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SWEDES ON TOP!

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Feb 4, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

SWEDES ON TOP!

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Welcome to the jungle. In a land where cattle seem to out number cars, it might seem out of touch with the challenges of driving. Nothing could be further from the truth. While this might not be the Galapagos, this is as good a place to explore what Darwinism really means. The plants and animals have adapted to the surroundings over the ages to survive. Cars too have to evolve in the marketplace or perish. Some are always evergreen and others have their days in the sun, blossom and fade. And then there is the old Volvo C70 that seems to have faded from the foreground. In reality, the model was in transition much like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly.

As we have all heard a thousand times before, build a better mousetrap and they will come. In the ever more competitive world in which we live, it's becoming increasingly important to have something to one-up the competition. We watch as a product like the iPod first sets the bar and then ups the ante with more memory, smaller size, and additional features to keep the competitors on their toes. Volvo also isn't taking the backseat to anyone with its latest offering. It isn't enough to just keep up with the Jones these days. Its latest product is indeed hard to top (pun intended).

Up until this year, Volvo offered a four-passenger convertible that satisfied the needs of many looking for a luxury, safety oriented, European product. Just a few years prior to that, Volvo axed the two-door coupe that the convertible was based on. While both vehicles were adequate for the market, they didn't exceed expectations.

That was then, and this is now. Volvo leapfrogs past the competition with the all-new C70. The all-new car offers the same strong Volvo traditions and - an industry first - a hardtop convertible that seats four.

The presence of the hard top convertible has become something of an expectation among high-end, two-seater convertibles. In one deft action, Volvo offers the added protection from the elements of a hard top to a four-seater convertible - and the extra security that can only come from a hard top.

In an effort to find out what works and what doesn't, I venture off to a rendezvous with the C70 on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Spending several days with the new Swede allows me to sample the unique pre-production machine in a number of distinct climate zones and road conditions along the treacherous Hana highway. The island hosts everything from tropical rain forests that have to be seen to be believed, regions that look just like Pebble Beach with pine trees caressing the sides of the roads, and arid desert like climates with cactus doting the hillside. Speckle the island with waterfalls, pounding surf, cattle ranches, tourists, quaint, small towns, ancient lava flows, and a history steeped in traditions with gods and nature, and this becomes a setting for an adventure unlike any other.

This car is extremely easy to get acclimated to. Even the top operation is all but self-explanatory on this. Simply depress one of two buttons while the brake is on. Thirty seconds later, the tri-panel roof folds itself into the trunk and the sleek hard top is topless. The same process using the other button brings the car back to its former hard top state.

Once the top is raised, the interior yields little evidence as to the slick process. The headliner is fit for a coupe with overlapping seams that disguise the break lines convincingly. The motion is a marvel to watch, and many a passerby gawk as the action is unfolding. Like all hardtop convertibles, the trunk space becomes a victim of the packaging. This car doesn't evade the physical stowage situation of the top, yet it does offer more trunk space than the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and the Saab 9-3. With the top up, it offers 12.8 cubic feet. In the top down mode the trunk space is less than half of its former self at 6.0 cubic feet.

On the Hana Highway, from the fantastic Hotel Hana-Maui to the crater on top of Haleakala Park, numerous opportunities present themselves to exercise the folding top. With an average rainfall that far exceeds Southern California (a total of about 70 inches a year), you could say it does get a fair dose of the wet stuff. Just as fast as the rain comes, it also goes away - leaving a view along the roads and up the hills that requires the top down to really fully appreciate. As the rain does come on sometimes rather surprisingly quick it, would be nice if the top could react a little function faster or on the fly. The elapsed time to raise or lower the multi piece top is roughly 30 seconds.

