2007 Volvo C70 Review


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By the Sea, By the Sea,
Buy This Beautiful C

By Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

Nearly eight years ago, I had the great pleasure to test the then all-new C70 convertible on the roads between Phoenix and Sedona, Arizona*. The 1998 C70 convertible and coupe were breakthrough vehicles for Volvo, as they ushered in an entirely new era of curvy, sexy, sensuous exterior designs. Gone was the boxy stereotypical automobile of nerdy Connecticut teachers and SF Bay Area tree-hugging hippies, who cared far more for safety and reliability than trendy styles and a fashionable self-image. (That’s not to say that wrapping oneself in counter-culture pc-correct sheet metal isn’t a fashion statement in its own right, but it’s not the emotional sex-driven choice that normally drives the average car-buyer.)

However, the ’98 C70 didn’t just introduce a new Volvo design strategy; intentionally or unintentionally, it also presaged an accelerated schedule of Volvo vehicle introductions. Previously Volvo took an approach more like: “We’re going to bring a new vehicle to market every decade, whether we need to or not.” Starting with the ’98 C70, Volvo adopted what was a radical position (for them): they were going to bring new models and new classifications to market every few months, and they were going to make them so damn good-looking and fun to drive that people were going to want to own them, whether they needed a new car or not!

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Between 1998 and today a couple of interesting changes took place; one of which was the acquisition of Volvo by Ford Motor Cars, a decision on Ford’s part that may be just about the best automotive business decision they’ve made since Henry adopted assembly-line production. Another rather dramatic change was that Volvo has become a fashion icon of the early 21st century. Just think, similar to how millions of people never lived without cell phones and television remote controls, soon there we will be millions upon millions of car buyers who only know of Volvo as a fashion-forward automobile. Teachers and tree-huggers may still want to own a Volvo for its safety features and reliability, but now so do the terminally hip and image-conscious.

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The C70 in
basic black

The all-new C70 is the latest offering from Volvo that’s designed to titillate the senses and stimulate the human buying-gene. While the 2006 C70 doesn’t signal the same paradigm-design shift that the 1998 version did, it displays sophisticated refinement and adds smart-thinking practicality. Although, where the new C70 does make a big design statement is that it replaces both the coupe and the convertible at the same time. That’s right; the new C70 is two, two, two cars in one. Climatic factors permitting, it’s a sporty convertible cruiser; but when the weather isn’t cooperating, or when security is an issue, it’s a sleek, elegant hardtop coupe. Either way you can’t lose: it’s like having a switch-hitting Mickey Mantle playing for your team.

When Volvo moved forward with the ’98 C70, and then a year or so later with the S80, they sniffed rarified air: the air of the luxury car segment. This was not an environment that they knew very well. Consequently, they tread lightly, and respectfully.

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John Kinsey
describing the
C70's exterior

Today, Volvo is a confident player in the upscale market, and it shows the C70’s style, execution of the design, and in the vehicle’s performance characteristics. Volvo’s John Kinsey is responsible for the exterior design. To win the right to put his thumbprint on the model he had to compete with several other Volvo teams and studios around the world. This was his first big-time solo job, and he handled it masterfully. The C70 has styling hints of much more expensive European vehicles, like Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Porsche. Visually, it looks like it should have a higher MSRP. Pinin-Farina, the storied Italian automobile design firm, gets an assist for lending expertise in material sourcing and manufacturing techniques.

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The interior was designed by an independent interior specialist, Tony Pettman. Although my TACH associate Andrew Frankl espoused some misgivings over the interior design (feeling it a bit too spartan and not eye-friendly), I don’t share that opinion. Of course, I’m a much, much, much younger man than Andrew, so perhaps I’m just able to see gauges easier than him; that is when I’m wearing my correct pair of glasses (I have three different sets to choose from). In any event, I think the interior pairs up perfectly with the exterior. If it doesn’t have the over-embellished dash and instrumentation dials of a General Motors car, I say “fine.”

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Sunrise in Hana

For this test, Volvo brought a fairly large contingent of journalists from around the world to Maui, Hawaii. Our test track was the famed Hana Highway, a tortuous snake of a road with over 600 turns. The route took us from bustling downtown Hana (a charming seaside town consisting of about three shops and an ATM machine labeled as a bank branch), up 10,000 feet to the dormant Haleakela volcano, down to a beachfront restaurant, and then back to Hana.

