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If you are in the market for a four-seat convertible you will find a wealth of options available. At the cheaper end of the market lie fashionable coupe-convertibles such as the Peugeot 307 and Renault Megane and forthcoming Focus. Sitting above them in terms of cost are perennial sellers such as BMW's 3-series and the Audi A4, below the Mercedes CLK Cabriolet and BMW 6-series. Nestling in there with the executives is the car under test here; Volvo's C70.
Shane O' Donoghue - 7 May 2005
Would you believe the C70 has been on sale since 1997? The more sporting coupe version has been dropped from the range, but the convertible soldiers on, still selling in strong numbers. Taking a look at the brochure, you'll be surprised to discover that you can have your C70 with three different engine options, and in three trim levels. We drove the C70 T5 Collection edition.
I don't think it is unfair to presume that most buyers of premium four-seat convertibles are more interested in good looks and breeding than they are in the driving experience. A certain level of performance is desirable, but that hardly matters while driving through town with the roof down. Despite its age, the C70 looks amazingly good; it is a clean design, managing to remain classy with the roof up or down. The electric roof stows majestically underneath a flush-fitting cover, and does a good job of keeping the elements at bay when raised.
On paper, the interior should score well with buyers, especially in the highly specified Collection edition. Heated seats are standard, trimmed in luxurious soft leather. Our car's leather was 'Toscana Tan', which I thought looked too yellow. Black is the other colour choice, and I would opt for that given that the grey dashboard clashes with the tan colour. The C70's age is betrayed by that dashboard and the controls. Though well made and of high quality, some of the materials just feel, well, out of date. Likewise, big chunky buttons and a rotary dial for the on board computer look odd in a world taken by micro-switches and I-drive systems. Of course, everything works as it should and the interior is a comfortable place to be. In spite of the space needed for the soft-top, rear passengers have decent legroom. It is not a comfortable place to be with the roof down at speed though, as buffeting is quite severe.
We don't often associate speed with such a car, and this is where a surprise came from, as, thanks to the turbocharged five-cylinder engine, the C70 T5 is a sportscar at heart. The engine peaks at 245bhp, and its maximum torque figure (243lb.ft) is available all the way from 2400rpm to 5100rpm. However, even though urge is strong all the way through the rev range, we found that it was far more enjoyable to extend the engine to the red line. This engine really likes to rev, and when you let it off its leash it emits a fantastic Audi Quattro impersonating howl thanks to the distinctive five-cylinder layout. The noise is very much at odds with the restrained exterior. Volvo claims that the C70 T5 will accelerate from 0-62mph (100km/h) in 7.5 seconds with the five-speed manual fitted, but we think that time is a little pessimistic. It certainly feels quicker with the wind rushing past your face.
There are no problems with the brakes when you arrive at a corner at the high speeds the engine encourages. The car stops well, and the stoppers cope admirably with a little left foot braking, which is not something I thought I'd be writing about a Volvo convertible! Don't expect the C70 to handle like a Lotus Elise though; it weighs about 1600kg for starters and the spring and damper set-up is biased towards comfort (even though the T5 is fitted with the 'Dynamic Chassis'). Two other factors stop play before the limitations of the chassis itself: torque steer can be horrendous if you are over eager with the loud pedal, with wheel spin in second and third gear corners; even if using your left foot to brake at the same time. The traction control system is laughably slow so there's no point in relying on that if you are out for a proper drive on a twisty road. More fundamentally, the car's rigidity, or rather lack of, deters you from driving hard, especially on anything other than billiard table smooth roads. You can really feel the body twisting and bucking mid corner, and if you add a few potholes into the mix the steering wheel moves around in your hands.
I should point out that I know that the C70 was not designed to be driven everyday on the limit, but the engine cajoles the driver into pushing harder. No doubt the coupe was a lot of fun. In T5 specification, no matter how much of a grin the engine induces, I'm not sure the C70 makes a lot sense. Buyers wanting a good steer will go elsewhere, and the engine is not really suited to the character of the rest of the C70. The other engine options have 163bhp and 200bhp, which perhaps would be more sensible given the structure's limitations.
At a smidgen under £30,000, rivals to this C70 include BMW's accomplished 325Ci and the modern Audi A4 in 3-litre Sport guise. Neither of these Germans has quite the same fire in the belly as the Volvo, but are decently quick and genuinely better to drive. Though the BMW is due to be replaced next year, it joins the Audi in being a lot more modern than the C70. However, there is the small matter of individuality and image. BMW's 3-series is everywhere, and the Volvo badge still holds a little more cachet than the four Audi rings. A potentially more serious rival comes in the form of the Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible. It's too close a fight to call. You'll have to make your own choice!
2005 Volvo C70 Convertible specifications: (Collection T5)
Price: £29,978 on-the-road (test car has Convenience Pack at £900, metallic paint at £500 and a first aid kit at £25).
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 149mph
Combined economy: 28.5mpg
Kerb weight: 1565kg
Full technical specifications