Cruisin' the O.C.
Newport Beach is one of the most disarmingly picturesque — and frighteningly expensive — beach towns in Orange County, California. This part of the "O.C." — don't call it that — is the perfect environment for the 2006 Volvo C70 T5, now a convertible of the retractable hardtop variety. (The essentially unchanged 2007 Volvo C70 goes on sale in midsummer.) Be it a misty morning of "June Gloom" or an SPF-challenging sunny beach afternoon, the Volvo C70 compromises neither beauty nor functionality when rigged top-up as a steel-roof coupe or top down as a well-finished convertible.
Rolling up to the Crab Cooker for some tasty Dungeness, we spot the usual two dozen or so locals waiting outside for the chance to sup inside under the suspended bulk of a stuffed, jaws-agape great white shark. Carwise, these folks are difficult to impress, as all manner of exotica lurks in the full-featured garages nearby. Fate provides a curb spot right out front. It's time for a show.
Unlike ragtops, into which any tweeker with a box cutter can get, the C70 retractable hardtop convertible allows us to raise the top and seal the Volvo tight for security — or rain, or snow. All nearby conversation halts for the next 29 seconds as the C70's slow-dance, three-card-Monte shuffle lifts a neat three-panel IKEA-esque flat-pack out of the trunk, assembling itself into a handsome steel roof. What the staring crowd doesn't see is an intricate system of tiny cables that unfold the headliner a half-step behind, keeping the fabric clear of the works throughout. Cool.
All C70s sold in the U.S. are of the T5 persuasion. That's "T" as in turbocharged and "5" as in five-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual is standard, while our test car's five-speed Geartronic automatic tranny with sequential manual mode floats the price up $1,250. All C70s are front-wheel drive.
Volvo's T5 motor puts out 218 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, and 236 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. Those numbers seem a bit modest, especially considering our test car's as-measured 3,840-pound heft. That top is a mecha-marvel, but it doubtlessly ups the poundage.
Our test track figures more or less bear that out. Zero to 60 uses up 8.1 seconds, with the quarter-mile spread over 16.1 seconds at 88.7 mph. Adequate performance, to be sure, but if you want blistering and peeling, leave off the sunblock.
Observed fuel economy comes in at a disappointing 18.3 miles per premium gallon in combined driving, with track testing excluded from the calculation. That's significantly below the EPA city rating of 21 mpg. Highway mileage is rated at 29 mpg.
Braking is similarly middle-of-the-road, which is surprising considering Volvo's tireless and eternal focus on safety. Stops from 60 mph use up an unremarkable 127 feet, with a pedal that grew longer as effectiveness declined over our modest series of stops. The aforementioned mass combined with the standard 17-inch all-season tires might be the culprits here.
We don't have a glowing report on the steering either. Oh sure, it turns rather smartly and stays on the preferred line, but Novocain "feel" and a large-pizza-sized steering wheel remind one of the electric party boats plying nearby Newport Bay.
Our well-mannered 63.6-mph slalom run and 0.80 lateral g skid-pad reading indicate that handling competency, at least, is present, but duff steering is sapping any fun. Here the 235/45R17 shoes work better than expected, but we wonder how much more the optional 18s would deliver.
Let the fun shine in
C70-style entertainment comes on strong when rolling along with the top down, taking in the sights and sounds of the scene around you. Wind buffeting is minimal, for front-seat passengers at least, right on up to 75-plus-mph freeway cruising speeds — sans wind blocker.
Rough roads don't unruffle the ride, as the structural rigidity of the C70 is decidedly better than the old C70. Very little shudder or shake infiltrates our T5 over a variety of surfaces, top up or top down, which doubtless allowed Volvo more leeway when tuning the suspension. Indeed the ride is well-damped, striking a good balance between control and compliance.
Room with a view
Front-row denizens will appreciate the seats, which can support a backside without being confining or hard. Our test car sports the optional power memory with leather examples, a $1,395 upgrade that coddles staffers of a variety of shapes, sizes and dispositions. Mix in legroom rated at 42.3 inches and a telescoping column with the range of the Hubble, and you get a recipe that puts the helm in the right spot for everybody. As a bonus, 38.2 inches of top-up headroom prevents tall-guy hair gel from tagging the headliner.
Rear seats in four-place convertibles are always a bit tight, owing to the space the folding mechanism consumes. Here the C70 does quite well, with 33.9 inches available. Other ragtops compare at 32 inches for a BMW 3 Series and 32.3 for a Saab 9-3. Back-row passengers can reach tilt-and-slide controls for the power front seats should the driver wander off.
