24 May 2004

Volvo is about to move into a completely fresh segment with the launch of this compact hatchback/coupé crossover aimed squarely at the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series. The move is part of Ford’s ambitious plans to turn the Swedish company into a major player in the premium market.

As expected, the new car will draw heavily on the widely acclaimed SCC Safety Concept Car, as originally seen at the Detroit show in 2001. But early rumours that the car would be Ford Fiesta-based are wrong, company insiders insist.

Instead the new car will be based on the new Ford C1 (Focus) technology set, which Volvo re-labels ‘P1’; it already underpins the new V40/S50 family. And early predictions that the car would be called V30 have also proved wrong; its coupé contours have earned it the title C30.

Use of the established P1 platform means that the C30 will ride on front struts and a rear multi-link suspension, and the same range of engines is theoretically available for service as in the S40 and V50. That means everything from the basic 100bhp 1.6-litre petrol through to the 220bhp turbocharged five-pot T5 to create a range-topping fast coupé. Most models will be front-wheel drive, although four-wheel drive is possible on higher-powered flagship models.

The C30’s most distinctive feature may well be safety A-pillars very similar to those originally shown on the SCC – a latticework structure with inset panes of plexi-glass helping to dramatically improve frontal visibility. When Autocar drove the SCC a couple of years ago the design proved very effective.

The see-through pillars were originally designed by the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Centre (VMCC) in California and designers there were happy to confirm that Volvo’s long-term plan is to introduce the system to all new models as a brand-unique design and safety feature.

However, another senior company source admits that the pillars are proving difficult and expensive to produce, meaning that the final C30 may appear without them, as depicted in our computer-aided image.

Another problem faced by the designers is the contradictory requirements of different crash-testing regimes. In Europe the extra visibility afforded by the system will be a big bonus under the soon-to-be revised Euro-NCAP testing procedure. But under America’s NCAP regime the loss of some pillar strength may adversely affect the C30’s performance in the mandatory roll-over test.

Several other features from the SCC are likely to make it into the C30, although the fixed-eye position of the concept (with seats and controls moving to match) has been ruled out as too impractical. However, details such as automatic blindspot object detection (said by Gothenburg to be production-ready) and ‘intelligent’ headlamps will be offered. The C30 may also feature Volvo’s clever collision mitigation system, which automatically applies the brakes in the event of an unavoidable crash. There is no word as to whether the SCC’s innovative four-point seatbelts are going to make it through to production, although Volvo’s safety engineers are very keen on the idea – the system reduces chest loadings and whiplash.

However, the C30 won’t just major on safety. The wedgy shape retains much of the character of the SCC concept, giving it a modern shape that is immediately identifiable as a Volvo. The deep rear hatchback echoes the classic 1800 ES and should provide easy access to the boot. Because of its front-wheel-drive underpinnings, expect interior space to better the BMW 1-series’.

It is believed that a near-production-spec concept version of the C30 is being prepared, set to make its debut at a motor show in the next year.

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