IRVINE, CA – The new Volvo C30 hatchback coupe is the smallest Volvo ever sold in America, except for about 70 obscure P1900 sports cars it made in the 1950s, and is the automaker's lowest-cost 2008 model, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

The C30 fits in the growing U.S. market for upscale small cars such as the Mini Cooper. High gasoline prices are fueling that generally new youth-oriented market. But it remains to be seen if lots of Americans buy small, upscale cars that cost as much as larger models, although the C30 is bigger and roomier than the trendy Mini.

The curvy, stylish front-wheel-drive C30 is fun to drive. It's derived from Volvo's S40 sport sedan but is 8.5 inches shorter and 320 pounds lighter - with two fewer doors.

There are two trim levels with offbeat names: The $22,700 1.0 and $25,700 2.0. Both are well-equipped with comfort, convenience and safety features. Volvo says the C30 is built to the same principles as other Volvo models, starting with a solid body, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

For a one-time $300 charge, a "Custom Build" program with an array of options, exterior colors and interior combinations is available. Offered are 17 exterior colors and 12 interior color combinations. There are more than 30 individual options, from heated leather seats to keyless starting and a blind-spot warning system.

Volvo says it will be hard to find two C30s that are exactly alike. The wedge-shaped C30 accommodates four tall adults in its quiet, airy interior once they get past long, heavy doors, although a 6-footer behind the driver will find tight knee room.

Front seats are supportive for spirited driving, although the seatback adjustment control is a little awkward to use. And seat belts aren't easily reached when you try to pull them to a fastening position. Backlit gauges can be quickly read even when a driver is wearing sunglasses, which often make gauges impossible to read, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

The ignition switch is conveniently on the dashboard and the center dash stack (middle section) is inspired by bentwood Scandinavian furniture. It drapes off the dashboard center and curls rearward to "float" over the front console, which contains handy dual cup holders. A small, but deep, storage bin resides behind the cup holders, and doors have small storage pockets.

Sound system and climate controls are large and easily used. The inside hood release is deeply buried under the dash, but at least it's red to make it easier to spot.

The C30 is distinctive partly because of its large, frameless glass hatch, which dips low for good visibility. The hatch is reminiscent of the glass hatch on Volvo's collectible 1972-73 P1800ES sports/GT station wagon. However, the rear spoiler above the hatch has a rather tacked-on look.

The C30's hatch is easy to flip open or shut with two fingers. However, the hatch opening is high and not conventionally shaped. The cargo area is moderately large. The backs of the two bucket-style rear seats can be flipped forward for more cargo room.

The C30's turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine kicks out 227 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 rpm to 5,000 rpm for good response at all speeds. A light pressure turbocharger increases power and prevents it from coming on with an uncomfortable rush during rapid acceleration.

The smooth engine provides strong merging and passing. It lets the C30 hit 60 mph in 6.2 seconds with the standard, slick six-speed manual gearbox and in 6.6 seconds with the responsive $1,250 automatic, which has a manual shift feature. Top speed is 149 mph, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Volvo national spokesman Dan Johnston said it's expected that 60 percent of initial C30 buyers will order the manual transmission, but that "eventually about 80 percent will opt for the automatic."

Estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg in the city and 28 on highways with the manual transmission and 19 and 27 with the automatic. Only regular octane fuel is needed.

The quick steering is nicely weighted with the right amount of power assist. Handling is good, enhanced by wide front and rear tracks. It's sharpest with the 2.0 model, which has a stiffer suspension. The ride of my test 2.0 model was firm, but supple, with a long wheelbase helping smooth it out. However, the ride occasionally got choppy on poorly paved side streets.

Stopping distances are good, but the brake pedal is overly soft, although it has a linear action. The C30 is very much a safety-oriented Volvo, so it's anti-lock brakes have electronic brake force distribution and electronic brake assistance.

The hood has interior insulation to hold down noise. It glides up on hydraulic struts, so no prop rod is needed to hold it open. Fluid filler areas in the engine compartment can be easily reached.

The Volvo C30 might help make small, upscale cars more attractive in America, but the Ford-owned automaker doesn't plan to make it a high-volume 2008 model here next year.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials