by Sue Mead
The winds of change are blowing here.
Base Price $43,530
As Tested $48,000 est.
Things are happening at Volvo. You may have noticed a plethora of all-new models. And they aren't square any more. There's a new line of wagons, including the aggressive V70 XC AWD Cross Country, and there's a sleek new C70 Coupe. Now comes the Volvo C70 Convertible. If the others haven't caught your eye, this one surely will.
Like the C70 Coupe, the C70 Convertible swings Volvo's image from stodgy Scandinavian to sexy Swede. While the styling is exciting, the new C70 models go well beyond that. They offer superb performance that should appeal to enthusiast drivers. Smooth, powerful engines provide impressive acceleration, while taut suspensions and direct steering deliver crisp handling.
But the Convertible is more than a C70 Coupe with its top cut off. For starters, it comes with a light-pressure turbocharged engine that's tuned differently from that of the C70 Coupe's turbo. All C70 Convertibles come with a four-speed automatic transmission. To enhance safety, Volvo engineers have designed a unique rollover protection system for the Convertible.
The C70 Convertible was launched in July as a 1998 model, but it is for all practical purposes a 1999 model. We don't expect any changes until at least the 2000 model year.
Clean lines marry the C70 Convertible's sporty new styling with Volvo's heritage. From the front, the diagonal grille with its trademark badge and sleek headlamp shape will keep drivers from forgetting that this muscular, swooping piece of mechanical art is the work of this well-respected Swedish manufacturer. Headlamp washers are tucked discretely above its slightly protruding bumper. Below are attractively styled air vents. The hood and rear-end styling carry over from the S70 sedan, providing a strong family resemblance.
That's where the similarities end. This two-door has a nipped-in waistline that divides the greenhouse from the body, whose contour widens over the wheels and narrows again between the tires. Its raked windshield and sports-car styling stand out the most when viewed in profile. When the top is raised, it makes a sloping, graceful curve stretching to its slightly tucked in rear. Lowered, the fully automatic soft-top tucks out of the way to give strong, clean lines. The Convertible rides on 7x16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55-16 Pirelli P6000 all-season tires. Offering more power, the Coupe comes standard with aggressive 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels and tires.
A transverse-mounted turbocharged, all-aluminum engine inline-5 drives the front wheels through the four-speed automatic. Based on the T5 engine that comes in the Volvo S70, the 5-cylinder engine delivers 190-horsepower at 5100 rpm. That's a solid number, though not as seductive as the Coupe's 236 horsepower. Volvo says the Convertible's task is to seduce more with grace than brute power. To that end, the Convertible delivers nearly 200 foot-pounds of torque from just 1800 rpm and maintains that output all the way to 5000 rpm, which results in robust throttle response at any engine speed. Punch it, and the Convertible quickly and smoothly accelerates away. And there's no time spent waiting for the turbo to spool.
The Inside Story
Some of that grace the Volvo engineers like to talk about can 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 8-way power adjustments. There is ample leg, shoulder and hip room in both the front and rear seats, though taller drivers complain headroom is limited. As expected, getting into the rear is a squeeze for larger folks.
Controls are easy to reach. Everything is exactly where you'd expect it to be and operates logically. Black numerals on gray-faced gauges are easy to read and reverse at night to white on black.
The optional stereo is a 400-watt system with 10 speakers. The three-CD in-dash audio head seems a perfect compromise between single-disc in-dash units and CD magazines that are often inconveniently located and fussy to load. Audiophiles can order an optional 12-speaker stereo with Dolby ProLogic Surround Sound that senses whether the top is up or down and adjusts volume accordingly. Complemented by Volvo's quiet engine, the C70 is a veritable concert hall on four wheels.
While we enjoy 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.
True to the Volvo heritage, safety is paramount. Automatic rollover hoops, folded down behind the standard head restraints in the back seat, are activated if the car flips over. The safety system includes tensioners that automatically tightens all seat belts in an accident. They are controlled by the same sensors that trigger the dual front air bags and standard side-impact airbags incorporated into the front seats.
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 are all standard. Options include premium leather trim, heated front seats and traction control.
Ride and Drive
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 for 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 Volvo'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. Just 25 seconds later, it was safely anchored to the reinforced window frame and we were back on the road.
The turbocharged engine is silky smooth with a broad power band. Accelerating from 0-60 mph takes less than 8 seconds and the car boasts a top speed of 130. The brakes are built to match; they provide good pedal feel and did not fade while down steep grades. Though some enthusiasts would appreciate the option of a manual gearbox, the automatic transmission is responsive, quickly shifting down to the appropriate gear with the feel of finely engineered machinery.
Everything about the C70 is smooth. The suspension is taut and offers sharp handling response. This car has that feel of a fine European sports sedan and it gives up nothing to a BMW. The driver immediately feels connected to the car and the road, which instills confidence in corners. The optional traction control system on our car kept the wheels from spinning in the snow in the mountains above Sedona.
Base price for the 190-horsepower Volvo C70 Convertible is $43,530 including destination charges. Volvo's new convertible competes with other European convertibles, including the $39,600 Audi Cabriolet, which comes with a 172-horsepower 2.8-liter V6, and the $42,070 BMW 328iC Convertible, which comes with a 190-horsepower 2.8-liter inline-6.
Volvo has once again returned to the open-car market after a long hiatus. (Its first car was a convertible, built in 1927 and it sold a P1900 convertible in 1956.) The C70 Convertible is available exclusively for the U.S. market. European buyers will have to wait until Volvo boosts annual production to 20,000 units of the C70 equally split between Coupes and Convertibles, which won't likely be until next year.
Volvo has maintained its reputation for safety, but is abandoning its traditionally stodgy, boxy look. This new convertible will help reshape that stodgy image and may help attract new buyers. The new C70 Convertible is sporty and free-spirited and speaks to the winds of change blowing through Volvo.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.