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New Car/Review

1998 Volvo C70 Coupe

by Carey Russ


SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide

Volvo has an admirable reputation for building safe, solid automobiles. But Volvos do not have much of a reputation for style or exciting performance. Although the Swedish company has been building very quick station wagons for the past few years, first the 850 T5-R and now the V70 T5 (now in S70 sedan form as well), the quick Volvos have been little known. And, although the T5s are great stealth performance machines and the new ones are slightly less boxy, they are still far from the leading edge of automotive style.

Enter the C70 Coupe. As one might expect from the name, Volvo's first coupe since the P1800 of the 1960s is a variation of the platform used for the S70 sedan and V70 wagon. But, although it shares the floor pan, basic suspension design, and engine - in T5 tune - with the other 70-series Volvos, the C70 has its own body style. With hardly a straight line or angular corner on the car, it points to interesting new directions for Volvo.

In another very important way, the C70 is far more than a two- door S70. It is the product of a joint venture between Volvo and British performance specialist Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). TWR ran Volvo T5 wagons in the British Touring Car series a few years ago, with considerable success, so it knows how to make a fast Volvo. C70s are built in a new factory, AutoNova, in Uddevalla, Sweden.

A week with a bright Saffrin gold C70 coupe and a long day of driving through the mountains near Santa Barbara, CA on the press introduction left good impressions. Performance and handling are first- rate, with no sacrifice in luxurious comfort. This is a Volvo with style, class, and character.

APPEARANCE: "This time we threw away the box and kept the toy," said stylist Peter Horbury , talking about the C70. The C70 may not be as rounded as past Volvos like the PV444, the B18, or the P1800, but "boxy" is not in the description. The grille, hood, and front fenders are close to those of the S70 sedan and V70 wagon, and discernable Volvo, but the tapered, sculpted sides, sleek semi-fastback roof, and high, aerodynamically-efficient tail are unique. In its signature Saffrin orange color scheme, my C70 test car got plenty of attention from bystanders. Interestingly, even with the very Volvo rectangular grille with the company logo prominently displayed on a diagonal bar, few recognized it as a Volvo. Volvo? Not a box? Get used to it!

COMFORT: Although it has very high performance abilities, the C70 coupe is a luxuriously-appointed luxury sports coupe at heart. The interior is a modern European design with rounded contours and a flowing instrument panel, a long way from the angular severity of the old 850. But it is a Volvo - the aircraft-style "fasten seat belts" overhead warning lights remain. Standard equipment includes leather on the seats and tilt-and-telescope adjustable steering wheel, black walnut trim on the dash and console, a high-grade sound system, and power windows, mirrors, and locks with remote entry. The comfortable and supportive power-adjustable front seats have 3- position memory. Although it is primarily designed for the two front- seat occupants, the two rear passengers are not forgotten. Access is not difficult, and there is room for two real people. A rear-seat ski passthrough and large, accessible trunk make the C70 a very functional car.

SAFETY: The C70 Coupe is a Volvo, so safety is paramount in its design. A strong safety cage and impact-absorbing zones surround the passenger cabin. All seating positions have 3-point safety belts and head restraints. Front occupants have both frontal and side airbags. Antilock disc brakes are standard, traction control is available.

ROADABILITY: TWR learned how to make a Volvo handle while winning races in the ultra-competitive British Touring Car Series, and has applied the lessons well. The C70 proves that a high-performance front-wheel drive sports coupe can work very, very well. The standard 17-inch alloy wheels are shod with Z-rated 225/45 tires for excellent roadholding and maneuverability. The ride is firm, but not harsh or jarring, even on rough roads. The C70 is stable at all speeds.

PERFORMANCE: The C70 Coupe uses the high-pressure variant of Volvo's turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter 5-cylinder engine. This gives it two distinct personalities. A wide flat torque curve, with 243 lb-ft between 2700 and 5100 rpm, makes it docile, friendly, and fuel- efficient in normal, part-throttle use. Press the pedal to the floor and it's a different story. Full-throttle acceleration will turn a saint into a sinner. Turbo fans, rejoice! It turns ferocious above 4000 rpm, and the 5-cylinder has a much meaner growl than a four or six. The harder the C70 is driven, the better it feels, yet it is fully at home around town or in traffic. A very good 5-speed manual gearbox adds to performance and enjoyment. It has a great feel and shifts quickly and precisely.

CONCLUSIONS: An exciting Volvo? Absolutely! The C70 Coupe heralds new directions for Volvo.


Base Price               $ 38,995
Price As Tested          $ 40,850
Engine Type              turbocharged inline 5-cylinder, dual
                         overhead cam, 20 valves
Engine Size              2.3 liters / 142 cu. in.
Horsepower               236 @ 5100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           243 @ 2700 rpm
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       104.9 in. / 185.7 in.
Curb Weight              3365 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    14.3
Fuel Capacity            18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium
Tires                    P225/45 ZR17 Michelin Pilot SX
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         semi-independent multilink
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      19 / 25 / 21
0 to 60 mph                    6.4 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)               14.9 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)       0.29

Dolby surround sound               $    595
Heated front seats                 $    235
TRACS traction control system      $    450
Destination charge                 $    575