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2006 Volvo C70 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2006 Volvo C70

Sam Moses
© 2006

Volvo has launched an all-new C70 for the 2006 model year. The previous-generation model was introduced in 1997.

The Volvo C70, a four-seater, is the first of more coupe/convertibles that will come from other manufacturers. The sleek steel top retracts into the trunk in 30 seconds. The C70 is based on the S40 sedan, but has a wider track and more luscious lines.

The engine, suspension and transmission are proven Volvo components, while the chassis has been fortified and re-figured to increase rigidity over the former C70, and meet Volvo's industry-leading safety standards.

We found the C70 to be an excellent highway cruiser, smooth and steady at high speeds, quiet with the steel top up. Its stereo sounds superb. The C70 feels like a sports car. It has a solid feel and strikes an appropriate balance of responsive handling with a smooth, well-controlled ride quality and fade-resistant brakes. We liked it best with the six-speed manual, but the five-speed automatic is crisp and responsive.

The styling is brilliant, with elegant coupe lines, and the retractable hardtop is an engineering masterpiece. The cabin features comfortable seats, the latest in Volvo interior styling and fabrics, and a clever cubby behind the center dash.

Everything works as it should, and it's a beautiful piece of work. Nothing else on the market offers what the C70 does, priced under $40,000.

Model Lineup

Volvo C70 ($38,710)

Walk Around

The designer of the new C70, American John Kinsey, spent four years on the project. Although Mercedes, Lexus and Cadillac use retractable steel tops for their two-seat sports cars, those designs were ignored because, says Kinsey, The tops on those cars are so small that none of their mechanical aspects even apply to the challenges we had in designing ours.

Everything revolves around the roof, developed in Italy by Pininfarina, under Kinsey. It had to clearly be a coupe roofline, and it is the most handsome of coupes, with a solid upward sweeping A-pillar and delicately thin and downward sweeping C-pillar. Stand close enough, and you can spot the two seams that enable the roof to stack into thirds and drop into the trunk, but otherwise there's not a hint of compromise in the graceful roofline.

The roof lands on the rear deck at a point higher than it takes off from the hood, because of the rear wedge and elevated rear sills for safety. A soft ridge at the beltline carries all the way from headlight to taillight, accentuating the wedge, which is conspicuous but not bulky; the C70 was not given a fat butt in order to fit the roof under its skirt.

The trunk (its lid is aluminum) contains 12.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the roof up, and 6 cubic feet when it's retracted: enough room for two sets of golf clubs, says Volvo. (The previous C70 only had 8.1 cubic feet.)

The taillights have been smoothed-over by quite a bit; the stepped outside line of the taillights is still traditionally Volvo, but the curves are much gentler.

The rest of the styling changes are subtle but striking. When viewed from the front three-quarter angle, it's clear how short and smooth the hood and nose are, and how aerodynamic the package. When you pay attention to the lines, the brilliant job by John Kinsey hits home. Five full inches have been removed from the nose, and the edges have been softened, resulting in a two-inch narrowing of the front shoulders, despite an increased overall width.

Unlike Audi, which seems to be following the Dodge Ram in-your-face school of design, the grille of the C70 is smaller and quieter. The headlamps gently lean inward toward the grille, as the foglamps under the headlamps surround the opening in the smooth fascia/bumper. The hoodline tapers elegantly down to the bottom of the fascia, inches above the road. The effect of the lower three openings is like a reflection of the headlamps and grille, in a pond. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the shape of the C70 was dictated more by aerodynamics than styling.

It's rare for a designer of a new car to also do the wheels (a sore point with designers), but Kinsey did these as well, and the symmetry and standard shows. They look like what they are: made for the car. The optional 18-inch Mirzam alloy wheels are stunning. We would say they're worth it for the way they cap the gorgeous styling, but the standard 17-inch Sadira alloy wheels are beautiful too. They look like premium wheels.

As the roof retracts, it first elevates, and then slides back and stacks itself in its three sections before quietly submerging into the rear deck. Presto: with one button on the console, it's gone in 30 seconds. Up or down, it takes the same time, and the same index finger.

Many C70s were crashed at the high-tech Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Sweden, to determine the optimum deformation structure in both the nose and tail. Volvo even T-boned the driver's door with one of its own XC90 SUVs: Double the data.

The structural safety features of the C70 take thousands of words to describe in detail. From top to bottom, front to rear, side to side, the chassis has been strengthened, tweaked, and made crushable where possible to disspate energy in a crash. The C70 more than compensates for the loss of rigidity with a fixed roof; it's stiffer and safer than the previous C70 coupe. The reinforced B pillars, normally connected by a roof, are connec


In a world of flat panel computer monitors and television screens, Volvo's flat-panel center stack fits perfectly. It was introduced with the S40 and is carried over here. With a brushed aluminum face, and a horizontal information screen over a vertical column of black radio and climate control buttons, with four knobs at each corner, it couldn't be cleaner. But the real advantage is that there's a storage bin behind the panel. The panel is unique to Volvo.