Trunk space with the top up is fairly generous, at 12.8 cubic feet. Top-down volume shrinks to a diminutive, but still competitive, 6.0 cubic feet. To prevent overloading and top damage, a hinged frame within the trunk — not unlike an airline carry-on gauge — defines the edges of the allotted 6 cubic feet. If the gauge won't fit around the baggage and stay down without pressure, the roof can't retract.
Once everyone and their stuff is settled in, the view out is tremendous. Top-down sight lines to the rear benefit from a low-profile, form-fitting boot that makes it seem as if someone Monsterized the thing and torched the roof clean off — nothing resembling a bustle sticks up back there. Top-up visibility is similarly open, due in part to a slender pillar out back, but also due to the total lack of a B-pillar between doors.
Inside, the view isn't too shabby, either. Volvo designers deserve praise for this one, as the interior layout is fluid, graceful and lacking in pointless clutter. A ribbonlike center stack, handsomely finished in brushed aluminum, cascades from the dash to the shifter pod. It really works here, especially with the top lowered and the cabin flooded with natural light.
Basic audio and climate control functions are accessed via friendly, well-spaced knobs. A row of buttons down the center can be off-putting at first. With use, however, we find that less often used secondary functions are here, along with global settings we've always wanted control of, such as the ability to turn auto door locking on or off. Anyone with basic TV remote skills will recognize the logic and master them in minutes.
Our 2006 C70 sports the $1,550 Dynaudio 910-watt stereo, with 14 speakers — two of which are 8-inch subwoofers. It sounds outstanding, and delivers quite a bass punch — even in open-air mode. Your neighbors will love it.
Surprisingly, no MP3/iPod input jack is present, and Sirius Satellite Radio preparation is only possible if you pop for the $2,120 navigation system. Volvo is rectifying these shortcomings for 2007, as the MP3 input jack will come standard on all stereo grades, and satellite radio prep becomes a $295 stand-alone option.
For $39,405, you can plop yourself into a 2006 Volvo C70 T5 with a six-speed manual transmission. Our example, with the Geartronic automatic transmission, leather seats, Dynaudio stereo and metallic paint ($475) came out to $44,075. That's at or below similar offerings from Audi, BMW and Saab, even though all of those sport fabric convertible tops.
Even without the hardtop advantage, the Volvo C70 is arguably the more well-executed and elegant design. It may not be the sporty thriller an enthusiast driver wants, but the C70 excels as a top-down tourer. Add in the fact that you can have your convertible cake and eat it all winter, too, and you've really got something.
System Score: 9.0
Components: The Volvo C70 comes standard with a four-channel, 160-watt, eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD changer and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. However, our tester had the optional 910-watt Dynaudio stereo that includes 12 Dynaudio speakers, two subwoofers and Dolby Pro Logic II. The system also incorporates a digital amplifier for truer sound reproduction and has been designed to automatically adjust the sound when the top is folded down. This optional system adds $1,550 to the C70's price.
Because our test car is a 2006 and not a 2007, it's available with Sirius Satellite Radio, but only if you opt for the $2,100 optional navigation system. The '07 versions offer Sirius as a stand-alone option that costs about $300. The 2006 model-year cars are also without an auxiliary jack for connecting portable MP3 players. That feature will be standard on all audio systems for 2007.
Performance: With the Dynaudio name and the inclusion of a digital amp, this optional sound system promises a lot. Thankfully, it delivers on its promise with exceptional sound quality even with the top down.
The bass is sharp and precise, while the mids and highs fill the cabin with nicely detailed and full sound. We've long been fans of Volvo's Dolby Pro Logic audio systems but the addition of Dynaudio components takes the sound quality to a new level.
We also like the deep menus with lots of features, like an adjustable subwoofer and the ability to dial in exactly how much of the surround effect you want. A little less sounds better for rock music while a little more surround works well with classical. From Sarah Brightman to Gwen Stefani, it all sounds great.
Our complaints are few. We like the look of the center stack but found that the display washes out in bright sunlight. Also, some editors felt that certain customizable functions were buried too deep in submenus. But for the most part, this sophisticated stereo is easy to navigate. We're also cautious about recommending an optional sound system that tacks on an extra $1,500 but that's a bargain compared to Lexus' premium sound system and it's slightly less than the upgraded stereo on most BMWs.
Best Feature: Excellent sound quality all around.
Worst Feature: Sometimes the display is hard to read.
Conclusion: This is one of the best in-car systems around and can easily hold its own with the premium stereos from brands like BMW and Lexus. However, if you have an iPod and want to listen to it in the car, make sure you're getting an '07 model. — Brian Moody
Inside Line Editor in Chief Richard Homan says:
To misparaphrase Henry David Thoreau: I have traveled extensively in the Volvo C70. The company was generous enough to provide a C70 for me to use as I conducted a reconnaissance of the hurricane-ravaged areas in my adopted hometown of New Orleans. To correctly paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, my city was in ruins. I must say two things about driving the C70 there, because they struck me deeply.
