In a triumph of hope over experience, automakers are once again marketing hatchback coupes.
First we drove the Saturn Astra and now it's the Volvo C30's turn. Hatchbacks once were popular in the United States. They've always done well in Europe whence come the Saturn (nee Opel) and the Swedish Volvo.
Will the new batch join a U.S. landscape littered with the remains of h.b. coupes? The utility of a hatchback with its folding rear seats is a plus. So is a smaller size and decent fuel economy.
What does set the new wave apart from the old is the cars are now halfway stylish. And they perform a lot better as well.
The Volvo C30 may stem from a sedan, the Volvo S40, but it's not like the old AMC Gremlin, the hacked-off, front part of a sedan.
The C30 comes with a svelte shape and good room for four passengers. The quick shape also comes with quick acceleration.
The turbo-charged engine gets things to 60 mph in a commendable 6.6 seconds with even some tire chirping.
Power comes from a turbo-charged 2.5L inline, five-cylinder driving the front wheels through a five speed automatic transmission.
The C30 is 8.5 inches shorter and weighs 320 pounds less than the mothership, the S40. That helps fuel economy of 19 city and 27 highway.
The C30 actually feels like a much larger vehicle although its size; 167.4 inches on a 103.9 inch wheelbase is big enough. It wouldn't be a Volvo without a lot of emphasis on safety. Volvo says the front structure is divided into zones designed to absorb front collisions.
There's fidget room and elbows find rest on the windowsill, door armrest or center console. A grab strap is above the driver door.
There are four bucket seats, all providing excellent support and comfort. So do standard mechanical goodies like dynamic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes.
There are round knobs for the radio and a little information screen not unlike the beloved Trash 100 laptop computer. It's in pale yellow.
For some reason, it takes two pulls on a locked door handle to open the door. That's not quirky, it's stupid.
On the road, the Volvo C30 feels more like an American sedan. There's a lot of understeer (the desire to go straight) in hard curves. Those turns are negotiated sure-footedly. The ride is more comfortable than sporty. There is plenty of zoom in the car--very Yankee as well.
While the test drives of the Saturn Astra and Volvo C30 weren't a head-to-head competition, it should be noted that the Volvo was clearly superior in one vital category: It has two cupholders. The Saturn has but one.
•Engine: 2.5L turbo I-5.
•Dimensions: 104.7" wheelbase; 172.2" length.
•Base price: $22,700/tested $25,170.
•Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg.