A convertible Volvo? In “Passion Red” paint? We know; unexpected to say the least. And yet, it isn’t at all incongruous. When the spanking-new Swede showed up in our fleet, we’d already heard the major talking points: folding metal roof, T5 motor, manual transmission, marginally affordable sub-$40K pricetag. All pluses, to be sure, but uttering the words “Volvo” and “desire” in the same sentence still took practice. It was practice we were more than willing to commit to, though, once we laid eyes on the 2007 Volvo C70.
Yeah, it looks good. And what’s more, it makes anyone behind the wheel look good, too. Think of a silky new jogging suit, (or a sexy new pair of stiletto heels, for the fairer sex) done up in bright red and made with exquisite skill. There’s nothing outrageous about the actual design–this is a Volvo after all, and immediately recognizable as such–but it is sleek, aerodynamic, and sporty. Even outfitted in a less arresting hue, this Swede’s shape would be inarguably attractive, contemporary, and attention-getting. And as a premium car, there’s an air of exclusivity about it; tolerances are tight, and the paint shows the deep luster and flawless sheen that can only come from expert application and a generous number of coats.
Central to the C70’s appeal, of course, is that trick new folding hard top. In place, it looks like just a new Volvo coupe, albeit one with a heretofore unseen rakishness. The lines that break them up are almost imperceptible, but the entire roof structure is actually made up of three separate steel panels. Push the button on the center console–no latches to undo–and the sections articulate up and sandwich themselves into the trunk. That boot actually has hinges at the rear to accept them, and once the operation is complete, not a hint of exposed machinery remains.
As for the C70’s cockpit; imagine an S40 upholstered by a surfer in love with his wetsuit. Seats, door panels, the dash and most of the console are constructed of spongy rubber/plastic, and covered by a water-resistant fabric Volvo calls Vulcaflex. On the upside, it’s as grippy as suede, seems as sturdy as vinyl, and connotes both costliness and functionality at once.
A real headliner is built into the roof sections; a gray canvas-like affair that’s easily as nice as the cloth liners that sometimes are fitted into higher-end drop-tops. Convincing enough to mimic a conventional coupe’s ceiling, only when it rains does the amplified splatter give away the thin, hollow nature of the structure. Watching the whole apparatus in action is an awesome affair; onlookers were both impressed and in some cases incredulous. (One girl likened it to a prehistoric pterodactyl unfurling its wings.)
The remainder of the interior is archetypal Volvo. The somber charcoal color scheme, complemented by green instrumentation and ambient lighting, could even be characterized as monotonous, but any tedium is thwarted by the trick soft-touch treatment and clever center console. Yes, the C70 shares the waterfall-style aluminum sculpture that serves in the S40 as well. Audio and climate controls reside here, in a thin, sloping panel, with empty space behind, for a cell phone, perhaps. Like the shifter area and footwells, that unexpected cubby is lit with concealed emerald glow.
As for the requisite gadgetry and so forth that a forty-thousand dollar car demands, that convertible top is clearly the centerpiece. Little else in our Volvo was remarkable–although everything worked well, while giving a whiff of expensiveness. The expected power windows, locks, mirrors and seats were present, although the lack of heating elements in even the front thrones surprised us–and not just because this is a car prone to exposure to the elements. An admirable standard audio system assuaged this affront to an extent; the 6-disc CD changer is augmented by a 4 by 40-watt amplifier and 8 speakers. Sound quality is superb up to almost supersonic levels, and we especially appreciated the ability to set front and rear equalizer preferences, in addition to standard bass and treble adjustments. Mounted in the steering wheel were handy controls for volume and track/station skipping, opposite buttons for the cruise control.
Otherwise, our Volvo offered few high-tech amenities. Basic halogen headlights shone bright enough, we never got lost despite not having a navigation system, and as much as we like the new ‘smart key’ systems, we found physically turning a key not too inconvenient.
As a matter of fact, after evaluating so many luxury cars, crammed with the latest in expensive (and trouble-prone) bells and whistles, we actually found such simplicity a refreshing experience. The C70 proved straightforward and practical, with clever touches where they counted, and an absence of extraneous content. For instance, we appreciated the copious cubby-holes–neat “Kangaroo Pouch” pockets in the front seats and trick pop-out pockets for rear passenger–and convenient cupholders for all four occupants. In another thoughtful touch, additional switches for forward/backward movement are atop each front bucket, next to the seatback-release levers–allowing the rear passenger to power the seat forward when exiting, further aiding egress.
