be to everyone’s taste – it’s a rival to cars like the Audi A3 and even the kind of design-savvy buyers that may also be up for a MINI or, more recently, a Citroen DS3. But the C30 DRIVe beats both hands down on economy, for sure. The DRIVe model is even more intriguing thanks to its turbine-like alloy wheels, which reduce drag, further increasing fuel efficiency. Volvo has put the bulk of its efforts into aerodynamics, and the car now has a smooth underbody, which – like the wheels – reduces drag. It even gets its own specially designed spoiler for the same reason.

The elements of the C30 DRIVe that are difficult to live with are specific to the C30’s design and not its fuel-efficient DRIVe engine. Inside it feels cramped. The seats are comfortable but stiff – it felt like we sat on them rather than in them – and the interior materials – though decent (particularly the soft-touch dash and aluminum trim) are a little Scandinavian in understatement. But the steering wheel is just too big and the design of the console between the front seats – particularly the armrest and cupholders – intrusive. The cupholders are a particular bugbear. Located as they are behind the gear stick, if you put your Innocent smoothie inside, your elbow will jam into it every time you change from third to fourth gear. What with that and the oversized steering wheel, I found myself wanting to sit in the back just so I could have some elbow room.

It does seem more spacious in the back, though there are two rear seats rather than a bench, so it’s only a four-seater. Instead there’s an armrest and a hatch that you can poke your skis through in theory, although God knows I wouldn’t want to introduce anything else into the cabin.

As for the boot…well, thanks to the unusual multifaceted shape of the rear of the car the boot is only big enough for a couple of overnight bags. If you can stow them that is, because you’ll have to shove them through a ludicrous parcel shelf with a tiny opening flap as if you’re trying to post an oversize parcel into a postbox.

However, there are some really nice, thoughtful touches. There’s a little clear plastic clip for parking permits so useful that I wondered how I had ever lived without it. And operating the audio and climate controls – which are housed in what is the thinnest centre console in production, with a “floating” aluminium fascia – is simplicity itself. The navigation system functions via a remote which is stored in the centre cubby, or via switches on the steering wheel for when the car is moving, which means the system has been designed to allow you to input an address while driving (although I suspect a disclaimer is needed here that it’s far better to just pull over). Still, it’s superior to a lot of daft systems that require touch-screen input, and though people shouldn’t do it, we all know that people do operate these systems when driving. Volvo has at least attempted to make this reality a little safer.

For the economy alone I can’t hesitate to recommend a test drive in this car. Think again, though, if you require any load-lugging practicality. For an urban commute and occasional weekender there’s no doubt that the Volvo C30 DRIVe is worth a look. Just pack light.


PRICE: £17,690
0-62MPH: 11.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 118 mph
CO2 G/KM: 99
MPG COMBINED: 74.3 mpg