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Volvo has launched an all-new C70 for the 2006 model year. The previous-generation model was introduced in 1997.
The Volvo C70, a four-seater, is the first of more coupe/convertibles that will come from other manufacturers. The sleek steel top retracts into the trunk in 30 seconds. The C70 is based on the S40 sedan, but has a wider track and more luscious lines.
The engine, suspension and transmission are proven Volvo components, while the chassis has been fortified and re-figured to increase rigidity over the former C70, and meet Volvo's industry-leading safety standards.
We found the C70 to be an excellent highway cruiser, smooth and steady at high speeds, quiet with the steel top up. Its stereo sounds superb. The C70 feels like a sports car. It has a solid feel and strikes an appropriate balance of responsive handling with a smooth, well-controlled ride quality and fade-resistant brakes. We liked it best with the six-speed manual, but the five-speed automatic is crisp and responsive.
The styling is brilliant, with elegant coupe lines, and the retractable hardtop is an engineering masterpiece. The cabin features comfortable seats, the latest in Volvo interior styling and fabrics, and a clever cubby behind the center dash.
Everything works as it should, and it's a beautiful piece of work. Nothing else on the market offers what the C70 does, priced under $40,000.
In many ways, the Volvo C70 is a hybrid. No, not a gas-electric hybrid, but a blend of the power and handling of the S60 and smaller S40. It's built on the S40 platform, and uses the same wheelbase but the S60's wider track, for more stable cornering. But it needs that width between the wheels, to carry the extra weight. Because of the strengthening of the chassis, and the retractable hood mechanism, the C70 weighs 3772 pounds, which is 468 more than the S40 and 201 more than the larger S60.
Naturally this weight adversely affects the acceleration, handling and braking, although not the ride. The C70 uses the same well-proven turbocharged five-cylinder engine that's been powering Volvos for some time. It's 2.4 liters with dual overhead cams and variable camshaft timing, tuned to the same 218 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque as the S40; that's 10 horsepower more than the base S60, so the acceleration is about the same as the S60 sedan. Volvo estimates 0 to 60 at 7.6 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox, and 8.0 seconds with the five-speed automatic. Eight seconds is considered by some to be roughly the dividing line between quick and average performance.
Like the S40, the C70 seems to be made for high-speed cruising. The acceleration isn't neck-snapping, but the top speed is a mind-boggling 150 mph, and electronically limited at that. The car is very smooth and steady at freeway-plus speeds. And with the steel top, there's no ragtop racket at high speed.
The C70 is front-wheel drive, and not yet available with Volvo's superb all-wheel-drive system. The dream-machine C70 would have the 300-horsepower engine and AWD of the S60R. Volvo has no immediate plans for production of such a vehicle, but it's still early. (And such a car would, of course, be more expensive.)
Our test model was equipped with the standard six-speed, and we think it's the better choice, partly because the C70 feels so much like a sports car, and partly because the six-speed allows snappier acceleration. It's such a good gearbox, smooth and tight, repeatedly praised in other places on this site. If it's good enough for the high-performance S60R, it's great in the C70.
We put about 60 more curvy miles on a C70 with the optional five-speed automatic, and it's a fine, crisp transmission. If you don't like the work that a manual transmission requires, you'll have no problem with the automatic. And for those who want a little extra control at times, the automatic features a satisfying and obedient Auto-stick mode.
Our driving route on the Hawaiian island of Maui included a 52-mile stretch with some 600 curves; that's right, six hundred. We drove quickly, keeping in mind the safety of others of course, with repeated spurts of acceleration followed by sharp braking. There was no indication that the vented 11.8-inch front and 11-inch rear discs got hot (unlike the rental car we later used on that same road).
The C70 doesn't feel heavy when you flick it around in the curves. The rack-and-pinion steering is power-assisted and electro-hydraulic, and provides a solid feel. We wouldn't call it light or nimble, but turning the C70 doesn't require a lot of effort. It simply gives good feedback through the healthy leather-wrapped steering wheel. Solid as a Swede.
The same could be said of the ride. The stiffening of the chassis is clearly apparent, especially when compared to a C70 convertible we drove two years ago, whose shaking on rough roads was disappointing, to say the least. The Maui roads were pretty rough, and the C70 handled them nearly as smoothly as the S60 sedan would have.
The C70 requires premium fuel, and Volvo says it will get 20 city and 29 highway miles per gallon.
The new Volvo C70 is, first of all, gorgeous. Its safety is unbeatable, and the engine, transmission and suspension are proven to be smooth and reliable. The price is a bargain. But the bottom line is that it's a new invention: a four-seat convertible with a convenient, fail-safe, sleek, steel coupe roof.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Maui.