26 January 2006
Coupe-cabriolets may be de rigueur among chop-top
versions of mainstream family hatchbacks, but move up a size into premium brand territory and stowable steel or glass roofs are something of a rarity, with BMW, Audi and Saab sticking to cloth.
Enter Volvo's handsome born-again C70, jointly developed and produced in Sweden with legendary Italian design house Pininfarina.
Volvo is striving to ratchet down the average age of C70 drivers from what product manager Iain Rowat admitted is a "very old" male-dominated clientele. One third of current C70 owners are between 55 and 64 and a further 7% will never see 65 again.
In common with S40 and V50, the C70 harnesses Ford Group's excellent C2 platform also used by the Focus, while a nicely sculpted bodyshell makes it more balanced and purposeful than its slightly ungainly predecessor. It also avoids a hump-backed, tail-heavy stance many coupe-cabrios suffer from.
With 3000 C70s bound for Britain a year, Volvo is keeping powertrain variants and trim levels simple. From the April launch there will be two five-cylinder petrol engines, a 172PS normally-aspirated 2.4-litre and the 223PS turbocharged, 2.5-litre T5 driven here. A D5 182PS diesel, at around £1500 above the 2.4-litre petrol, is due in May to prompt a markedly higher fleet ratio.
The three-piece retractable steel roof whirs up and down into and out of the boot praying-mantis style, each operation taking around 30 seconds. Luggage space is halved from 400 to 200 litres with the roof stowed but extracting bags is aided by electronically lifting the folded roof mechanism by 200mm.
Our T5 SE six-speed manual model's leather- and wood-trimmed cabin matched Audi and BMW for fit, finish and quality, and the central vertical curving "infotainment" console stack is a lesson in easily assimilated ergonomics. The electrically operated seats incorporate a neat button on the backrest to move the front seats fore and aft, making rear seat access easier.
The C70's increased rigidity, up 50% on its predecessor, contribute to a requisite solid Volvo feel, and there is a conspicuous lack of roof-down squeaks over ridged surfaces. Despite this, there's an underlying bodyshell resonance when accelerating in higher gears, with the roof down or up.
This C70 is much more than a boulevard cruiser. The chassis and communicative electric-hydraulic steering make it sure-footed and tenacious on open flowing curves or double back hairpins.
Braking is undramatic and effective, and if ill fate intervenes, safety kit includes door-mounted curtain airbags that deploy upwards, and pop-up hoop to protect occupants in the event of a roof-down rollover.
At the last count 750 orders were on dealers' desks, including a significant user-chooser element. When more (younger) bums are on seats via demo drives, it might not be too long before the sold-out signs are put in place.