HANA, Maui, Hawaii - Way back in the 1950s and 1960s, Volvo issued a tiny handful of convertibles as well as a batch of two- passenger sports cars. Since then, the Swedish automaker has been best known for the safety of its vehicles.
Moving into recent times, Volvo launched its first C70 convertible as a 1998 model, joining the C70 coupe that had debuted a year earlier. Sales of the first-generation C70 halted during 2004, but Volvo is back with a brand-new version as a mid-2006 model.
While the original soft-top C70 was a satisfying, if costly, vehicle, its 2006 successor is a honey on the road and a treat to the eye. Most important, there's no fabric top anymore. Instead, this 2+2 model has a retractable metal roof. Separating into three sections at the push of a button, the roof stows in stacked form within the trunk space. Onlookers are likely to be amazed when they watch the roof go down, with the three panels easing their way into a neat stack. It takes 30 seconds to raise or lower the roof.
Pininfarina, the legendary Italian design house, worked with Volvo on the sectioned roof. "All the curvature is going in the same direction," said exterior designer John Kinsey. Designers also had to make sure that customers are able to recognize the car as a Volvo, even without badges. The C70 shares its hood with Volvo's S40 sedan, but no other exterior panels.
Jeff Dulik, product launch manager, explained that surveyed motorists liked the idea of a retractable hardtop, because of safety (versus a soft-top) and all-weather capability. Torsional stiffness is twice that of the original C70, according to project director Patrik Widerstrand. Extra reinforcement compensates for the lack of a fixed roof and B-pillars.
Under the hood, a five-cylinder T5 turbocharged engine generates 218 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with automatic optional.
Four occupants fit into the C70. Trunk space totals 12.8 cubic feet with top up, but it dips to just 6 cubic feet with the top down). Standard Flex Tech interiors are neoprene, which can be cleaned with soap and water.
Naturally, Volvo hasn't forgotten safety. Door-mounted pop-up airbags provide protection in side-impact and rollover incidents. Seat-mounted airbags promise chest protection. Pop-up roll bars deploy in a rear-impact, rising by about 25 centimeters (nearly 10 inches). Volvo's Whiplash protection (WHIPS) system helps protect front-seat occupants against neck injury. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control is standard.
Volvo's C70 held its own with ease along the Hana Highway. Stylish and civilized, this two-way coupe delivers a satisfying road experience. Only a flaw or two lurk within, and nothing is especially bothersome. This is a practical all-weather automobile, too. Operation of the top is simply amazing to watch - though one wonders if all that complexity could be troublesome as the car ages.
With a manual gearbox, Volvo's V-6 performs quite well, though it might be a tad short on low-end torque. On upgrades, it's necessary to drop down to second gear fairly often. Otherwise, though, the C70 behaves with spirited enthusiasm, taking off with dispatch and smoothness. While the manual transmission is easy to shift, a touch of clankiness might occur at times.
Performance is just about as enthusiastic with the automatic transmission, qualifying as impressively responsive. Acceleration from lower speeds is especially satisfying. Most gear changes aren't especially noticed, taking place in a refined manner. The automatic's manual-shift provision works well, but there's some delay each time - enough to be a bit annoying. An urbane yet energizing whoosh emanates from the engine when accelerating harder.
Handling doesn't quite qualify as sporty, but it's close enough to satisfy most drivers and pleasantly predictable. Even through Maui's constantly winding roads, the C70 followed directions closely enough. Expect a generally smooth ride, helped by solid construction, though some bumps will be noticed.
Still, significant looseness could become evident over bumps, including some that aren't all that sizable. A second manual-shift model felt markedly tighter. Some "torque steer" occurs when pushed hard from a standstill, though it's not difficult to control and restrain.
Especially comfortable seats provide appealing cushioning for all-day comfort. Side bolstering is notable, yet non-intrusive. Large white-on-black instruments are easy to read. Over-the-shoulder views aren't bad with the top up. Rearward visibility also is acceptable, though blocked somewhat by the headrests. Volvo's accessory wind blocker inserts easily, but is not really needed. On the down side, the seatbelts flap somewhat in the wind.
Getting into the back isn't so easy for the non-agile, even with the top down. It's nearly impossible with the top up. But once there, the C70 is surprisingly comfortable and roomy if the front seat is far enough forward. If not, leg space can approach zero.
Starting in April, you can drive home a C70 for $38,710 (plus destination charge). Three option packages are available, including a $1,395 Premium group.