Quick look: Volkswagen GTI vs Volvo C30 comparison

Volkswagen GTI 2.0T (manual transmission)

Volkswagen GTI 2.0T (manual transmission)

Personality Deuce coupe for the 21st century
Why we’d buy it To go through cones at weekend SCCA gymkhanas
Why we wouldn’t Stiff suspension and low full torque threshhold; somewhat unforgiving
Gas mileage EPA, 25/32
Reviewer Terry Parkhurst

Volvo C30 T5 (manual transmission)

Volvo C30 T5 (manual transmission)

Personality Long jacket with a short skirt
Why we’d buy it Good looks, inside and out; solid, comfortable feel; easy to live with
Why we wouldn’t Two doors, a little pricier than the VW, lower gas mileage
Gas mileage EPA, 19/28
Reviewer Terry Parkhurst

Back in 1976, Volkswagen begat a modern legend with its first slick-shifting GTI. When they brought it to the States in 1983, it was a success due to the rollicking good time it delivered, for low bucks. It went away towards the end of the Eighties, and became almost as popular as the old one; the only machine to best it seemed to be its cousin, the snarly Volkswagen R32 (300 plus horsepower).

Volvo decided to get into the hatchback market, vacated by Saab, by offering the C30, created by lopping off the tail of the popular S40. To bring a bit of its own heritage, Volvo put a glass window, sans metal moldings, at the rear of the C30 hatch, like of that in the collectible Volvo 1800ES of the early Seventies.

ACarPlace.com would like to thank auto enthusiast and bookstore manager Roger McGarry for lending his Volkswagen GTI to this effort. The Volvo came to us via press fleet handlers Page One Northwest.

Volvo C30

If you take the Volvo S40 sedan, lop off about 8.5 inches from the rear and put a hatchback at the rear, you’d have the basic idea behind the S30. But when you see it in person, it’s much more eloquent than that. The key to its charm is the distinctive all glass hatch lid at the back. It not only looks timeless, but you can lift or lower it with the touch of just two fingers.

Admittedly, the exterior of the Volvo hatchback is more than a bit reminiscent of the GTI. This becomes especially apparent when you see them, side to side. The Volvo, however, has a snout that is much pronounced; and then too, there is the trademark Volvo logo and crossbar.

The interior of the C30 has a center console that is reminiscent of modern Swedish furniture design. There a space behind the expanse of brushed aluminum that sweeps down, houses the sound system and HVAC controls, and finally goes up and over the transmission tunnel.

What differentiates the interior’s modernity from the pack of confusing HVAC controls that seem standard on most Japanese and German cars these days, is the simplicity of that old standard, the control knob. Fan speed and temperature, along with sound sytem volume and tuning, are four major knobs, with a grid of small buttons ocucupying the space in between.

The rear deck has “T5” emblazoned upon it. It stands for the turbocharged DOHC (double-overhead camshafts, belt driven) 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine which powers the C30; producing 227 horsepower and 236lb.-ft. of torque. Five-cylinder engines can sometimes be rough at idle and sounding peculiar at speed, the result of the uneven cylinder count, hard to counterbalance with even the best crankshaft; however, the engine in the C30 T-5 seemed generally smooth on the uptake and at idle. For that, Volvo deserves kudos.

The Borg-Warner KO4 turbocharger is a light pressure unit, producing just 0.53 atmosphere at full boost. The result is that you feel it coming on in a very linear and full way, in the lower gears; in fact, wheel spin is pretty easily induced, coming off the line. However, things seem to peter out when you row the gearbox into the higher gears, at legal speeds.

The C30 is available only as a front-wheel drive car; and in that sense, it is the perfect counterpoint to the VW GTI. It’s hauling 3,201 pounds, around the same as the 3,155 pounds of the GTI.

The C30 will ratchet up from a standing start to 60 miles-per-hour in about 6 seconds – Volvo says 6.2 seconds, to be exact. This is not your grandpa’s Volvo.

The close-ratio, six-speed manual transmission has a mechanistic feel to it. This is a Volvo and they still seem to be built in a more sturdy manner than most cars. But the clutch has limited travel. If you are not used to a manual transmission, you might feel a bit challenged; if that’s the case for $1,250 you can get a five-speed automatic transmission instead.

The suspension consists of independent struts, located by control arms, coupled with coil springs and an anti-roll bars, up front; followed by independent suspension in the rear, consisting of one trailing link and two lateral links, per side, coupled with coil springs and an anti-roll bars.

The damping on the shocks is set up for a bit better straightahead cruising, than the GTI. Driving over expansion joints is less jarring, and yet, handling is still pretty good. The Volvo feels more substantial and bigger than it is (103. 9 inches, wheelbase; 70.2 inches wide; and 57 inches of height).

Volkswagen GTI

Right off the bat, you can see something the GTI has over the Volvo C30: four doors are available.

Volkwagen has managed to extract 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 lbs/ft of torque at just 1,800 rpm from the GTI’s two liter, four cylinder engine, thanks to turbocharging. The result of all that torque coming on so low in the power band is that when you pop the clutch, the resultant surge is as powerful as that speeding bullet Superman could outrun. For those intent on simply holding the steering wheel, a six-speed automatic transmission is an option, for $1,075.

There are several ways that VW has worked to mitigate losing control: an electronic stabilization program (ESP), anti-slip regulation, and an electronic differential lock (EDL). Even with the front wheel drive, torque steer is minimized. Top speed is limited by a speed governor to 132 miles-per-hour.

The suspension set up is similar to that of the C30: up front are struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar; followed in the rear by a multilink seat-up, with coil springs and another anti-roll bar. However, this supension is much less compliant, in keeping with the GTI’s basic mission. Whatever the road has to offer, you know it, as the bumps and expansion joints announce their presence up through the platform. But where-ever you want to go, it is point and go.

The interior is low key in the GTI, with padding on the doors and dash, easy-to-read straightforward instrumentation with sharply etched numbers on the dials. To remind you what you’re driving, VW has ensconced a silver GTI badge on the bottom of the steering wheel spoke. The front bucket seats are firm.

The interior volume of the GTI is 51 cubic feet up front, 43 cubic feet in the rear and 15 cubic feet in the trunk. It’s good to have four doors, since getting around the side seat bolsters would be a tough deal for rear seat passengers, without those doors.

You make the call

With options and a luxurious feel that the GTI doesn’t have, but lower gas mileage (and arguably faster acceleration), the Volvo C30 costs $2,000 to $4,000 more than the GTI. However, since the C30 is going out the door at the rate of one out of every 10 Volvos sold – projected sales are 8,000 total, in the United States – it probably doesn’t matter. There’s really no loser in this battle, only those with different objectives.

See acarplace’s Volkswagen GTI review