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The Volvo C70 is a true convertible, converting from coupe to roadster with the press of a button. With a folding steel roof that deploys from its trunk, it converts from an open car to a closed one in just 30 seconds. The C70 helped launch a trend toward true hard-top convertibles when it debuted as a 2006 model, and it was an immediate sales success.
For 2008, the C70 benefits from its first significant upgrades. Among them: more horsepower, new safety features, real wood in the interior, and Sovereign Hide premium leather seating surfaces as a new option. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated City/Highway 18/27 miles per gallon.
The sporty C70 is based on the S40 sedan, but it has more luscious lines. It also has a wider track (the distance between the right and left wheels). The engine, suspension and transmission are proven Volvo components, while the rigid chassis was designed to meet Volvo's industry-leading safety standards.
We found the C70 to be an excellent highway cruiser, smooth and steady at high speeds. With the top up, it's quiet. It's a steel top, so it feels like a coupe when it's up. The C70 drives 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. The stereo sounds superb. Everything operates 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.
The styling of the Volvo C70 revolves around the roof, developed in Italy by Pininfarina. Its roofline is that of a coupe, and it is the most handsome of coupes, with a solid upward sweeping A-pillar and delicately thin and downward sweeping C-pillar. Stand close enough, and you can spot the two seams that enable the roof to stack into thirds and drop into the trunk, but otherwise there's not a hint of compromise in the graceful roofline.
Because of the C70's strong wedge profile, the roof lands on the rear deck at a point higher than it takes off from the hood. A soft ridge at the beltline sweeps all the way from headlight to taillight, accentuating the wedge, which is conspicuous but not bulky. In short, the C70 was not given a fat butt in order to fit the convertible steel roof under its skirt. The trunk lid is aluminum for reduced weight.
When viewed from the front three-quarter angle, it's clear how short and smooth the hood and nose are, and how aerodynamic the package truly is. When you pay attention to the lines, the brilliant job by designer John Kinsey hits home. Five full inches were removed from the nose of the previous generation C70, and the edges softened, resulting in a two-inch narrowing of the front shoulders, despite an increased overall width.
Unlike most Audi models, which seem to be following the Dodge Ram in-your-face school of design, the grille of the C70 is small and quiet. The headlamps gently lean inward toward the grille, as the foglamps under the headlamps surround the opening in the smooth fascia/bumper. The hoodline tapers elegantly down to the bottom of the fascia, inches above the road. The effect of the lower three openings is like a reflection of the headlamps and grille, in a pond. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the shape of the C70 was dictated more by aerodynamics than esthetics.
As the roof retracts, it first elevates, and then slides back and stacks itself in its three sections before quietly submerging into the rear deck. Presto: with one button on the console, it's gone in 30 seconds. Up or down, it takes the same time, and the same index finger.
It's rare for a designer of a car to also do the wheels (a sore point with designers), but Kinsey did these as well, and the symmetry and standard shows. They look like what they are: made for the car. The optional 18-inch alloy wheels called Mirzam are stunning. We would say they're worth it for the way they cap the gorgeous styling, but the standard 17-inch Sadira alloy wheels are beautiful, too. They look like premium wheels.
Many C70s were crashed at the high-tech Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Sweden, to determine the optimum deformation structure in both the nose and tail. Volvo even T-boned the driver's door with one of its own XC90 SUVs: Double the data.
The structural safety features of the C70 take thousands of words to describe in detail. From top to bottom, front to rear, side to side, the chassis has been strengthened, tweaked, and made crushable where possible to dissipate energy in a crash. The C70 convertible more than compensates for the loss of the rigidity of a fixed roof; it's stiffer and safer than the previous C70 coupe. The reinforced B pillars, normally connected by a roof, are connected on the C70 by one of five transverse frame members. This dissipates crash forces. The door sills are laser welded, and raised behind the B pillars. The doors have diagonal steel beams. The A-pillars use extra high strength steel, and extend all the way down to the frame rails.
The C70 is based on the S40 platform, and uses the same wheelbase. It uses a wider track for more stable cornering and to carry the additional weight. Because of the strengthening of the chassis along with the retractable hood mechanism, the C70 weighs 3,627 pounds, which is 264 more than an S40 T5 sedan and 104 more than the larger S60 sedan.
