By Jeremy Cato
Volvo design director Peter Horbury is a charming and sometimes-cheeky Briton who was among the very first — if not the very first — to tell the world that the Volvo C70 coupe was, on the day it arrived, as good as automotive design gets. At least in terms of proportion and elegance.
The first time I heard him say so was at the auto show in Detroit in January 1997. That was more than a year before the C70 and its convertible sibling arrived in the marketplace in any serious numbers.
Volvo, of course, had plans to launch the C70 in the fall of 1997 as a 1998 model. But a number of production issues delayed its arrival in any great numbers until the spring of 1998.
This seriously hurt the C70’s launch. A number of quality issues, prompting a few customer service campaigns and safety recalls, also hurt. And a promotional tie-in with one of the worst movies of the 1990s, The Saint, wasn’t helpful, either.
Yet at the end of the day, the C70 remains true to Horbury’s boast. This is a very handsome, very rakish coupe, and the convertible ain’t bad, either.
And it really goes, too. Under the hood both cars have been offered with either a 190-horsepower or a 236-hp five-cylinder engine, turbocharged, with all the requisite multi-valves operated by dual overhead camshafts. The more powerful coupe version will hit 0-100 km/h times in the 6.5-second range, when mated to the standard five-speed manual. Slightly longer for the electronic automatic.
Yes, it’s quick. But safe, too, as you would expect from Volvo. Front and side airbags have always been standard, as have been anti-lock braking for the very powerful four-wheel disc brakes. A security system has also been part of the basic package, with remote keyless entry and a panic button. Traction control has been available.
The C70 has always borrowed the S70 sedan’s basic floorpan and powertrain, although the coupe’s glass, sheetmetal and interior are completely unique. Volvo officials reported at launch that the coupe’s unibody structure is 40 per cent stiffer than the sedan, however. And imagine this: the coupe is actually about one centimetre longer (0.4 in.) than the V70 wagon, and has a slightly longer wheelbase.
Wheelbase is a key indicator of interior room, so you’ve probably guessed that there is plenty of it inside. Four adults can be seated comfortably in a C70, although in all honesty, climbing into the back seat is no easier than you’ll experience in the coupes of Volvo’s rivals – even with the C70’s front bucket seats that power forward automatically out of the way, then return to place when the seatback is straightened.
Make sure you check the operation of these seats in a used car. When you’re sure they work, climb into one of the two separate mini-buckets that give rear passengers a better-than-average view of the road ahead. Between them there is an armrest that when pushed up hides completely a pass-through for skis and the like.
Up front, you’ll find instruments and controls straight from the S70. This is a good example of packaging for driver-friendliness, especially the big dials (highly visible) and the rotary controls for the climate system which can be turned even if one is wearing thick winter gloves. A nifty three-disc stacker slides into the in-dash compact disc player.
In driving, the C70 is very sporty. The steering is bang-on, the tires are aggressively grippy and the throttle response is thoroughly un-turbo-like. No lag, folks. And very quiet, too. Ride comfort at highway speeds is pretty good, although later cars received some suspension refinements to help reduce noise and improve the overall cruising quality.
Volvo has never sold many C70s in Canada, but if you find one to your liking, the price should be pretty attractive. But be sure to check service records and recall notices, and go for a thorough mechanical inspection. If you’re looking at a convertible, inspect for signs of water leaks. More info on these issues can be found in the Buyer’s Alerts.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.