The Swiss may be able to build army knives that do everything, but for a truly useful hot hatch, look no further than a German-modified Swede. This Volvo C30 represents several different oddities in the car business. How often do we get to drive a heavily modified version of a vehicle before the production version? How many tuners will actually lift a hot hatch rather than dumping it on the ground?
Heico built this car in conjunction with Burton Snowboards for the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas. As most boarders can tell you, some of the best driving roads lead to ski resorts. The problem is, you sometimes end up in the snow before you get to the resort. This C30 will carve up the twisties-whether they are dry or completely white.
Heico used its own coilover system, specially made by KW. Having driven other KW-equipped Volvos, it's clear Heico has really figured out what the correct set-up is. The car is lifted about an inch higher than stock, but never feels top-heavy or unstable. The ride is firm, but with all that travel, the suspension soaks up bumps easily. Driving through Southern California canyons, we couldn't find any snow, but on dry roads, this car feels as though it would leave several ground-scraping 'tuner' cars in the dust.
Part of its composure comes from the Haldex all-wheel drive system Heico has installed. It sounds like an easy operation, since it already exists on other models built on the same platform, but, as with most things, it turned out to be much harder. The mechanical install was fairly straightforward. Once in place, however, the computers didn't want to play nice together. Luckily, with Heico's experience and connections, the car was working flawlessly in short order.
Converting a car to all-wheel drive makes it great in the corners, but it never does much for straight-line speed. The C30 will be equipped with a 217-hp turbo five. Heico knew this wouldn't be nearly enough power for the snowboarder looking to beat everyone up the mountain for first tracks. Boost was increased from 7.25 psi up to an impressive 17.4 psi through software tuning. An Aquamist water injection system was also plumbed in to help with cooling the intake charge. On the backside, a quad-tip Heico exhaust lets the turbo work to maximum effectiveness. The end result is 300 hp of motivation.
Besides the wild camo paint, a full Heico body kit is used to emphasize this car's all-weather intentions. The front bumper not only has more aggressive air dams to the sides, but the center section incorporates a skid plate to push the snow down. More pronounced rocker panels and a rear bumper diffuser round out the look.
At the SEMA show, the car wore custom grooved tires with Heico logos carved into the tread. For our test drive, the 18-inch Heico five-spoke wheels had 245/40 Toyo Proxes. The wheels are covering a Heico big brake kit manufactured by Ate. The front consists of four-piston calipers squeezing two-piece grooved rotors, while the rear uses a single-piston caliper and a one-piece grooved rotor.
Having the car for only a day, we needed to use it in as many ways as possible. On the freeway, it's as comfortable as any Volvo. The car never floats or hunts around, as one might expect with its ride height. With windows up, the cabin is quiet and (as with all Volvos) visibility is excellent. The extra boost makes passing easy, even without downshifting. Response from the small turbo is quick and opening up the throttle is met with an aggressive exhaust rasp.
The car hits its stride on mountain roads. It's far from lightweight, so handling is closer to a proper sports sedan than a classic hot hatch. To some, that may sound negative, but there is a level of stability you don't get in something that may be more tossable. Understeer is present under trail-braking, but finish braking before entering the turn and great initial bite is the reward. The front end hooks up better than any other Volvo I know of. The customary vague, disconnected, floating feeling from the front tires is now replaced with great feedback and quick reactions.
The Haldex system takes full advantage of the extra boost. Getting hard on the throttle past the apex results in slingshot-like launches onto the next straight. Drivers will have a tough time provoking oversteer, unless they're in the snow, but the balance is comfortable. The feeling is similar to a well set-up front-wheel-drive car, just with significantly more acceleration out of turns.
I'm even more convinced that Volvo is going to become a real player in the premium small car segment. The C30 represents what many customers expect from a Euro hot hatch. It represents something a little different in the market.
While some European manufacturers are doing things to make their vehicles more mainstream, it seems Volvo has purposely left some interesting features in the C30; a distinctly European look inside and out. If North American customers can only convince the company to build an all-wheel drive version, Volvo may really have something.
Heico C30 Wu
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive
2.5-liter in-line five, dohc, 20-valve,Heico software and turbo-back exhaust, Aquamist water injector
KW/Heico threaded body coilovers
*Wheels And Tires
Heico Sportiv Volution, 8x18
Toyo Proxes T1R, 245/40
Heico front and rear bumpers, side skirts and flares
Custom upholstery and leather headliner, snowboard and boot storage in the rear
Peak Power: 300 hp @ 17.4 psi