The C70 retractable-hardtop convertible is a milestone in Volvo's transformation from boxy, sensible, safe vehicles to sleek, sporty, safe vehicles. From bumper to bumper, Volvo nailed the execution with this car, its most competitive model ever and the best, most versatile four-season convertible you can buy.
Exterior & Styling
A stealth convertible, the C70 looks like a coupe to unsuspecting onlookers. Thirty spectacular seconds later, it's a convertible, its sectioned roof stored in the trunk. I say spectacular in the purest sense of the word: The fully automatic articulated top is a spectacle that stops surrounding traffic. A global window switch on the driver's armrest allows all four windows to be raised or lowered simultaneously.
At its debut, the C70 comes only in the T5 trim level, which represents the turbocharged five-cylinder engine. As a result, what you see is what you get: a sleek car with 17-inch alloy wheels. Exterior options that change it up include xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels with lower-series summer performance tires.
Ride & Handling
When it comes to sportiness, the looks came to Volvo first. Since then, the company has made incremental performance improvements, and they really show in this latest model. Its handling and steering, in particular, are up to the task. The C70 is a so-called touring model, so it's not going to carve up the twistiest roads on the tail of Porsches and such, but it's more athletic than I expected. It's a couple of notches above the likes of the Toyota Camry Solara and Chrysler Sebring, and definitely on par with its countryman, the Saab 9-3 ragtop. It's admirably rigid, with minimal shake and twist in the body. I give it a noodle factor of al dente.
As a front-wheel-drive car, the C70 is inherently front-heavy, yet it felt nicely balanced to me, and the understeer was more than reasonable when driven aggressively or on slick surfaces. It was even better when the top was down, likely because its weight shifts toward the back when the top is stowed in the trunk. The Michelin Pilot all-season tires on my test car were a good match for the vehicle's abilities. While Volvo's steering historically has left plenty to be desired, there are real improvements here. It's not as numb-feeling, and the power assist is more appropriate at all speeds.
The biggest shortcoming is torque steer, the tendency of the steering wheel to jerk left and/or right under heavy acceleration. Any time a front-drive car has appreciable torque, it's going to have some torque steer. My feeling is that it's worse in the C70 than it should be. The traction control aspect of the electronic stability system helps to quell the slippage and keep you on the intended path.
Going & Stopping
Currently only one engine is offered: a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. Though I love manuals, I only got to drive a manual C70 for a few minutes; most of my time was in the automatic. Once again, the drivetrains are a nice match for the car's abilities. The C70 isn't a sports car, but it's far from being a slowpoke. More important, its turbo doesn't seem to cause lag. When you step on the pedal, the car goes. (If that seems like a foregone conclusion, you haven't driven many modern cars.)
This five-cylinder has never been the smoothest engine, and that, too, seems to have been improved. There's no objectionable vibration, and the sound is less intrusive.
In addition to having a hard top for all-season comfort, the C70 is very well-equipped for driving on snow and ice. First, it's front-wheel drive. Second, it has the standard stability system. Third, if you get the automatic, it has a Winter mode that controls the engine and transmission for better acceleration on the slippery stuff. It basically keeps the transmission in as high a gear as possible, which limits the power at the drive wheels and minimizes wheelspin. You can do the same manually if you use the clutchless-manual mode, which lets you accelerate from a dead stop in 2nd or 3rd gear if you so choose.
The C70 boasts the advantages of most retractable hardtops: a quiet, well-insulated cabin and better rear visibility than is common among soft-top convertibles. It also boasts the advantages of most Volvos: seats an orthopedist can love, simple functionality and lushness somewhere between premium and luxury.
Power is standard on the vinyl front seats, although adjusting them is best accomplished with the door open, because it cramps the controls when closed. The lumbar knobs on the sides of the backrests are also difficult to reach. The driver's height adjustment offers significant range for drivers of all statures. A manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel adds to comfort and safety, as does the active roll bar behind the backseat. It pops up only in the event of a rollover, so there's no additional structure blocking the rear view.
The peculiar steering wheel has a normal leather-wrapped rim from roughly the 1 o'clock position to 11 o'clock. The top segment has an aluminum trim piece that looks good but feels a bit odd because it's thinner than the rest of the wheel.