Even the tilting and telescoping adjustments for the steering wheel struck us; so many new models lack this simple feature. Also inexplicably lacking in even contemporary cars costing twice as the C70, we welcomed the automatic up/down feature at each window, and embraced the extra driver’s-side switch for raising or lowering all the glass at once. The sharp Swedish engineers even managed to confront the cargo-room challenge endemic to convertibles through a couple of tactics. For long, narrow items like skis, a lockable pass-thru panel is secreted in the rear seatback. And particularly impressive is the ingenious design of the trunk, where an inner panel partitions off a cargo compartment under the folded roof. Six cubic feet of cargo room are thus always available; top up, the plastic divider swings up and out of the way, allowing all 12.8′ to be exploited.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we slid behind the wheel of this new Volvo. One the one hand, the brand’s brass has been busily pushing its swift and sprightly spirit; on the other, under the brightwork and brawn, it is a Volvo. True, the Swedes have sent us a tiger or two in recent times–think S60R–but still, the tenets of safety and security have overshadowed any focus on style, sportiness, luxury or other trends Volvo may have attempted. And as much as we liked this powertrain in the S40 a couple years back, we couldn’t predict how much the twin peccadilloes of the drop-top–added poundage and amplified chassis slop–would spoil its personality. After all, the convertible hardtop system requires a significant 3,772 lbs. versus the S40’s 3,278, harnessed to the same turbocharged 2.5-liter.
The 218-horsepower output sounds somewhat tame, in truth, and the inline 5-cylinder’s 236 lb.-ft. of torque doesn’t astound, either. In practice, however, the Volvo’s motor proved plenty powerful. Turbo lag turned out to be totally noninvasive; there’s tire-spinning torque to be had at take-off. Thrust intensifies as the revs rise, for sure, although this isn’t the typical throttle-it-to-redline turbo. We recorded 7.2 seconds as our best 0-60 mph run.
Our tester’s manual transmission definitely had much to do with this Volvo’s muscular tone. Six forward gears, spaced evenly for smooth acceleration from stop to almost the 150 mph top speed, made the most of the available grunt in every situation. Sadly, the shifter showed some slop in every slot, save reverse, and could cause a missed shift now and again. We found further fault with the front-drive layout’s fragrant torque-steer; we frequently found ourselves a few feet to the right under fierce acceleration. A limited-slip differential would be most welcome here.
Dynamically, driving the C70 split the difference between the deportment of a BMW 3-series and, say, a Chrysler Sebring. We never outstripped the Volvo’s grip–provided by 235/40 rubber on 18″ rims that were the only option on our car–and we never really wanted to. It handles with aplomb, but not the self-assuredness of a strict sports car. It never felt out of its depth, but then again, it never encouraged us to push its limits that far. Passengers proffered praise for the supple ride, though, which remained persistently composed. Among the high-end convertible segment, the C70 is probably most alike the Mercedes SLK; powerful and competent, but not completely comfortable carving corners. For the vast majority of owners, the Volvo is as agile a vehicle as they’ll ever need; those who crave the very edge of driving excitement are likely looking elsewhere anyway.
At the far edge of the segment are the probable buyers for this toy. Folks who frequent Volvo stores still seek the security of a safe automobile as their foremost concern. Continuing to cater to their chief market, Volvo crammed the C70 with airbags at the front, sides, and curtain areas. Countering whiplash with active headrests in the front buckets, the C70 itself is constructed of High-Strength Steel in certain key spots to form a safety cage structure. Rollover worries are relieved by rigid A-pillars surrounding the windshield, while headroom integrity in the rear is ensured with pop-up roll bars. Vented anti-lock disc brakes at all four corners–11.8″ up front, 11″ in back–provide drivers with plentiful deceleration capability, and Emergency Brake Assist is there to use it if you won’t.
One more positive point, which we hadn’t predicted–fuel economy. In many miles of mixed driving, our C70 managed 22.5 mpg. Slotting in between its official EPA figures of 21/29 city/highway, that number is doubly impressive considering how hard some of our “test” drives are.
Really, it didn’t take long to become accustomed to the Volvo C70. In fact, we were pained to see it go. Something of a study in contrasts, it showed itself to be not only sexy and safe, but mildly sporty as well. Beginning at $38,710, the C70 should, perhaps more than any other model, bring buyers into Volvo dealerships who by and large wouldn’t consider the brand. Those willing to take that leap will find a comfortable, competent, and entirely cool convertible and coupe. Congratulations.