Volvo's handsome convertible was the precursor to Volvo's new look, and it still turns heads.

Volvo says that style is a primary motivator for most coupe and convertible buyers. The convertible is a derivative of the C70 coupe. Peter Horbury, Volvo's chief designer, said "I intended to set the stage for future design with the C70 coupe. I wanted a Volvo that would be desired, one with ageless styling and yet show our past. I intentionally challenged my design team to create a new styling language for Volvo. I threw away the box and kept the toy." Volvo's product line will continue to expand now that it is owned by Ford Motor Co.

The C70 convertible is especially attractive. It has a rounded nose and a small, egg-crate grille. Curvy flanks and a low roof give it a look of motion even at rest.

Driving the front wheels is a transverse, 2.3-liter, turbocharged five-cylinder engine rated at 236 horsepower. This all-alloy powerplant has more than enough power for everyday driving. It pulls away from stops with authority and has strong mid-range throttle response. Because it is a five-cylinder, it has a slightly ragged exhaust note, but when you mash the throttle it cranks out plenty of power. Some torque steer, or a slight tugging from side to side, can be felt through the steering wheel as the front wheels fight for traction under hard acceleration. Both manual and automatic transmissions are offered, although most folks will choose the automatic. It has a winter mode that selects a high gear for start-up to lessen the opportunity for wheelspin in snow or ice. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway.

A second engine choice is a 2.4-liter, 190-horsepower engine with a light-pressure turbocharger. I would stick with the more powerful model for driving fun.

Anti-lock brakes are standard. A stability traction control system helps the vehicle maintain equilibrium in emergency swerves or if a corner is taken too fast.

The interior is just as attractive as the exterior. The instrument panel is thoughtfully designed. Gauges with light gray faces look elegant yet simple. Secondary controls have large knobs and dials with knobby surfaces that remind me of high-end stereo or electronic equipment. They can be operated easily even while wearing gloves. The rotary dials for the dual-zone climate control are much easier to manipulate than a push-button system. Power window buttons are located on the doors, rather than the console, where they belong. Even the audio system is first class, both in terms of ergonomics and sound quality.

The heated front seats are as comfortable as orthopedic chairs. They are gently curved, and the leather is soft, but in spite of their simple design they offer terrific support in all critical areas. An added bonus is the whiplash protection system designed into each seat. Front and side-impact airbags are standard. The back seat is rather small and intended primaril y for occasional use.

The convertible lacks the aggressive handling of the C70 coupe, but its ride is still taut. There is a certain amount of nose-heaviness because of front-wheel drive, but on balance it handles corners with security. The lack of a top lets the convertible's body transmit significant wiggle and shake through the steering wheel, and that is the carÕs major letdown.

The C70 convertible is a pricey package. The base price is $46,125. The test car's options included the cold weather package, premium audio system and automatic transmission. The sticker price was $48,350.

Four years or 50,000 miles. Point: Volvo's C70 convertible is a stylish package. The seats are terrific, the turbocharged engine has 236 horsepower and the instrument panel looks elegant without being fussy.

Counterpoint: The dash and steering wheel shake over rough roads, and full-throttle acceleration causes the front wheels to tug gently from side to side.

Engine: 2.3-liter, 236-hp 5-cyl. turbo
Transmission: automatic Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 104.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,691 lbs.
Base price: $46,125
As driven: $48,350
Mpg rating: 20 city, 26 hwy.
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