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Fri 22 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Cool runnings

CEO Middle East tries the pint-sized Volvo C30 T5 and enjoys a surprisingly fun drive.

CEO Middle East tries the pint-sized Volvo C30 T5 and enjoys a surprisingly fun drive.

Careering into the automobile scene at the Paris Motor Show in 2006 to rapturous reviews, the Volvo C30 has so far been a big hit. All the big names have praised its makers for making the leap into relatively new territory. So what is all the hoo-ha about?

Undoubtedly, Volvo has retained a consistent level of popularity over the years. To date, the models have been known as sturdy family cars with excellent safety records, but few would say that the look is cutting edge.

Sticking with a design philosophy that has served them for years, the various models are instantly recognisable - probably as you whip past the failsafe old reliables on the highway.

Not this model. This...this is different. Although the engineers have kept the distinctive bonnet and headlights, the rest of the sporty 2-door has been redesigned to give it a ‘cool' edge. No longer simply the preserve of the middle-aged, the C30 is likely to cut into the younger market that has so far largely evaded the company.

The rear windscreen has a circular shape, shirking the boxy style of yore. The whole chassis has a sportier, more streamlined look without compromising the interior space: Four adults can relatively comfortably be seated, unlike many others in the same class.

The company likes to think that the car is versatile and it has a point. ("Here is a car that refuses to be defined by conventional terms," the literature says.

"Is it a small car? A sporty runabout? A car for the city?") Good dimensions, a reliable safety reputation and eye-catching styling happily collide: You can imagine it appealing to a young mum as much as a young professional or retiree.

The simple interior is efficient without being fussy. All the controls that you need are close to hand without crowding the dash.

In the model that CEO Middle East test drove, the curved panel that flows from the dash almost to the gear stick (housing all the gadgetry in between) was fitted in a distinctively grained light oak, reminding you of its Scandinavian roots.If that isn't enough to entice the younger buyer, a number of attractive personalisations are available, including some jazzy body kit. Who knew the humble Volvo could look so good?

Ever safety-conscious, the C30 has kept up with modern trends and included some impressive gadgetry to keep the journey incident-free. A Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) assists with lane changes: small rear-facing cameras in the wing mirrors link to flashing lights in the driver's line of sight to detect vehicles you might not be able to see.

An Intelligent Driver Information System (IDIS) monitors the driving situation and if the road situation needs the driver's full attention, it will delay the release of information from less critical functions such as the phone.

If you do need to brake hard, yet another acronym is at your service. The Emergency Brake Assistance (EBA) uses computer intelligence to help you stop as fast as possible in emergency situations while controlling braking so that you can steer away from danger whilst pressing the pedal as hard as you need.

What's more, if you are taking evasive action the emergency brake lights will flash automatically to let those following know that there is a hazard ahead.

The drive itself is just as you'd expect. The car sticks firmly to the road and, although there is a slight delay in accelerating, the automatic gearbox is seamless.

Airtight soundproofing protects passengers from any unnecessary engine noise and the handling is so smooth that you'll be ripping along before you know it. In a car this safe, it's sanctioned fun.

It's a city car for city driving and handles the stop-start of traffic well, especially with the hearty sound system which is perfectly capable of entertaining you and your fellow road-users.

Some middle-aged habits die hard though: Much as I loved it, this is probably the only car in this class to feature a fastidiously organised clip for your pay-and-display ticket.

Verdict

A pleasant surprise from Volvo. It probably has to overcome some brand prejudice but this is a fine car with a kick of interest for the younger audience. Let's hope they have similar offerings upcoming for other sections of the market.

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