Up until now, Volvo cars have been the hair shirts of the auto industry, the kind of serious vehicles you drove when you were feeling burdened by the "responsibilities" of family and career. Those were the musings of one top Volvo executive shortly before the company's newest creation, the 1998 Volvo C70 coupe, was unveiled here, accompanied by fireworks and a three-screen video presentation more suited to a rock concert. After the smoke cleared, the anti-Volvo appeared. The lines of the coupe were startling. Gone is the boxy shape beloved by tweed-jacketed professors and people who shop at the House of Denmark. The rounded curves and sculpted creases make the coupe seem a closer kin to a Ford Mustang or even a Cadillac Catera. And the car on display was decked out in a most un-Volvo color - a bright gold the shade of hot mustard called "saffron." It's the name of that most pungent of spices, the one that's a key ingredient in curried Indian dishes. he color and shape of the coupe shocked even Blondra, the ex-windsurfing instructor turned auto writer who was covering the event for San Francisco-based FAD magazine, one of many "alternative" media invited to the preview in hopes of cultivating a brand new customer base for the Swedish company. (Freeze, the snowboarding magazine and Fast Company, for twentysomething entrepreneurs, were also in attendance.) "It's garish," Blondra said, eying the new coupe. "It's too trendy. It's going to look dated quickly. And it doesn't even look like a Volvo." It's not supposed to. The C70 coupe, which is built on the same platform as the Volvo S70 and V70, is a car that radically departs from the straight-arrow image of the company and straight lines of Volvo sedans and wagons, which have been its mainstay vehicles. Volvo executives hope the C70 will lure the type of person they call the "affluent progressive," a predominantly younger, male buyer who makes in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year and will help boost Volvo sales to 500,000 worldwide by 2000. The next morning, we got our first ride in the coupe, which will hit the U.S. market sometime this summer and cost about $43,000. It sounds steep, but once you're inside, the price feels justified. The coupe feels solid, well-built and worth the money. It makes a would-be competitor like the Chrysler Sebring feel like the $20,000 car that it is. Happily, Volvo's long-standing commitment to safety was not abandoned with the coupe. It still has all the Volvo goodies like standard antilock brakes, dual front and side air bags and safety cage construction around the passenger compartment. (Safety is the chief reason my family recently purchased a boxy Volvo 850 sedan - hair shirt feel and all. But my 18-year-old griped that the sedan's shape did nothing to enhance his image.) My only safety concern on the C70 was that because of the rear window's rounded shape and the high parcel shelf, the rea r visibility did not seem to be as good as what you experience with the more traditional Volvo design. Even though the coupe's exterior may be a jolt for longtime Volvo lovers, the interior has a reassuring familiar feel and outstanding fit and finish.There are touches of wood at the top and bottom of the steering wheel and around the stereo and climate controls and shift lever.The seats are generously proportioned and seemed to hug us tightly as we wound our way up mountain roads past Castaic Lake, the fruit district near Fillmore and the Los Padres National Forest. Three little disappointments with the interior: The cupholders don't seem to be made for skinny water bottles or Big Gulp-sized containers. (One Swede who heard my complaint admitted they were awful, but said in his country, you weren't "supposed to eat or drink in your car.") The power front seats are a little quirky to move forward when you need to get in the rear and they require two hands. And while the comes with a standard in-dash three-disc CD with 10 stereo speakers and can be outfitted with up to 12, some optional configurations include a speaker poking up obtrusively out of the top of the instrument panel, spoiling its lines. If you go for the extra speakers, you just may want to ask exactly where they are going to be installed. The rear seat, though, is a real blessing with lots of leg room and seats positioned so that you can see easily out of the front window and not have that claustrophobic rear-seat sensation that seems to plague so many coupes. If you didn't know better, you'd swear you were in a sedan. And the standard features are generous, including cruise control, a power glass sunroof and a remote keyless entry system. Coupe buyers are likely to be obsessed with performance and they won't be disappointed with the C70. The coupe is outfitted with a turbocharged five-cylinder in-line aluminum engine that makes 236 horsepower - plenty fast and plenty powerful. If you don't believe me, just watch how actor Val Kilmer throws the C70 around in the Paramount adventure movie The Saint, which is due in April. The C70 can be ordered with a five-speed manual transmission (which seems to be the perfect choice for its personality) or a four-speed automatic. And Volvo offers three optional chassis settings on the C70, including a sport and economy mode to satisfy individual tastes when it comes to road feel. For a traditional Volvo buyer like me, the coupe was surprisingly easy to drive and handle, even up on two-lane mountain roads. My only gripe in the engineering department had to do with angle parking or sharp turns. When you cut the steering wheel sharply on both of the coupes I drove, the power steering felt like it cut out at the end. The wheel became very difficult to turn, similar to the sensation you get with manual steering. A final warning: Blondra probably was right. Saffron is not a smart color choice for coupe owners who plan to keep their vehicles a good long time (although I expect the color to look terrific in ads). Another new color that may be more acceptable is "cassis," a dark purplish shade that looks black in some light. Whew! Could you ever imagine a day when someone was agonizing over whether to buy the bright gold or purple Volvo? If you're a traditionalist who had no problem with the old boxy shape of a Volvo, don't cluck your tongue. You can still buy a boxy sedan or wagon - for now - and continue to enjoy the feel of that hair shirt. But you'll always know that hanging in Volvo's closet is a luxurious knit polo that might be fun to try on at some point. And your son or daughter won't be ashamed to be seen in it.
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||March 19, 1997|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||March 18, 1997|
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