Published on Saturday 30 August 2014 19:15
Ten Second Review
Everybody's talking about low CO2 levels in cars - or at least they are in the company-dominated sector where Volvo sells most of its more compact models. Hence the Swedish company's 'DRIVe' initiative, aimed at showing that you don't need to buy a very small car to be very green. Proof comes in 'DRIVe' versions of the 1.6-litre diesel models in the C30, S40 and V50 line-ups. It's the C30 we're looking at here.
This is Volvo's version of Volkswagen's BlueMotion, BMW's EfficientDynamics and numerous other efficiency brands offered by manufacturers across the industry. Let's take this C30 1.6D DRIVe as an example, Its CO2 figure of 99g/km will certainly attract attention and the fuel economy's very impressive too, with this car achieving 74.3mpg on the combined cycle. So you can get up to 857 miles out of a tank-full. It's a decent improvement over the standard D2 model - which it needs to be to justify the couple of hundred pounds premium that the DRIVe package will cost you.
Volvo's DRIVe cars are all certified according to the mandatory European NEDC standard. In addition, the Volvo C30 has excelled in the ECO test, which carries out even more comprehensive measurements of CO2 and particulate emissions. This certification process relies on stars and points, in a similar way to the Euro NCAP programme for safety. The independent ECO test places the Volvo C30 at the top of its size category, with four stars and 76 points in the overall assessment of the car's total environmental performance.
The C30 1.6D DRIVe is similar to the C30 D2 diesel to drive despite giving away around 5bhp to that car. Or so you'd think, until you start analysing just how much money it's saving you. So how have Volvo done it? Well, there are two headline features. The first is an optional Start/Stop function that allows the engine to switch off when the car is at a standstill, whilst also maintaining comfort settings such as the air conditioning. The second is a regenerative charge facility. This charges the battery as soon as the driver releases the accelerator or brakes while a gear is engaged. By harnessing the car's kinetic energy, the alternator does not have to use diesel fuel as a power source to recharge the car's battery.
Otherwise, the Swedish engineers focused on four areas. The first was reduced air resistance. To this end, the chassis height was reduced by approximately 10mm to help reduce drag, then the radiator grille was covered and behind it added a wind-deflecting panel that provides better aerodynamics inside the engine compartment. Wind deflectors in front of the front wheels steer the airflow and there are aerodynamically optimised wheels along with special underbody panels for more efficient airflow under the car. Finally, a special rear spoiler was developed for the car along with a new rear bumper.
Next up, the boffins sought to lower the car's rolling resistance, adopting a set of new generation Michelin tyres designed for that purpose. Higher gear ratios would also help, they decided, so the gearbox features altered ratios for third, fourth and fifth gears. The longer gear ratios contribute to a 1.5% reduction in fuel consumption without, say Volvo, affecting the drivability of the car.
Finally, a more efficient driveline was targeted, which meant optimisation of engine cooling, engine management and power steering systems. A different transmission oil which creates much lower friction is used in the gearbox and a gearchange indicator in the information display tells the driver the ideal time to change gears.
Design and Build
None of tweaks that make up the DRIVe package do much on their own but collectively, it all adds up to a lot. Changing the transmission oil, for example, offers up a 0.75% improvement in fuel consumption. Tyres with low rolling resistance save another 2% and so on. With lower carbon dioxide emissions, the DRIVe models salve Volvo's conscience by reducing its net contribution to global warming, although the company reckons it was already doing its bit by fitting all its diesel models with a maintenance-free particle filter that traps about 95 percent of all soot particles.
Otherwise of course, it's the usual C30 recipe, recently restyled with an improved front end. This car offers up a shape that you could either see as a coupe or a three-door hatchback. Depending on which of the two views you take (Volvo reckon it's a coupe, hence the 'C' designation), then direct competition comes from either Mercedes' CLC coupe or hatches like BMW's 1 Series and Audi's A3.
Built at Volvo's Ghent facility in Belgium, the C30 SportsCoupe has room for four adults, the rear seats folding flat to form a useful loading space. This car is a clever piece of engineering insofar as it is basically an S40 chassis with 22cm lopped out of the middle, reducing the wheelbase. The stylists have smartly kept the front and rear overhangs very tight to give it a foursquare, planted look unlike that which has befallen the rather lugubrious looking Alfa Brera. Despite this piece of chopwork, the C30 shares not one panel with its saloon car progenitor, instead offering a very different look and feel.
Market and Model
You can get the DRIVe package on all C30 trim levels but there's a premium of nearly £500 to pay if you want the Start/Stop element too. Otherwise, it's all reassuringly Swedish. Safety hasn't been skimped on and as well as the usual airbags and seat belt tensioners, the C30 serves up WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System), SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) and even the option of BLIS (Blind Spot Information System). This acts much like an extra set of eyes and utilises digital camera technology mounted in the door mirrors to monitor the areas 3m to each side and up to 9.5m behind the driver. If a vehicle enters this area, a symbol appears on the windscreen pillar near the rear view mirror to indicate that something's there when you take a quick look towards the mirror. Active at speeds above 10km/h, this system isn't the only safety benefit buyers of the C30 enjoy. Special water repellent glass is fitted to the mirrors and side windows. Water beads up on the glass and the airstream quickly clears it, leaving unimpeded visibility.
The stereo choice is also worth mentioning. As well as some quality basis systems, there's the option of something even the most pernickety audiophile would enjoy. The Premium Sound system features a digital 5x130w Alpine amplifier with Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound and no fewer than ten Dynaudio speakers, Volvo now challenging Lexus as the prime exponents of quality car audio.
Cost of Ownership
The C30 1.6D DRIVe's CO2 figure of 99g/km is outstanding in this class of car but it's dependent on you paying extra for the Start/Stop system. The fuel economy's very impressive too, with this car achieving 74.3mpg on the combined cycle.
All C30 models are stylish and genuinely enjoyable to drive while also retaining core Volvo qualities like build quality and safety. The car's sleek looks do come at the expense of interior space and both rear legroom and luggage capacity could be better but overall, the C30 is a highly desirable alternative to other premium small cars.
Everything about the C30 1.6 DRIVe is very sensible - much like the DRIVe package itself. Thinking of downsizing to a cheaper car to lower your running costs? At this rate, you may not have to.