What of performance and handling? Highway 1 was not the appropriate venue, clogged as it frequently is with lumbering RVs and minivans full of rambling rubberneckers. For that, we selected California 58, out near where James Dean met his fate in the Lil' Bastard, out where nobody drives because there's nowhere to go. All whoops and dips and curves and straights, California 58 is a driver's dream, and leads from the state's main artery, Interstate 5, across to the coast. It was here that we put the Volvo through its paces from a performance standpoint.
Based as it is on the same foundation as the S40 sedan and V50 wagon, one might conclude that the new C70 is a decent performer, and that conclusion would be accurate. A turbocharged 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder engine is shared with the S40 and V50, making 218 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 236 lb.-ft. of torque spread across the rev range between 1,500 and 4,800 rpm. Those numbers might not sound impressive, but that fat wad of torque makes the C70 feel brisk from the driver's seat. A six-speed manual transmission drives the front wheels, but our test car had the optional six-speed Geartronic automatic. Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution came in handy on more than one occasion, slowing the standard 17-inch wheels and 235/45 Michelin Pilot all-season tires. The C70 rides on a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, and a stability control system keeps the car in line and moving in the right direction.
For a luxury car, this is standard-issue hardware – nothing to call out as special. What's special about the Volvo C70 is its retractable hardtop, which completely lowers in 33 seconds and raises in 31 seconds. The hardtop separates into three sections, arcs rearward, and stacks neatly into the trunk, transforming the C70 from a quiet and stylish coupe to a leather-lined sun tanning bed for four. Because it's a hard top, it better isolates the C70's occupants from foul weather, protects against theft, and maintains serenity in the cabin during rush-hour traffic. The major downside is that it robs more than half of the space in the 12.8 cu.-ft. trunk, but leaves enough room for two good-sized suitcases and a carry-on bag.
Prices start at $39,405 including the $695 destination charge. The standard equipment list is generous, including all of the comfort and safety features that customers expect on a luxurious convertible – well, except seat heaters. Unique features worth discussing, in addition to the trick roof, mainly pertain to safety, from the Volvo Intelligent Vehicle Architecture (VIVA) which channels crash energy away from the passenger compartment and the Whiplash Protection Seating System (WHIPS) to the Roll Over Protection System (ROPS) that fires twin roll hoops from behind the back seat in a rollover accident and the Side Impact Protection System (SIPS). That last feature includes door-mounted side-curtain airbags that deploy upward to provide protection even when the roof is lowered, and Volvo is one of the first to market with this kind of system.
Options include the Geartronic automatic transmission, bi-Xenon headlights, rear parking assist, a navigation system, and three main option packages. The Premium Package adds leather upholstery, a Homelink universal transmitter, and a compass in the rearview mirror. The Dynaudio Package – worth every penny – includes 12 Dynaudio speakers, amplifiers, and a subwoofer. The Climate Package includes rain-sensing wipers, headlight washers, and heated front seats. Inexplicably, metallic paint is also an option on the Volvo C70. Our Volvo C70 included the automatic, the Premium Package, and the Dynaudio Package for a grand total of $44,075.
What we learned from our weekend road trip up the coast of California was that the Volvo C70 is not a car made for enthusiasts, though it is thoroughly enjoyable to drive. We learned that retractable hardtops are superior to fabric soft tops, though we cannot know if that is true once the warranty has expired. We learned that Volvo knows how convertible owners use their cars, and that it still builds incredibly comfortable vehicles, even if heated front seats aren't standard. Finally, we learned that the Volvo C70 offers an appealing and sophisticated alternative to the major player in this category, the BMW 3 Series. At least so long as you're taking Highway 1 and not California 58.
Fun to Drive
The C70's interior is a bit austere for some, but I really like the waterfall center panel and “floating” dashboard. Notice that there's no chrome to glint in sunlight – the trim is all aluminum, which cuts down on glare and really came in handy during our trip up the California coast. Designers might consider adding contrast between the medium and light gray shades in our test car, though, and we thought it odd that the glovebox handle is black and rest of lower dash is light gray.
Price of Test Vehicle: $44,075 (including the $695 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.4-liter, turbocharged inline five-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 218 at 5,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 236 lb.-ft. between 1,500 and 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,772
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 21/29 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 21.4 mpg
Length: 180.4 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Height: 55.1 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.3/33.9 inches
Head room (front/rear): 38.2/36.4 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Four
Max. Cargo Volume: 12.8 cu.-ft. (top up); 6.0 cu.-ft. (top down)
Competitors: Audi A4 Cabriolet, BMW 3 Series Convertible, Ford Mustang GT Convertible, MINI Cooper S Convertible, Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GT, Pontiac G6 Convertible, Saab 9-3 Convertible, Toyota Solara Convertible, Volkswagen Eos
You've gotta love the resurrection of the retractable hardtop convertible. You get the best of both worlds with the Volvo C70, a convertible when the sun is shining and a hardtop coupe when the elements don't permit open air motoring. This solution also addresses the noise factor; gone are the typical wind leaks into the cabin and the overall environmental noise a canvas top can't eliminate. It's a win-win situation, right? Not quite.
Although I loved cruising around in the Volvo C70, the fact that the top takes up the majority of the trunk space when lowered would shy me away from buying it. I always seem to be hauling something of value around and in addition to the fact that the trunk is small with the top down, access to the trunk's contents is frustratingly limited. Volvo has added a button that raises the folded top about six inches to help maximize access, but it still didn't give me enough maneuvering room. Up-down, up-down – the top's complex mechanics got a workout during my time with the Volvo.
Outside of this major inconvenience I really enjoyed the C70's acceleration, brakes and steering, as well as the unique design of the interior. There's lots of storage space and conveniently placed cupholders for front and rear passengers in addition to the waterfall console are the highlights of the C70's interior. On the downside, the dials and buttons are not intuitive and took some figuring out. There was also a constant whoop-whoop noise from behind the glove box drove me batty.
Once mastered, the Volvo C70 delivers an exciting driving experience mirrored by great looks. Kudos to Volvo management for producing a car that looks so unique. Despite its shortcomings, this is a sleek ride worthy of consideration when shopping for a car in this class.
Volvo C70 – Mike Sullivan’s Opinion:
Cruising up the California coast in the handsome C70 was a gratifying experience. The cushy seats, the capable T5 engine, and the feeling of wind in my hair perfectly complimented the sunny weather and the beautiful scenery. After spending several hundred miles behind the wheel, its fair to say that the C70 a fantastic cruiser to take on a weekend getaway.
In weekday driving, however, the C70 falls a bit short. Primary issues are the size of the steering wheel and placement of the pedals. Volvo has fitted the C70 with an unusually thick steering wheel that is too wide for the average hand to comfortably grasp. Although its girth is well suited for highway travel, around town the wheel is too cumbersome for quick maneuvering. Also making life around town more difficult than necessary are the foot pedals. The throttle is placed too close to the brake pedal, and my size-eleven shoe would catch the bottom of the brake pedal while lifting off of the throttle... not the best design for emergency stopping. However, if you are in the market for a topless cruiser with a decent amount of cargo room, and you’re a person with extra large hands and proportionally small feet, take the C70 for a test drive.
Photos by Ron Perry and Christian Wardlaw