Well beyond "boxy but good."
by Sue Mead
Base Price $43,500 (Convertible)
As Tested $47,975
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.
The C70 is available as both Coupe and Convertible. And two engines are available. Launched as a totally new model line for 1999, there are no significant changes for 2000.
Two versions of the transverse-mounted, turbocharged, all-aluminum inline five-cylinder engine are available. The standard 2.4-liter Low Pressure Turbo (LT) puts out 190 horsepower through a four-speed automatic transmission. A $2000 premium over the base price buys a 236-horsepower 2.3-liter High Pressure Turbo (HT) with a five-speed manual.
Retail prices: Convertible LT ($43,500); Convertible HT ($45,500); Coupe LT ($34,000); Coupe HT ($39,000). The Low Pressure Turbo models come standard with an automatic. High Pressure Turbo models come standard with a five-speed manual; the automatic adds $1,000 to High Pressure Turbo models.
C70 Coupes are structured the same way, but at a much lower price point: Coupe LT ($34,000); Coupe HT ($39,000).
The designers of the C70 Convertible did a good job of marrying Volvo's highly respected heritage with a graceful, but sporty look. From the front, the grille retains its trademark diagonal badge, while sleek headlamps remind drivers that this is a muscular piece of mechanical art. The raked windshield and sports-car styling stand out the most when viewed in profile. The hood and rear-end styling carry over from the S70 sedan, providing a strong family resemblance. But the similarities end there: The sheet metal on the two-door C70 widens over the wheels and narrows again between the tires, like a Coke bottle when viewed overhead. The lines tuck in at the base of the windows. The result is a car that looks like it's in shape, with a tight waist and strong shoulders.
Whether it's Coupe or Convertible, the Volvo C70 is a beautiful car.
Volvo's designers also got the details right: Headlamp washers are tucked discretely above a slightly protruding bumper that is punctuated by serious-looking air vents. When the fully automatic soft-top is raised, it slopes gracefully to its slightly tapered rear. Lowered, the top tucks out of the way to preserve uncluttered lines. The Convertible rides on 7x16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55-16 Pirelli P6000 all-season tires. Our C70 came with the optional traction control.
Volvo's graceful new design can also be seen inside. Sliding into the generous, well-tailored interior reveals elegant lines and leather upholstery in light hues. Volvo is designing some great interiors these days. The bucket seats are well-contoured, comfortable and supportive, with eight-way power adjustments. There is ample leg, shoulder and hip room in both the front and rear, though taller drivers may complain of limited headroom. As expected for a convertible based on a coupe, getting into the rear seats is a squeeze for larger folks.
At the instrument cluster, black numerals on handsome light gray gauges are easy to read and reverse at night to white on black. An optional stereo is a 400-watt, 12-speaker system with an in-dash three-CD changer. This arrangement seems like a perfect compromise between single-disc in-dash units and larger CD magazines that are often inconveniently located and fussy to load. The Dolby Pro-Logic system senses whether the top is up or down and adjusts volume accordingly. Audiophiles can order a 14-speaker version. Our test car came equipped with this higher-end system. Complemented by Volvo's quiet engine, we came to view the C70 as a veritable concert hall on wheels.
Standard equipment includes remote keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning, a trip computer, a tilt-telescope steering column, heated power outside mirrors, and power windows and door locks. HomeLink is an integrated remote-control system that can be programmed to open garage doors and turn on house lights.
True to the Volvo reputation, safety is paramount. Rollover hoops, which normally are folded down behind the standard head restraints in the back seat, activate automatically if the car flips over. Volvo's second-generation Side Impact Protection System airbag (called SIPS II) offers head, shoulder, and torso protection. C70s also feature Volvo's Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS), which helps protect front-seat occupants in the event of a rear impact.
While we enjoyed the ability to drop the top, it does cut into the cargo capacity. The Convertible offers just 8 cubic feet of trunk space, while the Coupe provides slightly more than 13 cubic feet.
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.
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