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New Car/Review

1998 Volvo C70 Coupe

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  2.3-liter inline five
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       36 hp @ 5100 rpm/243 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:            mpg city, mpg highway, 21.1 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               104.9 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH X HEIGHT: 185.7 x 71.5 x 55.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             3365 lbs
FUEL CAPACITY:           18.5 gal.
CARRYING CAPACITY:       10 cu. ft. (est.)
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level,
                         water temperature, oil pressure,
                         battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power mirrors, power windows, 
                         power door locks, cruise control, 
                         air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                         with cassette and in-dash 3 CD changer 
                         and trunk-mounted 6-CD changer, ABS, 
                         dual air bags. 
STICKER PRICE:           $40,000 (est.)

The constant question I had to answer during the week I drove the Volvo C70 Coupe was "Is that a Volvo?" It is obvious from the C70 Coupe (and the Cabriolet that will soon follow) that Volvo has finally allowed its designers to show what they can do.

Yes, it's a Volvo, and one of the slickest cars we've driven in a long time. Volvo hasn't offered a two-door coupe since the P1800 of the 1960s and 1970s. And while that car was also a styling success, since then the company has relied more on a safety pitch and stodgy image. Yes, I know they've come out with some pretty peppy sedans (I even won a drag race championship in a turbocharged wagon), but the eternal image of Volvo is safety and squareness.

Not so with the C70. It has smooth aerodynamic lines that will give any other two-door competition in the beauty department. There is no question that the C70 heralds a new era for Volvo, and it's about time.

But the C70 isn't all about exterior looks. Under the hood is a turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine that's rated at 236 hp. This is hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission and together they power the front wheels. Front-wheel drive is not necessarily desirable for a hot sport coupe, but it's perfectly all right for the Volvo. We were able to zip along back-country roads with aplomb as well as Interstates.

My only complaint with the C70 was with the gearbox. It was wishy-washy in the shifter, although I never missed a shift. I felt the ratios were not chosen to encourage the best performance from the car. For example, it wasn't until I looked at the specs that I realized the engine developed 236 hp. It acts more like 150-170 hp. But if you wind the engine out and let the turbo kick in, then it feels like a more powerful car. A better transmission would help the drive along in reaching high rpms.

The suspension could have been sportier, but it wasn't a negative. We hit the corners and didn't experience too much lean. This is a Volvo, though, and the ride is designed more for comfort than performance. Therefore, you're going to be happier on a highway than on a back road.

Like any other Volvo, though, this car inspires feelings of safety. We drove it to Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 500 NASCAR race. On the way back, we encountered a torrential downpour that forced some drivers to pull over to the side of the road to wait out the storm. I felt confident driving the C70, and had the security that it would be able to deal with the heavy rain and wet roadways.

If the C70 wasn't able to handle the rain, we were protected by dash-mounted airbags and Volvo's SIPS, Side Impact Protection System, that inflates a side airbag to protect the occupants in the event of a side impact of some sort. Fortunately, we didn't test it.

We had powered front seats that offered good side support. The rear seat was scant in the legroom department, but anyone who rode back there would be able to deal with whatever space was available. Unlike some sporty coupes, the C70 offered a decent trunk that was large enough to carry all the food and beverage containers we took to the race.

The Volvo C70 looks a lot better than it performs. This is not a bad knock of the car. I liked the way it drove and handled, except for the gearbox, which I felt could have had better-chosen ratios. All in all, though, the C70 puts Volvo in a new class, one in which it will compete with style. It won't compete in performance, but not everyone is looking for the next Mitsubishi 3000GT.