The storage provisions reflect the quirks for which Swedish cars are known. The rigid door pockets are strangely narrow, and one section has a cover that flips up. The center storage console behind the gear selector and modestly sized cupholders is hardly large enough for a CD case, at an angle, and its cover is too low and far back to serve as an armrest for most drivers. The glove compartment has a smallish opening but is about as deep as any I've seen. It's illuminated and it locks.
Most distinctive is the dashboard's center control panel, which is just that: a panel with space behind it for a purse or some such object. There's a nice bin back there that accommodates a stack of CDs.
The two-passenger backseat is workable but not exactly roomy, with tight legroom and cramped foot room. Headroom isn't bad; at 6 feet tall, my head was nearly touching the ceiling. Getting in and out is simplified by a well-placed rocker switch atop the front seat backrests. After pulling the handle and tilting the backrest forward, this switch motors the whole seat forward and back. I've driven convertibles and coupes twice the C70's price that don't have this great feature.
As of this writing, the C70 hasn't been rated by either of the major crash-test agencies. That leaves us to list the safety features only. This being a Volvo, it has many. In addition to the required frontal airbags, there are bags in the front seatbacks to protect the torsos of their occupants in a side impact. The C70 is also one of the first convertibles to incorporate side curtain airbags that protect front occupants in a side impact. These devices, which typically deploy downward from the ceilings of hardtop cars, deploy upward from the C70's doors, mainly for head protection.
Safety features not already mentioned include front active head restraints, seat belt pretensioners for the rear as well as the front seats and a rear fog light. This light, common in European-brand cars, is intended to make the car visible to trailing vehicles in fog. Americans who have no clue about this (most of them, apparently) drive around in their Volvos, Jaguars and Volkswagens blinding the people behind them with what looks like an engaged brake light. I wish you'd all read your owner's manuals and knock it off.
Cargo & Towing
The C70 has the cargo limitations common to convertibles — and especially retractable hardtops — but it makes the most of its space with a couple of advanced features (best illustrated in the pop-up photos). Lifting the rather stiff trunklid reveals a 12.8-cubic-foot trunk. The total space is available only if the top is raised and you flip up the partition that defines the roof's storage space when it's lowered. If you want the top to go down, you must leave this partition in place. The cargo volume below it is roughly 6 cubic feet.
In some convertibles, the lowered top blocks access to storage space in the trunk underneath it. Less common is the button Volvo provides that raises the folded top within the trunk and allows access to the space under that partition. Well done. The C70 also has a ski pass-thru in the center of the backseat, a provision that remains the exception rather than the rule in convertibles. The C70 peculiarly stores its electric tire pump in the cavity behind the pass-thru door. Buyers who want an optional compact spare tire can get one in place of the goo-and-pump system.
The Volvo C70 is rated to tow a trailer of up to 2,000 pounds. Again, not bad for a convertible.
The C70 is very well-equipped for the price. Some of the uplevel standard features not already mentioned include automatic climate control, a six-CD changer, steering-wheel stereo controls and an auxiliary MP3-player input. The options overwhelmingly are niceties, not musts: leather upholstery, heated seats, a navigation system, sonar rear parking assist and the like. This is how it should be. (Click above for the details on standard equipment and options.)
For the record, you definitely should check out the optional premium stereo by Dynaudio. Don't be swayed by brand names, price or speaker counts. A stereo can have all these things and sound terrible. The Dynaudio system, on the other hand, is exceptional. For one thing, it's musical and powerful without bombast, even when the top is down. Second, the Dolby Pro Logic II surround processor gives you separate control over the center speaker and surround levels. At $1,550, the system isn't cheap, but the same can be said of optional stereos with far lesser performance.
C70 in the Market
There are now more retractable-hardtop models in the market than ever in history. I'm ready to decree that the Volvo C70 is the best four-season convertible you can buy. Starting with the retractable-hardtop category as a baseline, there are only a few that have front-wheel drive (the rest are rear-wheel, not all-wheel). The C70 makes no compromises in terms of comfort, foul-weather ability or safety features. Considering the competition, I think Volvo hit the nail on the head like never before with the C70.
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