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The Volvo C30 looks best when viewed from just above. Its this angle that really shows the arcing shoulders and tapered greenhouse, the two features that make this car a design standout. Better yet, the shape looks even more dynamic as it gets closer to the ground. So we decided to dial up the drama factor a little by dialing down the suspension, literally, with the help of H&Rs height-adjustable coilover suspension kit.
Of course, looks arent the only reason one might choose to swap out our C30s under-bits. Despite riding on 18-inch wheels, the standard suspension was a bit on the soft side for such an aggressively styled car. Not only that, but a noticeable clicking sound had emerged from one of the front struts, and that definitely needed to be addressed. While we could have chosen a fixed-height spring-and-shock setup, we preferred the option of setting our own stance with adjustable coilovers.
The C30s suspension design is a fairly straightforward setup, and relatively easy for the do-it-yourselfer to change out. Aside from a spring compressor, nothing more than a decent metric tool set is needed to complete the job.
Each front strut is seated at the bottom inside a cast-iron knuckle. This design means there is no camber adjustment at the strut, a plus for the home installer. The drawback is that spreading the knuckle open far enough to pry out the strut can be a challenge. Luckily our car is still fairly new and everything moved pretty freely, including the sway bar links that must be disconnected to ensure enough travel to fully drop the front suspension. Still, a couple shots of penetrating lube and a firm hammer were required to free the struts from their lower mounts. Use care when removing the ABS wiring looms and rubber brake hoses from their mounting perches.
With the bottom-side work done, the struts then were unbolted from the body. The top of each strut assembly was bolted to the strut tower with three bolts. Once unbolted, they dropped freely from the car. At this point, the spring compressor went on and the springs were compressed so as to remove pressure from the strut bearing. Removing the bearing assembly can be done with regular hand tools, but we used an impact wrench to free the locking nut. Once the bearing was removed, the springs could be unloaded; only the strut bearing needs to be moved to the new suspension since new mounting hardware is included with the kit.
In the case of our clickety-clack noise up front, we discovered one of the strut bearings had puked a ball from its assembly. Luckily (or perhaps not), fixing it was as simple as unsnapping the housing, re-inserting the errant ball, and snapping it all back together.
Assembling the coilovers was done without spring compressors. We dialed the spring perches to their lowest settings, installed the springs, then re-installed the strut bearings. Once assembled, we used the included wrenches to adjust the height (its a lot easier to do it when theyre not installed in the car). We set ours fairly high in the interest of mechanical preservation, but the range of settings is generous enough to slam it to the ground if that is what we wanted to do.
With everything reassembled, we bolted the new assemblies back into the car. We attached the struts to the strut tower with the three bolts first, then aligned the bottom of the strut so that it fell into the knuckle properly. A hydraulic jack was used to press the strut into its lower housing, using care to maintain the vertical axis to avoid binding the strut in its opening. Once this was completed, we re-installed the sway bar links and snapped the ABS wiring and brake lines back into place.
In back, things were even easier. We started by disconnecting the lower swaybar links on both sides. Each rear hub was supported with a hydraulic jack while we removed the single lower shock absorber bolt. With the shock disconnected at the bottom, we loosened the two bolts at the top of the shock mount inside the fender, then removed the assembly altogether.
With both shock assemblies removed and the swaybar disconnected, we then pried the rear springs from their perches. This required a decent-sized (12-18 inches long) prying lever and a friend to stand on the wheel hub (to fully extend the lateral arms) to coerce the springs from their mounts. We used great care to keep our hands out from between the springs and the perches, and avoided getting our faces too close to the work; in either case a suddenly-unloaded spring might have caused a lot of pain.
With everything out, we next transferred the top shock mounts to the new shocks, again using the new hardware provided in the kit. Installing the new parts was essentially the reverse of the removal, except that we would be swapping the upper spring pads (the black rubber discs) for the adjustable mounts of the coilover kit. Despite the fact that there are notches in the rear spring perches for adjustments, we found the only way to truly adjust them was to remove the mounts (and the springs) from the car and then reinstall them after making the adjustments. Get a feel for whether you want the back end to be a little high or a little low, then fine tune from there was our strategy.
With the rear springs in place, we bolted the shock absorbers back in and reattached the swaybar links. Everything was tightened to factory specs (we referred to a service manual for these), bolted the wheels back on and took a test drive to settle the suspension a little before deciding to make any adjustments. You may determine the back needs to come down an inch and fronts need to go up half an inch, or something similar, as we did the first time. We took notes of how much adjustment and in which direction before lifting the car and going at it.
In total, we had about 3.5 hours time into the suspension swap, plus maybe another hour in fine-tuning the height. The beauty of an adjustable suspension is that you can tailor the position to your taste and driving conditions. As it sits now, our C30 looks a lot more aggressive, especially when standing directly in front of it. You may note in the photos, our C30 still needs some height adjustment as it sits considerably higher in the rear than it does in the front. We plan a wheel and tire upgrade very shortly and will fine tune our coilovers ride height at that time.
Out on the road, the C30s ride firmed up considerably, perhaps a bit much for a daily commuter on marginal roads. But, it now feels more responsive and so much sharper as a drivers car. In just one afternoon, we successfully altered the C30s personality on two fronts all at once.
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