Volvo C30 2.0 SE - The Verdict

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go in the Volvo C30, with a style inspired by the P1800 ES, or 'Snow White's coffin', says David Wilkins

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Price: £18,495
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds, 38.7mpg
CO2: 174g/km:
Worth considering: Alfa Romeo 147, Audi A3, Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch

Where would we be without a sense of humour? The late Willie Rushton thought he had the answer to that one: Germany. But the stereotype of humourless Germans is not entirely fair, and cars, in particular, are a rich source of jokes for them. There is a body of humour devoted to Opel Manta drivers, for example, and many cars acquire apt or witty German nicknames.

The 1961 Ford Taunus P3 became the "Badewanne", or bathtub, because its body was shaped like one, while the VW Golf convertible was the "Erdbeerkörbchen", so-called because its rollover bar and open body made it look like one of those little baskets that you get strawberries in.

Another German nickname is that applied to the estate version of Volvo's 1971 P1800, the ES; this was dubbed the "Schneewittchensarg" (Snow White's coffin) on account of its long, boxy bodywork, large glass area and frameless rear hatch.

Production ended in 1973 but the ES's styling themes have been revived twice: first for the 480 and again for this new C30. It's easy to see why Volvo would look to the ES for inspiration - it's the only model in the company's back catalogue that doesn't look like it belongs in Bovington Tank Museum - but I, for one, can't shake off those associations with Snow White.

I felt dopey, even grumpy, when I couldn't work out the C30's sat-nav, which is controlled by an inconvenient nipple-like button on the back of one of the steering-wheel spokes. Still, the air-con worked well, so I never became sleepy when travelling in this Volvo, which also has an impressive sound system. I didn't use it much, though, as I prefer to whistle while I work - when I'm feeling happy, that is.

When it comes to driving, the C30 is as good as you would expect for a car with a lot of Ford Focus lurking under its skin, a subject about which Volvo is understandably bashful. Nevertheless, Volvo's car operation, which is dwarfed by its American parent, must have thought its prince had come when it gained access to Ford's technology and platforms a few years back. The sharp C30 is the opposite to older cars that used to have a generous amount of slop built into their steering - the so-called sneeze factor - to prevent them reacting too nervously. I can only advise you not to get sneezy in the agile C30; see the doc as soon as you feel a cold coming on.

You may think Volvo shows a lack of imagination in reviving the old P1800 ES, but at least it hasn't yet brought back its ugly old saloons. Now that really would be Grimm.

David Morris, 29, banker, Caversham, Berkshire

USUAL CARS: SUBARU IMPREZA WRX, VW CAMPER VAN

I was expecting the Volvo C30 to be a throwback to the old Volvo 480 Coupé, but this was not the case, the shape of the new car is very eye-catching. The 2.0-litre engine seemed underpowered, but I am sure the T series and diesel models will have more low-down power. Handling and ride was excellent, driving as if on rails round country bends, and absorbing the worst bumps, even with low-profile tyres. The interior was solid and well made, and the steering wheel-controlled sat-nav was impressive. The car matched my expectations of a small Volvo coupé, but I'm not sure the styling will appeal to everyone.

Andrew Unsworth, 29, administrator/writer, Slough, Berkshire

USUAL CAR: FORD PUMA

For many, the word Volvo is synonymous with dull. However, once seated in the unexpectedly comfy leather seats, confronted by a highly specified dash, it's hard not to get excited. Unfortunately, the excitement wanes, thanks to a left-hand drive bias that sites the handbrake half-way across the cabin. It's impossible to make the car safe without the front passenger fearing an amorous advance. The C30 redeems itself with a supple ride, adequate handling and smooth transmission - but only slightly. It lacks the quiet aggression that its looks suggest. The trouble is that the C30 is neither exciting enough to covet, nor practical enough to own.

Stephen Ball, 26, chemist, Lower Earley, Berkshire

USUAL CARS: FORD FIESTA, PEUGEOT 306

When I heard I was going to be driving a Volvo, I had visions of a long, boxy estate. This car, however, was the opposite. Sporty looking, with its Passion Red exterior and Mestra alloys, it handles well and is quiet at all speeds. In low gears, there is plenty of acceleration. However, the power isn't as evident in fourth and fifth. The interior is stylish, with a pop-up display and floating front panel, although the boot space is minimal. The pull-out boot cover seems flimsy and couldn't be used as a parcel shelf. The completely glass rear door is a nice touch. The C30 is probably as sporty as a Volvo could be, and looks good, but perhaps wouldn't be my first choice.

THE VERDICT

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