In "Kramer versus Kramer," the ad guy played by Dustin Hoffman came up with a slogan for his big car account: "Boxy but good." That used to describe Volvos perfectly. No longer. Things are changing at Volvo, and they're changing for the better. Gone is the traditional square styling. And now that the Swedish manufacturer is owned and backed by Ford, Volvo has recently launched a host of new models. There's a new line of smaller cars (the S40 sedan and V40 wagon) and a svelte new S80 luxury sedan. And redesigned line-up of V70 wagons is on its way.
The sleek C70 Coupe and C70 Convertible personify these exciting changes at Volvo. The C70 has surely caught your eye. It swings Volvo's image from stodgy Scandinavian to sexy Swede. And the joys of the C70 models go well beyond styling. Their smooth, powerful engines, taut suspensions and crisp steering deliver superb performance that should appeal to enthusiast drivers.
We drove the C70 Convertible in Arizona with unseasonably crisp temperatures in the lowlands and snow flurries in the mountains. With the heated seats and climate controls dialed to their highest settings, we headed out of Phoenix with the top down and enjoyed a big-sky view of the Arizona scenery. While cold air blew over our heads, we were warm and comfortable in the open cockpit, basking in Surround Sound, which sounded great even at high speeds. The cabin's air management is noteworthy. Even in light snow, we were able to keep the top down with only the slightest intrusion of moisture. When it began to snow more heavily, we pulled to the side of the road, set the parking brake and pushed the button to put the top up. A half-minute later, it was safely anchored to the reinforced window frame and we were back on the road.
We also enjoyed the silky smooth turbocharged engine with its broad power band. The Low Pressure Turbo's 190 horsepower works alongside nearly 200 foot-pounds of torque from just 1800 rpm, maintaining that output all the way to 5000 rpm, which results in robust throttle response at any engine speed. Punch it, and the Convertible accelerates quickly and smoothly, with no time spent waiting for the turbo to spool. Accelerating from 0 to 60 mph takes less than 8 seconds and the car boasts a top speed of 130 mph. We found the automatic transmission to be responsive, shifting down quickly to the appropriate gear with the precision you would expect in finely engineered machinery. The brakes, too, are built to match the C70's potential for speed: They provide good pedal feel and did not fade while descending steep grades.
The suspension serves up sharp handling response. This car has that feel of a fine European sports sedan; it gives up little to a BMW. The driver immediately feels connected to the car and to the road, which instills confidence in corners. Our faith grew with the optional traction control system on our test car, which kept the wheels from spinning in the snow in the mountains above Sedona.
Volvo has once again returned to the open-top car market after a long hiatus. Its first car, built in 1927, was a convertible.
While Volvo has maintained its reputation for safety, it is clearly abandoning its traditionally stodgy, boxy look in favor of a fresher image in an effort to attract new buyers. More than any other model in its lineup, the sporty and free-spirited C70 Convertible represents the winds of change blowing through the company.