Our C70 was equipped with Flextech upholstery, which comes standard, after being specially developed and introduced with this car. It's a stylish synthetic material with a wetsuit-like feel, and at first touch, we like it better than leather. Its quality is way beyond cloth, and it feels as nice as leather against the skin.

The front bucket seats are ergonomically shaped and very comfortable, and slide forward with the touch of a button to ease the boarding of passengers into the two rear seats. There are a number of good storage compartments in the cabin, some of which are lockable to be used when the car is parked with the roof down. Other compartments can be locked with a separate key, if the car is left with a parking attendant, for example.

The trunk gets crowded with the top down. Those golf clubs have to slide under the roof, so there's an electric mechanism called Load-Aid, which lifts the roof sections and window glass 8 inches. There's also a hatch between the rear seats that allows long things like skis to be carried in the trunk, extending into the passenger compartment.

There's no room for a full-size spare tire, but a buyer gets his choice between a temporary small spare, or a compressor bottle with sealant, which will plug a quarter-inch hole for 120 miles at 50 mph.

The nose may be five inches shorter than before, but because those inches were lost forward of the windshield, there's no loss of front legroom; in fact, there's one inch more. Seven-tenths of an inch of legroom has been lost in the rear seats, but that's still 1.5 and 1.9 inches more than the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, respectively.

We drove a Dynaudio-equipped car for about two hours, and, unlike other expensive sound systems we've tested, the Dynaudio is vividly all there: With the top down, as the speed of the car climbs, the volume automatically increases. It doesn't forget to back off when you do.

Driving Impressions

In many ways, the Volvo C70 is a hybrid. No, not a gas-electric hybrid, but a blend of the power and handling of the S60 and smaller S40. It's built on the S40 platform, and uses the same wheelbase but the S60's wider track, for more stable cornering. But it needs that width between the wheels, to carry the extra weight. Because of the strengthening of the chassis, and the retractable hood mechanism, the C70 weighs 3772 pounds, which is 468 more than the S40 and 201 more than the larger S60.

Naturally this weight adversely affects the acceleration, handling and braking, although not the ride. The C70 uses the same well-proven turbocharged five-cylinder engine that's been powering Volvos for some time. It's 2.4 liters with dual overhead cams and variable camshaft timing, tuned to the same 218 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque as the S40; that's 10 horsepower more than the base S60, so the acceleration is about the same as the S60 sedan. Volvo estimates 0 to 60 at 7.6 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox, and 8.0 seconds with the five-speed automatic. Eight seconds is considered by some to be roughly the dividing line between quick and average performance.

Like the S40, the C70 seems to be made for high-speed cruising. The acceleration isn't neck-snapping, but the top speed is a mind-boggling 150 mph, and electronically limited at that. The car is very smooth and steady at freeway-plus speeds. And with the steel top, there's no ragtop racket at high speed.

The C70 is front-wheel drive, and not yet available with Volvo's superb all-wheel-drive system. The dream-machine C70 would have the 300-horsepower engine and AWD of the S60R. Volvo has no immediate plans for production of such a vehicle, but it's still early. (And such a car would, of course, be more expensive.)

Our test model was equipped with the standard six-speed, and we think it's the better choice, partly because the C70 feels so much like a sports car, and partly because the six-speed allows snappier acceleration. It's such a good gearbox, smooth and tight, repeatedly praised in other places on this site. If it's good enough for the high-performance S60R, it's great in the C70.

We put about 60 more curvy miles on a C70 with the optional five-speed automatic, and it's a fine, crisp transmission. If you don't like the work that a manual transmission requires, you'll have no problem with the automatic. And for those who want a little extra control at times, the automatic features a satisfying and obedient Auto-stick mode.

Our driving route on the Hawaiian island of Maui included a 52-mile stretch with some 600 curves; that's right, six hundred. We drove quickly, keeping in mind the safety of others of course, with repeated spurts of acceleration followed by sharp braking. There was no indication that the vented 11.8-inch front and 11-inch rear discs got hot (unlike the rental car we later used on that same road).

The C70 doesn't feel heavy when you flick it around in the curves. The rack-and-pinion steering is power-assisted and electro-hydraulic, and provides a solid feel. We wouldn't call it light or nimble, but turning the C70 doesn't require a lot of effort. It simply gives good feedback through the healthy leather-wrapped steering wheel. Solid as a Swede.

The same could be said of the ride. The stiffening of the chassis is clearly apparent, especially when compared to a C70 convertible we drove two years ago, whose shaking on rough roads was disappointing, to say the least. The Maui roads were pretty rough, and the C70 handled them nearly as smoothly as the S60 sedan would have.

The C70 requires premium fuel, and Volvo says it will get 20 city and 29 highway miles per gallon.

The new Volvo C70 is, first of all, gorgeous. Its safety is unbeatable, and the engine, transmission and suspension are proven to be smooth and reliable. The price is a bargain. But the bottom line is that it's a new invention: a four-seat convertible with a convenient, fail-safe, sleek, steel coupe roof. correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Maui.

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