Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Volvo C30
The C30 is smaller than your average Volvo but no less safe or stylish. Even better, this premium hatchback will today cost you from as little as £1000

Volvo has long been lauded for its propensity to take radical design concepts to production nearly unaltered. You would struggle to tell the Volvo XC40 from the 2016 Concept 40.1, and electric performance brand Polestar’s first two models still look like they’re from another age entirely.

Then there’s the 2001 Safety Concept Car (SSC), which took elements from the timelessly elegant P1800ES estate and found its way into dealerships five years later in the form of the radical C30. This three-door premium hatchback returned Volvo to a segment it hadn’t touched since production of the divisively styled 480ES ended in 1995. It also strengthened the firm’s reputation for prioritising safety with innovative functions including a ‘Blind Spot Information System’ and software that detects if the driver is distracted.

Sitting atop then-parent company Ford’s front-wheel-drive C1 platform (as found under the contemporary Focus and C-Max), the C30 could be specified with a comprehensive array of petrol and diesel engines, topped by the 227bhp T5 2.5-litre five-cylinder that also powered none other than the C30’s unruly Focus ST cousin. This gave it a 0-62mph time of 6.7sec and a top speed of 149mph when fitted with the Getrag six-speed manual gearbox. Be warned, though: you’ll pay upwards of £3500 for this hot hatch, and don’t expect to see its economy climb much above 25mpg.

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More frugal and accessible are the 2.4-litre petrol straight five, the range-topping same-sized diesel variant (which still offers pleasing amounts of pep) and an array of Ford-and Mazda-developed four-cylinders ranging from 98bhp to 176bhp. Every C30 is as mechanically durable as you would expect, if not particularly poky.

100 Volvo c30

If hypermiling is your thing, your best bet is a good example of the diesel-powered C30 DRIVe, produced from 2009, which came fitted with a tweaked ECU, an aerodynamically enhancing bodykit, low-resistance tyres and taller gear ratios in the name of improved efficiency. The result was figures of 73.4mpg and 99g/km of CO2, making it more efficient than even the second-generation Toyota Prius.

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Once you’ve selected your motive power, the C30’s foolproof trim level structure makes it easy to choose the car with the right kit. Standard fitment across the range included ABS, alloy wheels, electric mirrors, sports seats and an adjustable steering wheel, but fork out the extra for mid-range SE Lux or top-rung R-Design cars if you want options such as leather upholstery, cruise control and child seat anchor points.

The C30 is a popular car with tuners, who claim to have eked out as much as 310bhp with the aid of some electronic fettling and mechanical upgrades. Don’t be put off by modified cars, because many additions – like suspension lowering kits – will be reversible, but do make sure the insurance company is aware of any changes and check they have been carried out to a good standard.

How to get one in your garage

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An owner's view

Joe Hobbs: “The Volvo engines are really reliable, but the earlier 1.6-litre diesel was a mistake. I’ve had two, and although some people say they’ve never had an issue, I didn’t catch a break, even with regular servicing and constant long journeys. The R-Design package is a must as it makes the car look 100 times better, and go for a five-pot Volvo engine. It’s a good-looking, reliable car with a brilliant community behind it.”

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Buyer beware...

â–  Engine: Most of the options are hardy, but the 16-valve 1.6-litre diesel is notorious for DPF failures, so make sure the ‘reduced engine performance error’ message isn’t showing and that it was replaced or serviced at 100,000 miles. Problems here can cause a pressure backlog in the system and ruin the turbo. If a 10-mile stint at more than 2500rpm does not burn off any blockages, the unit will need to come out for a manual clean.

â–  Gearbox: Driveshafts are a weak point, prompting Volvo to recall some cars in 2013 for their replacement. Look for clicking and vibration under load. The D5 and T5 could be specified with a Geartronic five-speed automatic gearbox, which fares better with fresh oil every 50,000 miles, and 2.0-litre automatic cars used Ford’s dual-clutch Powershift unit, which is resilient but complicated to fix if it does go wrong.

â–  Suspension: Wandering, vague steering is usually caused by worn front dampers, which can also lead to dangerously irregular tyre wear. Top mount bearings, lower arms, drop links and tie bars are prone to wear, so budget for replacement and a full alignment if the car hasn’t had recent suspension work.

â–  Interior: The air-con system is fragile, with the condenser and compressor prone to failure, so crank it up on the test drive. The mechanism that lifts the screen out of the dash can cause problems. Check for signs of water ingress along the top of the windscreen, as vibration breaks down the seal over time.

â–  Electrics: The ABS pump module is a weak spot and is likely to need replacement if the warning light is illuminated. The central electronic module is located beneath the glovebox, where it’s vulnerable to passengers’ feet and can throw up various faults. Some owners complain of poor headlight performance, too.

Also worth knowing

The rear wiper is prone to ‘drooping’ over time and spoiling the look of the C30’s bluff rear end. Later cars featured a lighter wiper arm that put less strain on the mounting. Swapping them over is easily done, but complete removal is also an option, with blanking plates supplied by

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How much to spend

£1000-£1999: Early 2007-08 manual cars with the 1.6-litre diesel engine.

£2000-£2999: A mix of pre-facelift C30s, mostly in automatic, R-Design guise.

£3000-£3999: Well-equipped, post-2010 facelifted cars with tweaked styling and some options added.

£4000-£5000: Desirable high-spec models, including T5s, with low mileages and long MOTs.

One we found

Volvo C30, 1.6D DRIVe, 2010.10-reg, 91k miles, £3945: Tempting though it is to plump for the titillating T5, this more reserved diesel variant offers greater efficiency. It’s packed with kit and has the six-speed manual ’box, so you needn’t completely sacrifice driver engagement.


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Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years. 

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WinstonAlexanderson 18 August 2020

Boycott volvo

this trashy chinese company should stop stealing other people's work (guys instagram photos, teslas business model) and start making boxes again.

Theft is looked down upon in the UK and Europe.

Let this rotten to the core company die. Support JLR or any other true European manufacturer instead.

typos1 24 August 2020

WinstonAlexanderson wrote:

WinstonAlexanderson wrote:

this trashy chinese company should stop stealing other people's work (guys instagram photos, teslas business model) and start making boxes again. Theft is looked down upon in the UK and Europe. Let this rotten to the core company die. Support JLR or any other true European manufacturer instead.

Your racist rant is full of inaccuracies, the irony is that the "true European" JLR is Indian owned. All large car companies are international nowadays.

Chris C 17 August 2020

Would have had one but...

Quite liked the look of the C30 after owning a 480ES but the unecessarily narrow hatchback aperture put me off.

catnip 17 August 2020

An attractive alternative for

An attractive alternative for those of us that like smaller 3 door cars. I was tempted many times, but the available choice of smaller petrol engines was disappointing.