Volvo C70 – C-ing is Believing
By Jim Bray (photos by the author)
Who'd have thought that stodgy old Volvo could inspire outright automotive lust? Isn't this the company that has been the darling of the green set, or those for whom safety is the greatest priority in a car?
Yet here they are putting out the new C70, a coupe with sexy curves, nice performance, and a roof that dances the ballet for you. Lust is definitely what the C70 inspired in many of the people who saw it during my week of test driving. Including me; I thought I'd get struck by lightning!
Volvos have been getting very interesting of late. The days of the Swedish company cranking out cars that look like road-going cinder blocks are long gone; the most recent generations of Volvos are very attractive cars, yet still very safe and quite green. And if my experience with the C70 and the S40 I drove last year are any indication, they're also a blast to drive!
The second generation C70 enters the market as part of a select, but increasing, group of vehicles that offers the best of hard top and drop top worlds. Its hard top retracts into the trunk in a manner that's a wonder to behold, arching up above and behind your head and folding itself neatly into what up until then had been a decently-sized trunk.
Talk about the ups and downs of C70 ownership!
The hard top splits and folds itself into three sections and even though you do lose a lot of trunk space by stowing the roof, what's left is still surprisingly generous; you just can't get at it as easily. Click here for a Windows Media movie of the process (requires Windows Media Player).
Roof up, I could store my father's gigantic suitcase easily, with room left over for carry ons. Roof down the trunk could have held the carry ons if I had stowed them before lowering the roof.
The only thing you have to remember is that once the roof is retracted, the "ingress/egress" to what's left of the trunk is, well, truncated. So if you've stored very thin things back there, like plates of spaghetti, you can still get at them. Otherwise you'll have to raise the plastic divider to get at the stuff, which isn't as onerous a task as it may sound.
Roof down, the C70 is a very pleasant place to fry on a hot summer day, as we found out by going on a highway trip that brought us home well broiled. Up front is best, with lower noise levels and wind buffeting; people up front can carry on a conversation, but the lonely souls in the comfortable back seat may feel quite left out.
Still, if you want to ostracize someone to a pleasant but isolated place, the C70's rear seat is your ticket.
Roof up, the car's just like a normal coupe, with minimal road noise and a very solid feel.
Raising and lowering the roof is easy, with no latches or other such thingies to mess with. All you do is put your foot on the brake, press either the "raise" or "lower" buttons on the center console, and wait. The windows lower part way, the deck/trunk lid raises, the roof folds or unfolds like clockwork, the rear lid closes and the windows go back up. Presto!
Under the Dome….
So much for the roof. What's the rest of the C70 like?
Well, it's a very nice vehicle with performance that seems to belie its specifications.
The front wheel drive car is powered by Volvo's 2.5 liter, ULEV, transversely-mounted turbocharged inline five cylinder engine rated at 218 hp @ 5,000 rpm and 236 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,500 rpm. Turbo lag is minimal and the horsepower feels like a lot more than 218, undoubtedly due in no small part to the turbo and the low rpm figure at which the maximum torque is reached. The car takes off like a rocket and can reach stratospheric speeds easily.
Unfortunately, it also torque steers, so best keep your hands firmly on the wheel when you take off from that stop sign so you don't take out that bicyclist next to you (unless you really want to, of course).
My tester came with the standard 6 speed manual transmission and it shifts very nicely. Shifts aren't the shortest, but the lever feels and acts well. The clutch is nice and light, too, though not as progressive as some: it feels more like an "on/off switch" than a clutch.
But neither the torque steer nor the somewhat grabby clutch spoil the driving fun, and I was surprised a what a hoot the C70 is to throw through some curves. Though it doesn't really feel like a sports car, partially due to the "old fart" steering wheel, it's definitely not an "old fart" type of car.
The suspension is nicely balanced between sporty and comfy. The C70 features MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear, with both ends getting anti-roll bars. The C70 felt very good whether we were in the city, on the freeway or driving along some back roads.
Steering is electro-hydraulic, speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion and it offers good connection between the driver and the road.
Brakes are power-assisted discs all around, abetted by Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assistance (EBA) and ABS. The pedal feel and stopping power were fine.
Getting into or out of the rear seat has been facilitated quite nicely, thanks to a handle and a kind of toggle button on the outer "shoulder" of the front seats: the handle releases the seat back so you can tilt it forward, and the button moves the seat forward or backward via power operation. It's a nice solution and it sure beats those little foot pedals at the bottom rear of the front seats.
Volvo has done an excellent job of making the various controls easy to understand and to use by the driver, including a cursor control thingy that steps you through the simple menu system easily. The menu choices are admittedly a lot less complex than those in such things as the BMW iDrive and Audi MMI systems, but they give you all you really need.
The conservative steering wheel includes big, well labeled (via icons) buttons for the audio system and cruise control. And the center stack includes controls for the dual zone air conditioning that works in an elegantly simple way: one main button selects "left", "right" or "both", depending upon how many times you press it (your choice being reflected in the number and location of LED's that illuminate).
This lets you get away with a single set of fan and temperature controls, which helps to unclutter the dash.
The C70's seats are very comfortable, and the back seat is surprisingly so – though there are no window controls for rear seat passengers. My tester's heated and power-adjustable front seats were "leather-ish" and the driver's seat featured memory.
The audio system is very good. It features an in-dash, 6 disc CD changer (and AM and FM radio, of course) and Dolby Pro-Logic II surround, though Volvo needs to go all the way and add DVD-A/dts music disc capability. But as it sits, the sound is excellent.
Among Volvo's famous safety equipment is a Roll Over Protection System designed to save occupants should the tires and the headrests ever decide to swap positions. I never tried it out, fortunately, but have no reason to think it won't work as advertised. You also get a door-mounted inflatable curtain airbag system that protects all four occupants in case of rollover or side impact collision, a whiplash protection system, and the usual gamut of "normal" safety devices.
There's also a security system that even works really well when the top is stowed. I had to pick up a package from the friendly, neighborhood courier and made the mistake of chucking it (carefully, so I didn't scratch anything) into the front passenger seat without unlocking the car. And all hell broke loose! Fortunately, unlocking the doors via the key fob took care of everything other than my red face.
The Volvo C70 starts at $38,710 U.S./$55,995 Canadian. My tester tipped the bill at about $42,500 U.S./$62,000 Cdn., thanks to optional stuff like the upgraded stereo, power passenger seat, headlight washers and more.
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