Since the VW GTI started the hot hatch craze almost 25 years ago, the hatchback has been one of the coolest car segments around. It combines great performance at a reasonable price with the utility of the hatchback configuration.
Though not many may remember it, Volvo offered a sports car in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s called the P1800. The latter version of the P1800 was a cute hatchback with an upright, all-glass hatch. Fast forward 35 years, and today Volvo again offers a cute, two-door hatchback with an upright, all-glass hatch, the C30. Having abandoned the boxy look that defined Volvo for years, designers seem to have moved beyond straight-edge rulers and are now designing some pretty attractive cars with curves and sloping lines. Perhaps the best compliment I can give is my teenage son’s opinion: “It’s cool looking.”
The heart of the C30 is its 5-cylinder, 2.5-liter, turbocharged engine that pumps out 227 horsepower to the front wheels via a 5-speed automatic, or even better, a nice 6-speed manual. Mileage with the manual is 19 city, 28 highway. It’s a peppy little engine good for a 0 to 60 run in 6.2 seconds. Turbo lag is almost nonexistent, but the clutch travel was a bit long and the shifter had long throws. However, the manual is still a lot more fun than an automatic, especially in a sporty little car like this. Handling is very good, as are the brakes. The steering is a bit over-boosted at slow speeds, but it’s quite responsive at higher speeds. Dynamic stability and traction controls combine with ABS brakes, a plethora of air bags and structural safety components to make the C30 a typically class-leading ‘safe car.’
Leather seats are available, but the cloth seats were a little cheap feeling. The heated front seats are, however, nicely bolstered for spirited driving. Rear seat room is surprisingly good for a small car with only two rear seats. Cargo room is adequate, and with the rear seats folded, it has the capacity of a small station wagon. Base price of the 2.0, or fancier version of the C30, is about $26,500, but you can easily spend more than $30,000 with the many options available.
Another hot hatch is the new Mini Clubman. This stretched Mini offers all the driving fun of the original, plus a back seat a human can actually use. According to Matt McMillan, sales manager at Mini of St. Louis, “The Clubman handles and drives like a Mini: It’s nimble, quick and fuel-efficient. The added space is its biggest advantage. It’s a legitimate family car now.”
Stretched 9 inches longer than the original Mini, the Clubman allocates added space to the rear seat area, and a little to cargo. The rear seats two cozily, with plenty of head room and even a decent amount of leg room. Ingress and egress are greatly aided by a small ‘suicide door’ behind the front passenger door that swings out to allow direct access to the back seat—very clever, if not completely original. Heated front seats are well bolstered to hold you in place during tight cornering. Quirks like window switches on the center dash and a volume control placed well below the other controls add a touch of British character to the Clubman.
The rear hatch opening is also noteworthy in that it’s actually two ‘barn doors’ that open to the side, instead of one door that lifts up. Each rear window has its own cute little wiper, and the doors open wide to allow easy loading. With the rear seats up, there’s a modicum of cargo space, but when they’re down, you actually get a large cargo area. The only drawback is a slight blockage of visibility from the inner posts of the hatchback door. It’s in the line of vision. The car has numerous safety features, such as dynamic stability control, good ABS brakes and six air bags with an air curtain system to offer extra passenger safety.
Despite the larger footprint, the Clubman drives like a Mini, which is to say it’s a blast to drive. The ride is firm but not jarring, and provides excellent road feel. Two engines are available: a normally aspirated 1.6-liter 4-cylinder good for 118 horsepower and a turbocharged version that pumps out 172 horsepower. A ‘sport’ mode tightens the steering and quickens engine response to make it feel even sportier. Power is delivered to the front wheels via a slick-shifting, 6-speed manual transmission with a good clutch pedal, or a 6-speed automatic. The manual allows you to get the most out of the non-turbo engine, which has adequate power. The turbo is really quick. Fuel economy for the non-turbo is 28 city, 37 highway. For the turbo model, it’s 26 city, 34 highway. Prices start at $20,600 for the normally aspirated and $24,100 for the turbo.
Robert Paster is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.