The first is about the suspension: The roads on which we traveled were suitable for trucks, mostly, but the C70 rode sweetly on the good ones and soaked up the bad ones with shocking grace. Volvo deserves praise and FEMA ought to be ashamed. My second impression was one of silence — top down and confronted by the string of mangled neighborhoods, nobody in the Volvo could speak. And the broken housing tracts were all quiet as death. And the Volvo C70, too, moved quietly and respectfully through that hell. The engine, brakes and driver were all very aware that they were working a rather heavy car.
True, the top takes a while to close, and at the Volvo's price, many folks will find a V6 Volkswagen Eos — another retractable hardtop — more accessible. But the C70's high stylishness and substantial comfort cannot be discounted.
Senior Content Editor Erin Riches says:
I respect the Volvo C70 for its honesty: It's not an athlete. Instead, it's the most comfortable and versatile hardtop convertible I've ever driven.
With the top up, the C70 functions as a true coupe, as slim C-pillars minimize the blind spots and the carefully insulated hardtop keeps out excess wind and road noise. Oddly, the top's interior cloth liner did not fit flush at the rear edges in our test car. This detracted from the cabin's appearance but didn't affect noise levels.
With the top down, the C70 shields its occupants from gusts without the use of a windblocker, while providing the best head protection the industry has to offer in the event of a side-impact collision. Additionally, the Dynaudio system that seems overpowering with the top up offers ideally tuned bass response in the open air.
And, top up or down, the C70 offers a forgiving ride and fabulously supportive seats at the expense of some legroom in the rear. However, in this price range, I'd really like some more power to offset the added pudge that comes with added structural rigidity. I'd also like the brakes to grab a little quicker — effort levels are too high in everyday traffic. I'm not sure about the torque steer, either: It almost feels like it was engineered to give the car character, but it's like having an invisible hand slip underneath yours and give the steering wheel a tug as soon as the turbocharger spools up. You feel like you're not quite in control.
Handling is otherwise secure, though, and this C70 is certainly a more willing and refined companion on back roads than Volvo's original drop top. It still won't satisfy hard-core drivers, but those seeking a safe, capable convertible with plenty of versatility for family use should definitely look at this Volvo.
Associate Editor Austin Chen says:
If I were middle-aged, had a family and a job, and was no longer looking for my next thrill, this would be the car for me. But, alas, I'm 23 years old, taking advantage of every opportunity I can and still trying to comprehend the meaning of "too fast." Hence, the Volvo C70 was not quite the drop-top corner-hugging speed demon I would have preferred. Nevertheless, I tried my hardest to turn the C70 into one of the European exotic posters that adorned my college dorm room. In return, I received an oversteering experience on a narrow mountain road that instantaneously transported me into my golden years.
Once I let the C70 be what it was meant to be — a top-up commuter and a top-down weekend cruiser — it shined. It has a smooth, comfortable ride in the city and on the highway and enough power for on-ramps and random urges for g-forces. The seats are plush and, if you opt for it, the $1,550 sound system is big-ballin'. The center console is clean and crisp with brushed aluminum, but the storage space behind the console requires a doubled-jointed elbow and X-ray vision for it to be practical. Also, taking a Sunday trip to the driving range might require your clubs to ride shotgun, as trunk space is severely compromised with the top down.
Most C70 owners will be looking for comfort, luxury and the benefits of a folding hardtop, all of which the C70 aces. Maybe after medical school, residency, fellowship and a few years in my own practice I will have earned enough cash and lost enough testosterone to take a serious look at this car.
"It's like being on vacation every time I get behind the wheel. The top is an amazing piece of engineering. The car is very well built, and drives extremely smoothly." — Altfan, May 22, 2006
"If top-down driving inspires you but safety, build quality and seating for four motivate you, then this is your convertible. A head-turner with the top up or down, the converting process is guaranteed to stop traffic. Actual adults can fit in the rear seat, and if you drive like an adult (i.e. don't need to prove your manhood by speeding, snaking through traffic or excessive horsepower) the C70 will keep you smiling for years to come." — Steve, June 3, 2006
"This is a solid car; the hardtop convertible makes the car a perfect choice for year-round driving. The car is very quiet with the top up, and a blast to drive with the top down. The interior styling is excellent — no clutter, and controls are easy to use. Front seats are typical Volvo comfort, and backseat room is larger than I have seen on other convertibles.
Build quality is excellent." — Laxdad, June 10, 2006