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Honolulu's own
Bill Maloney

My driving partner was another TACH associate and good friend, Bill Maloney. Bill has graduated to what has to be every car guy’s dream job and life: he lives in Honolulu and produces a weekly broadcast television car show called “Ohana Road.” Incidentally, according to Bill, Ohana is Hawaiian for “family.”

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Headin' towards
the Hana Highway

For the first leg of the journey we selected a red 6-speed manual transmission model – we did want the girls to sit up and take notice of us. And funnily enough, we weren’t more than about a half-mile from our starting point when we spotted a very comely blonde along the side of the road with her thumb out. I slowed down for a better look, and Bill and I gave the matter great consideration. But we figured our minders from Volvo might not be too pleased with us adding a rider, so we just smiled and waved aloha.

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View from
Hana Highway

The new C70 comes with only one engine choice, Volvo’s venerable T5, an inline 5-cylinder turbo. For my taste the T5 is as delicious as a soy sauce soaked Ahi tuna steak served at a Chart House restaurant. I’ve always thought the T5 to be more than adequate in other Volvo models, and it works really well in this one. The turbocharger generates 218 horsepower, which made passing on the few spots along the Hana Highway where you can pass, easy and carefree. Climbing up the last leg to the volcano was just as easy. The power plant didn’t exhibit any stress or strains as the altitude changed.

The vehicle features “ergonomically designed” seats, and man, I can tell you they are ergo! By this I mean “good.” I’ve often written about how much I like the comfort and ergonomic feel of Audi cars. Well, the C70 front seats take no back seat to any other vehicle. The car feels as good as it looks, and that’s something that you can’t always say about an Audi.

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Side curtain deployed

Naturally, the C70 is equipped with a whole host of the usual safety features one would expect from Volvo, plus more. The most impressive is probably the side air-curtains, which seem to defy the imagination since there is no permanent roof structure from where they would deploy (they come up from the doors). I was dying to see this feature in action, until I realized that that might just be the condition that would be required to see how well the side curtains function. As I figured that if Volvo wouldn’t be happy about me picking up a hitchhiker, they might be even less interested in me doing a live demonstration of this safety feature. Consequently you and I will have to be satisfied with Volvo’s description.

Another impressive safety feature is the roll over protection system (ROPS). When and if deployed, the roll over bars will remain in an extended position to block items (from a vehicle in the rear) flying into the C70’s cabin and decapitating the driver and passengers.

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View of
volcano crater

Upon reaching Haleakela’s summit, the difference in outdoor temperature gave us a reason to put the top up. Similar to many of the other luxury vehicles on the market with retractable hardtops, this one works like you would want it to.

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Top going down

I don’t think I can say that it is better, faster, quieter, or more secure than the others, but it appears as good as any other. What I can say on this point is that if the C70’s retractable hardtop works ONLY as good as the retractable hardtop of a vehicle that costs $20,000 more, than that’s a damn good value and advantage.

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Folded away neatly

One other point to mention: As I alluded to earlier in this review, with the top up the C70 is an extremely good looking car. I’d go so far as to say that it is better looking with the top up than down.

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This was lunch

After descending the volcano (and restoring the top to our preferred retracted position), we headed over to join our fellow journalists for lunch. The restaurant was fabulously located right on the beach. The accompanying photo says it all. I’d like to tell you about that I ate, and how I liked it, but frankly, any food pales by comparison to the location. Let me just report that I had two different Ahi dishes (an Ahi appetizer, followed by an Ahi entrée).

We swapped vehicles for the return drive, and moved into a silver metallic C70 with 5-speed automatic transmission (with “auto-stick” functionality). We went from a great car to a great car. Where we had a smooth, powerful, good-looking motor conveyance before, we now had a smooth, powerful, good-looking vehicle that was even more effortless to operate.

With the top up or down, the new C70 should become a superstar in an already star-studded line-up.

For base comparisons, Volvo says that the C70 is meant to compete with the BMW 3 series, and Audi A4. To me, a more accurate match-up would be to compare the $39,000 C70 against the Mercedes-Benz CLK that costs about $10,000 more.

For complete specifications, prices, other reviews, and a great interactive multi-vehicle comparison, please click to:
http://www.theautochannel.com/newcardb/comparagraph.html.

*To read my review of the 1998 C70 click here:
http://www.theautochannel.com/vehicles/new/reviews/1998/mrauch_98volvoc70.html.

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