Top up or top down, life is good inside the Volvo C70. The front bucket seats are ergonomically shaped and very comfortable. The Flextech upholstery that comes standard is a stylish synthetic material with a wetsuit-like feel. Its quality is way beyond cloth, and it feels as nice as leather against the skin. Genuine leather is included in the Premium Package; and for an additional investment you can choose premium Sovereign Hide in Off Black, Calcite, or Cacao.
The front seats slide forward with the touch of a button to ease the boarding of passengers into the two rear seats. There are a number of storage compartments in the cabin, some of which are lockable, useful when the car is parked with the roof down. Other compartments can be locked with a separate key, when leaving the car with a parking attendant, for example.
Volvo's flat-panel center stack fits in a world of flat panel computer monitors and television screens. It features a horizontal information screen over a column of buttons for radio and climate controls. Four big knobs dot each corner.
For 2008, Volvo has backed off a bit on the high-tech look, replacing last year's sleek aluminum trim with more traditional Laminated Oak (yes, real wood), which also accents the lower console and interior door handles. A clever storage bin behind the panel offers a place for a purse. The panel is unique to Volvo. Also new for 2008 is a space-saving Z-style handbrake.
Overall, interior storage space is in short supply.
The trunk gets crowded with the top down, also. The trunk has 12.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the roof up, and 6 cubic feet when it's retracted: enough room for two sets of golf clubs, says Volvo. Golf club bags have to slide under the roof, so there's an electric mechanism called Load-Aid, which lifts the roof sections and window glass eight inches. There's also a hatch between the rear seats that allows long things like skis to be carried in the trunk, extending into the passenger compartment. There's no room for a full-size spare tire, but buyers can choose (at no charge) between a temporary spare or a compressor bottle with sealant touted to plug a quarter-inch hole sufficiently well to last 120 miles at 50 mph.
In the rear seats, however, the C70 has more legroom than the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series (1.5 and 1.9 inches more, respectively).
The Dynaudio system delivers vivid sound, so we recommend this option. A nice feature: With the top down, as the speed of the car climbs, the volume automatically increases, then decreases when you slow down. The standard system includes an auxiliary audio input for iPods and other MP3 players, plus MP3 playback capability from the in-dash CD changer. Sirius satellite radio is available.
New for 2008 is the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS). Cameras mounted in the side mirrors detect vehicles approaching from behind, in daylight or darkness. When an approaching vehicle closes to about 30 feet behind and to the left or right of the C70, the system activates one of two small amber lights mounted just inboard of the mirrors, calling the drivers attention to the situation.
The Volvo C70 seems to be made for high-speed cruising. 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 doesn't accelerate that quickly, but its top speed is a mind-boggling 149 mph, and electronically limited at that. We do not recommend this.
The C70 uses front-wheel drive and Volvo's well-proven turbocharged five-cylinder engine. For 2008, output for the 2.5-liter light-pressure-turbo power plant has been increased from 218 to 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, while torque remains unchanged at 236 pound-feet from 1,500 to 4,800 rpm. The flat torque curve puts the power to the front wheels evenly and makes the car highly responsive. Volvo estimates 0 to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox (about a half-second quicker than last year) and 7.4 seconds with the five-speed automatic (ditto). That's respectable performance, but certainly not scintillating. (We consider eight-second 0-60s to be roughly the dividing line between quick and average performance.)
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated City/Highway 18/27 mpg with the manual transmission, 18/26 mpg with the automatic.
We found the six-speed manual best complements the C70's sports car feel, as well as allowing snappier acceleration and slightly better highway economy. It's such a good gearbox, smooth and tight, and we've praised it in other Volvo models.
On the other hand, we also found the five-speed automatic to be a fine, crisp transmission. And for those who want a little extra control at times, the automatic features a satisfying and obedient Auto-stick mode.
The brakes work well. We found them to be resistant to fade on a winding road that overheated the brakes on some lesser cars.
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 chassis is stiff, a key to crisp handling and a smooth ride. The current C70 doesn't shake like many convertibles, including the previous-generation model.
The Volvo C70 is gorgeous. It's fun and convenient, and its safety is unbeatable. The engine, transmission and suspension are proven to be smooth and reliable, and deliver even better performance for 2008. The price for this four-seat hardtop convertible is a bargain.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Maui.
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