Volvo's Ball of Fire
Up until this year, if you asked someone what came to mind when they heard the name Volvo, they probably would have responded with words like: safe, conservative, boxy, high-end, family car, suburbia, efficient and sensible. But with the all-new C70 ripping up the roads, that stodgy Volvo image is changing.
Volvo executives realized a few years ago that in order to reach the tremendous influx of Baby Boomers-turned-empty-nesters, who would be trading in their family trucksters for sportier coupes as their kids head off to college, they needed a product that would fit the bill. And though popular in their own right, the Swedes' capable-but-conservative sedans and wagons just wouldn't do. Enter the C70.
Built on the same chassis as the S70/V70 Volvos, the C70 is powered by a turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine making 236 horsepower @ 5,100 rpm. The coupe was the result of a joint venture between Volvo and Tom Walkinshaw Racing, a renowned British racing team, and behind the wheel is where you can truly appreciate the expertise that went into making this coupe one of the most fun rides around. Hitting the accelerator with the C70 was like lighting a very short fuse that exploded a moment later, propelling you back into the seat. Even on daily errands in stop and go traffic the easy power of the car made me wonder why everyone else was driving so darned slow.
Handling the C70 was a lesson in self-control, as weaving in and out of all that slow-moving traffic created a dangerous feeling of invincibility in our drivers. Steering inspired confidence on switchbacks, but the wheel had a tendency to wander on the highway. Assembled with a four-wheel semi-independent suspension, a rigid body structure, and an anti-roll bar to control ride motions when cornering, the C70 behaved like a true sport coupe should. Its standard 17-inch tires gripped the road through all the high-speed turns, and braking was as sure and safe as what you would expect from Volvo.
Our test car came with an automatic transmission, but you can-and should-get a C70 with a manual. Though shifting was smooth for the most part, our editor-in-chief noticed excessive turbo lag driving around Denver that had not been apparent when he drove the car at sea level. This made it difficult to harness the engine's turbo power and resulted in a not-so-smooth ride for passengers.
Inside, the coupe's hot little stereo system with Dolby surround sound and ten speakers delighted us, though one editor thought the center dash speaker looked tacked on. Seating positions were comfortable for all shapes and sizes, and the dash layout smacked of sophistication and good judgement. Gauges and displays were easy to read, and, with the exception of placing the stereo module above the climate controls, there wasn't much we would change.
We appreciated the three-disc CD changer because it didn't take up too much room, the glove compartment handle on the left side of the door so that the driver can open it easily, comfortable leather seats, the driver's foot rest, and the wood trim that looked classy rather than cheap.
However, most drivers complained that there was a bit too much wind noise. It was difficult to retrieve goods stashed in the center cubby, it took awhile to find the power sunroof button (which is on the steering column rather than overhead), and I had to reach way back to grab the seatbelt when the driver's seat was moved forward. Some drivers also had a difficult time with visibility. Thick C-pillars coupled with a small rear window and a high trunklid made changing lanes an exercise in guesswork. More than once, we inadvertently cut off drivers in our blind spot after checking both mirrors and looking out the back.
Perhaps the biggest reformation for Volvo with the C70 was the voluptuous exterior styling of the vehicle. Gone is the squared-off look that consumers have come to expect from the Swedish automaker. As one Volvo executive said, "We threw away the box and kept the toy." While the front end of the car is all Volvo, the rear three quarters is curvy, aerodynamic and smooth. Call me a traditionalist, but I liked the old boxy shape that made Volvos famous. I also like the sporty design of the new little coupe, though, and the cool new colors to go along with it. Our test car was a bright Saffron orange-the fiery color of the sun on a Serengeti postcard. It was the kind of color you either love or hate. We happened to love it. And we never lost our car in a parking lot because the unique paint color was impossible to miss.
This sexy little coupe logged at least as many head-turns as the new Mercedes-Benz CLK did, and its standout color made it more of a show pony. On more than one occasion during our time with the car, we emerged from a store to find passersby poking around its attractive sheetmetal, asking incredulously, "This is a Volvo?"
So after driving the C70 for several days, what words come to our minds when thinking of Volvos? Hmmm, something along the lines of: fast, powerful, fun-to-drive, sporty, sleek, stylish and, of course, colorful.
Yes, with the C70, Volvo has ignited the world of sport coupe driving and changed its image at the same time. Volvo drivers will never be looked at the same way again. Instead of leisurely meandering through life, it's sort of like racing around in a ball of fire. Another great thing about this coupe is that regardless of the bold new image it promotes, it's still a Volvo-one of the safest cars on the road. And once the shock factor wears off and people begin to expect this sort of style and performance from Volvo, consumers will be clamoring for their own little piece of the sun.