Ever since the Big Bang happened and matter formed into the planet Earth, the top hatchback has been the Volkswagen GTI. Other cars have been faster or better looking but the GTI was the most skilled all around. It might not kick a field goal, but it will win the NFL combine.
In 2006, Volvo entered a new player into the sport: the C30. The front looked like any Volvo, but the back had P1800 character, and people seemed happy just to have a new contender. 6 years later it’s better looking and-with the addition of the Polestar package-faster. Let’s run them through the tires.
2012 VW GTI 2.0T DSG
The M.O. of a hatch back is practical fun; Put a St. Bernard in the back and race home. The GTI began in 1974 as the Rabbit, a light, sparse runabout at home at school or a rally stage. Today, it’s a near-luxury car that shares interior characteristics with the big daddy of cabin design, Audi.
The cockpit looks expensive (to be fair, it can be). Smart and shapely with perfectly-placed bright work amid a sea of deep black, a nicely shaped steering wheel and an excellent seating position. The combination of cool and engineering makes the GTI look like it invested in Microsoft in 1974 and treated itself well since.
Driving is equally good. The same ideal of refined fun is felt through the wheel, soaking up bumps without disconnecting you. Turn-in is quick, cornering is fairly flat, rotation just a little left-foot braking away. It’s equally good at Auto-X or a week-long road trip. The 2.0-liter turbo engine only makes 200HP, but all of its torque (207) turns on at 1,700RPM. 6.3 seconds to 60, 31MPG highway. Though the power is a little behind the times, when shifted through the DSG automatic, it’s quick enough, and big power is only an aftermarket chip away.
So that’s what the C30 is up against.
Volvo C30 T-5 R-Design Polestar Edition
Well, it deserves to be here. All those names above mean better seats, painted exterior trim, and more power.
The ride is actually very similar to the GTI, although the steering seriously lacks feedback, as did the clutch pedal in our 6-speed manual (the shifter felt nice though). Under-steer was a bit too prevalent, but some blame falls on the tires. It felt every bit the touring car the GTI does, but it’s like blending beer and pretzels: all the texture and bubbly-ness is lost.
However, the engine is wonderful. 5-cylinders in a row force-fed by a turbo. It flies. With the Polestar package, power is up to 250HP and 273ft-lbs of torque (a bump of 23 and 37, respectively) but dynos have shown even more. There’s no contest between these engines; the C30 is faster and it still gets 29MPG highway. With the R-Design package, it looks faster too. The exterior is a fresh face in the hatch segment.
The interior is quiet, with good touch points. Functional simplicity. But it needs some updates. The center stack on this car is basically the same as a V50 from 2006, as are the screens, and there are too many buttons, all shaped like Chicklets.
Our C30 was $29,000, under-cutting the GTI’s price by $1,400. You can get them cheaper but with NAV and leather, they’re 30 grand. Practical compacts with a dash of luxury and brand sophistication man seek. They are what an enthusiast buys after grad school.
As cool and smart as it is, the Volvo C30 doesn’t quite measure up to the Volkswagen GTI 2.0T. People might be swayed by the power, quality, and unique look, but you’re hoping for a GTI in Swedish clothing, the steering and handling will disappoint.