The Hana Highway offers up 600+ turns in a 35 mile stretch along some rather narrow and rain-drenched roadway. With blind turns, and numerous one-lane bridges, and cliffs on either side featuring drops of up to several hundred feet, a lack of experience driving this highway will normally deter anyone from getting on it. Well, this isn't just any old car. The new C70 is very competent handling the twists and turns with aplomb. Steering response is confidence-inspiring by providing a proper effort for this type of a vehicle. The useful feedback on where the wheels are at all times keeps the car on the road. This also accentuates one of the features I'm becoming very fond of - i.e., the steering wheel design, which feels so good in my hands with a thick rim punctuated with thumb stops, it's a delight to the hands as well as the eyes.

The several-hour drive along this famous road demonstrates that the Volvo is not just a pretty face; it has the refinement we look for in a European car. Both the braking and handling on this jaunt reveal the new car to be tight and surefooted without being ultra-stiff and unforgiving. On some access roads that were not well maintained, the C70 had no shuddering or shaking or odd noises that one might expect, given all the parts involved in the roof as well as the rest of the car. Compared to the first generation, the engineers tell us the new car is twice as rigid. This not only suppresses unwanted noises, it also improves the handling of the car.

As we go to press, there are no official numbers on fuel economy. Given the additional weight of the top, it might not be the best Volvo has brought to market. The additional weight also has its effect on acceleration. The 2.5 light turbo engine does generate a fair 217 ponies.,However, the C70 needs all of it to contend with 3,772 pounds of weight. The motor is adequate for typical driving scenarios. On the other hand, this won't be confused as a sports car. Perhaps this is what saddens me the most about the new C70. The beautifully styled, sexy body looks dynamic with the top up and down in a way that few convertibles can match. The sleek shape and low greenhouse say sports car but the engine doesn't want to follow suit.

The five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission behaves accordingly along the drive. As the terrain prevents getting the speeds anywhere near triple digit territory, we hope it is as well-mannered at higher speeds as it is at the nominal rate of travel around the island. I did get some seat time with a six-speed manual for an hour or so, and I am definitely sold on this. At least on the demanding Hana Highway, this brings out the best in this car. Being able to squeeze every last once of power from the 2.5 liter motor provides some fun and soul that seems to be in a little in short supply with the automatic.

Perhaps the biggest selling point on this car is the eyeball appeal. The exterior design is a nod to the prior generation; anyone who is familiar with the previous C70 will instantly recognize this as a successor. A few of the Volvo cues are apparent to all. The attention spent on several key elements like the body character line below the door sill that runs from front to back, and the distinct tail lens give this a presence that is both classic and contemporary. The country club and beach are both suitable locals to find a C70. This is a car for all seasons and reasons.

Driving this in a generally responsible manner doesn't allow for testing the extensive system of safety solutions, advanced side impact protection system (SIPS) and rollover protection, unique door-mounted inflatable curtain, hydroformed A-pillars in extra high-strength steel, whiplash protection system (WHIPS), the roll-over protection system bars (ROPS), and the other safety devices that this company. However, it is comforting to know they are there. So much effort goes into developing advance safety system that we will (hopefully) never use, but better to be safe than sorry.

The interior is as stylish as the exterior, with material quality on par with other luxury sport convertibles. The tactile feel of all surfaces are very satisfying. The layout of everything seems to fall right into place. If there are any Ford influences in here, I'm hard pressed to find them. The unique center console - reminiscent of the waterfalls on the island - is a clean and unusual feature. It also leaves a small cavity behind the console to store small items like a camera. The Volvo has number of pockets for storing items, and the one in the doors actually lock when the doors are locked and the top is down - further protecting items from prying hands and eyes. While there are a number of storage spaces inside the car, none are able to hold anything of substantial size. Even the glove box that appears large from the outside is misleading. Opening the door reveals diminutive recess. On the other hand, they have engineered a fair amount of trunk space. With the top upright, the trunk is aplenty and the occupants are treated to a first rate spacious coupe. How many convertibles can say that?

Another bonus: This car can reasonably accommodate large as well as small bodies. Being able to do so means this car should have a broad appeal to either sex. The C70 also exceeds its direct competitors with greater legroom both front and rear, as well as front seat headroom.

