The Volvo C30 is a life-lesson on wheels, for here is a car that reminds us not to let first impressions outweigh experience.

The C30 looks like a snazzy, frivolous sports hatch. But it is a Volvo and, as we have learnt over many years and in many guises, Volvo does not do snazzy or frivolous. As the C30 shows, however, the company does do sports car.

In truth, the initial confusion is only skin deep and the result, I fear, of the C30’s colour scheme being handed over to someone last employed to design costumes for Abba’s farewell tour. The version I drove (the 2.0 SE Sport) was a sort of shimmering mint-green bordered by sills and wheel trim in chocolate brown, giving it the look of a large boiled sweet.

It is not the first time the Swedish manufacturer has made a sports model but previous attempts lacked conviction. The 480, launched in 1986, took Volvo’s trademark angular approach to an extreme with a wedge profile celebrating the then relatively new wonders of computer-aided design. Its futuristic ambitions were further revealed in its computer-controlled electronics and a considerable amount of glazing. Unfortunately, the 480 did not live up to Volvo’s reputation for robustness, primarily because the new-fangled electronics tended to fail and the glazing was prone to leak.

Its quirkiness won the 480 a place in the heart of aficionados, particularly in the UK, but the car was not a big hit in terms of sales.

Such a fate is unlikely to befall the C30. Despite its garish wrapper, Volvo has built a very tasty offering. Its glazed rear window is a nod to the 480 but almost everything else about it is a recognition of the earlier model’s weaknesses.

The C30 is squarer, squatter, and – particularly with the 2.0 SE Sport – sits close to the road. It looks sporty rather than the 480’s quirky.

And that impression is confirmed in the drive. Scandinavians, of course, love their rallying and the C30 would hold its own on the road, even with Stig Blomqvist or Marcus Grönholm at the wheel.

Either of these rally champions would be content with the C30’s power. Acceleration in the 2.0 SE is deceptively fast, with the 62mph barrier broken inside 10 seconds and a top speed of 130mph, while the top of the range T5 reaches the same speed in just over six seconds.

The deception is provided by the reassuring solidity of the car – which renders even the most searching acceleration almost serene – and the smoothness of the transmission. This is in such close sync with the engine that even Messrs Blomqvist and Grönholm would be persuaded to abandon their clutch-threatening, rallying ways and simply enjoy the ride.

The car shares the curved central console of all newer Volvos, housing audio and satellite navigation – although it provided unplanned entertainment as I kept changing radio station with my knuckles when switching gear.

This revealed a wider problem with theC30’s interior. Volvo markets the C30, like the 480 before, as a genuine four-seater. Personally, I would not like to travel far in the rear. Indeed, the company would be much better selling the C30 as a genuine, sports-orientated two-seater.

More reviews at www.ft.com/testdrive

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