review and photos by Paul Williams

The big news for buyers of 2006 convertible cars is that for several vehicles, the tops are no longer soft

The fully revised 2006 Volvo C70, introduced this past spring, is a four-seat car with a three-piece convertible hardtop. The top folds into the trunk when you feel like exposing yourself, so to speak, and otherwise the C70 looks for all the world like a sleek coupe.

Another four-seat hardtop convertible, the Volkswagen Eos, will debut for 2007, and Mazda is adding the option to its popular MX-5 (Miata) roadster.

But at a starting price of $55,995 (2006 model) or $56,495 (2007 model) for the six-speed manual transmission version, the C70 is courting a somewhat affluent market. Add the five-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmission, and one of the two of the option packages (Premium or Sport at $2,850 and $5,000 respectively) and you’re easily over $60,000. 2007 C70s are virtually identical to 2006s, except that a power passenger seat is now standard and ‘Passion’ leather is now included in the optional Sport and Premium packages.

Fortunately, it looks the part. Surely one of the nicest-looking Volvos ever, this car turns heads with the top up or down. And when you’re effecting the transformation from one mode to the other, it can draw a small crowd.

To complement the looks, the front-wheel drive C70 offers spirited performance from its five-cylinder, light pressure turbocharged, inline 2.5-litre engine. This “T5” engine makes 218-horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque, giving the Volvo C70 a top speed of 240 km/h. Fuel economy is excellent, returning 11.3/7.4 l/100 km city/highway from the automatic, and 11.6/7.5 l/100 km from the six-speed manual. We recorded a figure of 8.7 l/100 km combined.

Handling, too, is sporty and satisfying. The multilink rear suspension, front suspension with spring struts (McPherson), anti-dive and anti-lift function, stiff body and dynamic stability and traction control combine to create a highly responsive vehicle when turning and stopping.

Based on the S40 platform (also used on the Ford Focus in Europe, and the Mazda3 here), the C70 is slightly smaller than the C70 it replaces, and some of the S40’s interior cues are also found in the new model. Volvo designer Guy Burgoyne’s “Swedish Modern” interior features an innovative and distinctive control centre that recalls Scandinavian bentwood furniture, and simple but effective forms throughout. The seats are particularly comfortable and supportive.

Concerning safety, this is of course a Volvo specialty. The C70 is loaded with equipment and technology to protect occupants in the event of an accident, including a Roll Over Protection System that raises protective steel hoops behind the rear seat, an inflatable curtain that’s deployed from the top of the doors, a whiplash protection system and Volvo’s side impact protection system. With all this, plus a double thickness rear bulkhead, the expected anti-lock brakes, stability systems and braking assistance, the Volvo C70 is arguably the safest convertible car on the market.

It’s the top that distinguishes the car, though. Lowering takes about 30 seconds with the car stopped, and your foot on the brake. Pressing a button on the centre console lowers the windows, unlatches the roof from the windshield header rail, opens the trunk, and deposits the roof into it. The reverse procedure raises and locks the roof, and opens up full trunk space.

As you might expect, there’s not much space in the trunk when the top is down, but enough can be found for small items by temporarily raising the stacked and folded top with the aid of a push-button that activates an electric motor, exposing some room for luggage below. Still, it’s tight in there.

Front passenger room is generous, and the rear seats, while large, are set close together. They’d be good for people who want to know each other better, but better for kids. However, if you’re packing lots of gear with your kids, you won’t have room for it in the trunk with the top down. No, this is really a two-person car, with occasional but useful rear seating.

On the road, the C70 is very quick off the line. Acceleration is brisk through the first four gears of the manual transmission, with fifth and sixth useful for highway driving. It’s the torque that really pulls this car, though, and some fairly fierce torque steer can be experienced if take your hands off the thick steering wheel when accelerating aggressively.

As mentioned earlier, handling and braking are also notable, but so is the ride. On smooth pavement, this Volvo positively floats down the road without the slightest upset or vibration entering the cabin. On rougher surfaces, you’ll hear noise from the tires, but the smooth ride continues. On broken pavement or over railroad tracks, the C70 with its top down is poised and controlled.

It all sounds entirely rosy, doesn’t it? Except that when the top is up, the car (at least, our test car) was plagued with annoying rattles. They came from at least two places in the roof: one over the front passenger seat, and one behind the driver’s seat. Presumably, they had something to do with the complex mechanisms that operate the top, as fitment was not a problem (the car was taken through an automatic wash twice, and was completely watertight).

But driving the C70 with the top up was a trying experience, especially when encountering bumpy pavement, as this would cause continuous shaking and rattling overhead.

Another annoying issue was the propensity for the seatbelts to flap against the seats from turbulence in the cabin when the top was down. Certain speeds just seem to get these belts flapping away like a flag in a stiff breeze, even when front seat occupants are using them (in which case they’d vibrate against your neck). The unused shoulder belts in the back seat join in by slapping the leather seats with percussive vigour.

Other problems were the trunk, which twice spontaneously unlocked itself while the car was underway, and the floor mats, which, with only 7,000 km on the car, were already quite worn.

Also, it must be pointed out that the power top, while very clever, may prove problematic down the road due to its numerous cables, pulleys, motors and hinges.

So yes, there’s a bit of trouble in paradise. Buyers will have to balance the C70’s beautiful exterior and interior design, advanced safety technology and excellent driving dynamics and fuel economy, with distracting interior noises, potentially troublesome hardtop operation, aggressive torque steer and possibly fragile accessories.

Overall, though, the Volvo C70’s refined presence and sensuous surfaces will likely close the deal. Like a fine watch, an expensive article of designer clothing, or a round-the-world cruise, it’s something with which you reward yourself for very good behaviour.


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