The base model offers a fabric Volvo calls "Haverdal" Flex Tech upholstery. The material can very well be a close cousin of the neoprene used on wetsuits. Considering the open-air nature of the car, this might be an interesting choice. Nonetheless, I still find the optional leather to be good for all occasions and more in line with the luxury aspects of the car.

One of the best surprises is the audio system. A good system isn't a shocker in a car such as this, but this is well beyond that. Maybe the optional 910 watts of power might have something to do with it. Perhaps it's the 12 Dynaudio® speakers that do justice to their reputation in reproduction capabilities along with the two nine-inch subwoofers and the auto adjusting acoustics. Either way, I love it. This is good enough to just relax in, forget about driving, just sit back and enjoy the music.

Volvo is known for its family values, and the C70 might very well suit families in areas like Southern California - provideding they can be pried away from their SUVs.

Volvo knows just how much importance is placed on value. A C70 will only set one back $38,710 and another $695 for destination charges on top of that, keeping Junior's college fund neatly intact while allowing Mom and Dad to drive a car that has no peers. The leather upholstery comes in the premium package ($1,395) - that also includes the auto dimming mirror and compass and homelink. The Dynaudio® package is another $1,550. Judiciously checking the option list can still keep this car far below 50 grand.

Volvo draws on a world of experience in creating this car - from the exterior design being penned in their Camarillo, California studio, to the development of the folding hard top by Pininfarina in Italy. Pininfarina is actually responsible for building this model at the Uddevalla plant in Sweden, making this a true joint venture between the two companies. Being resourceful is what makes a smaller company able to compete with bigger companies, and by being smaller they are nimble enough to execute changes rapidly when need be.

Initially, Roger Ormisher, VP of Public Affairs for Volvo Cars of North America, suggests that production volume of this model might be somewhat limited. The intent is to create a commodity that's as hot as lava. The Swedes will be able to move these out of the dealer showrooms just as fast as they can churn them off the assembly line.

Volvo does recognize that the competition has a few aces up their sleeve - e.g., some potent powerplants that Volvo simply doesn't offer at this time. Certainly, Volvo will be able to move all the cars they can make at the moment regardless of the motor in the C70. If production capacity grows, will that in turn open the doors for an R version? Perhaps a prayer or two and a sacrifice to the gods of horsepower isn't such a bad idea.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The C70 all but eliminates any excuse to not owning a convertible. Now if they can just offer an extra dose of power to match those sexy looks!

For more information please go to www.volvocars.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $38,710

Engine type: Inline 5-cylinder, light pressure turbo, DOHC, aluminum block and head, 4 valves per cylinder Exhaust-Driven Turbo with Intercooler

Horsepower: 218 @ 5000 rpm

Torque: 236 @ 1,500-4,800 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / front-wheel drive

Transmission type: 6-speed manual, optional 5-speed adaptive automatic, electronically controlled, with lock-up and winter mode selection

Suspension: Front: Spring-strut, lower link, anti-roll bar Rear: Individual, multilink, coilsprings, anti-roll bar

Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 17 inch "Sadria" aluminum wheels, 225 / 35 / VR17 Optional: 18 inch "Mirzam" alloy wheels, 235 / 40 / YR 18 Rear: standard: 17 inch "Sadria" aluminum wheels , 225 / 35 / VR17 Optional: 18 inch "Mirzam" alloy wheels, 235 / 40 / YR 18

Brakes: Front: Vented discs 11.8 inch diameter Rear: Vented discs 11 inch diameter

ABS with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assistant (EBA)

Overall length: 180.4"Overall width: 71.1"Overall height: 55.1"Curb weight (lbs): 3,772

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 20/29 manual, 21/29 auto

Top Speed, mph: 150 mph (Electronically Controlled)

0-60 mph (est.): 7.6 manual, 8.0 auto

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