C70 is hardtop with innovative safety

Friday, May 5, 2006

Calling all sun-seeking drivers. Volvo's 2006 C70 is a stylish, open-air car that doesn't skimp on safety and security.

Arriving in U.S. showrooms in time for the year's warm seasons, the new, four-passenger, two-door C70 is revamped from top to bottom compared with the first-generation C70 that debuted in 1998.

The biggest visible change is the car's roof. It's a three-piece, power-operated steel hardtop, which provides the kind of security against break-ins and vandalism that no fabric-topped convertible can offer.

The new C70 also is the first convertible with curtain airbags. Typical convertibles don't have curtain airbags for head protection in side and rollover crashes because the bags usually deploy downward from a fixed car roof. In the C70, Volvo officials became the first to install curtain airbags in the insides of the doors and engineered the bags to deploy upward.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $39,405 makes the 2006 C70 the lowest-priced, new convertible with power hardtop in the United States. This price is for a model with six-speed manual transmission.

A C70 with five-speed automatic starts at $40,655.

Either way, the C70 undercuts the previous lowest-priced hardtop convertible car -- the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK280, a two-seater that starts at $43,675.

The C70 now uses the same front-wheel-drive platform as the Volvo S40 sedan and Volvo V50 wagon.

It's a more modern, more rigid foundation than what was in the earlier C70 and helps give this weighty car, which tops out at nearly 3,800 pounds, a stable base.

The front suspension uses a MacPherson strut design, while an independent, multi-link configuration works at the rear. Standard tires are 17 inches in diameter compared with 16-inchers in the previous C70.

But I expected a more refined ride in this convertible. I felt every manhole cover and highway expansion crack quite intimately. There also was occasional windshield shudder when the top was down, and a good amount of road noise with the roof up or down.

The C70 does, however, handle curves and twisty roads tenaciously and doesn't feel off-balance or unwieldy. Indeed, its ground-hugging personality can delight driving enthusiasts.

There's only one engine now. It's a 2.5-liter, turbocharged, intercooled, double overhead cam five cylinder that generates 218 horsepower. This is up from the 197 horses in the base five-cylinder engine in the previous C70. But it's not as powerful as the 242-horsepower, five-cylinder, high-pressure turbo that was the uplevel engine in the predecessor C70.

With a healthy, 236 foot-pounds of torque starting as low as 1,500 rpm, drivers feel the power coming on easily in the new C70, and the test car didn't feel sluggish.

There was just a bit of turbo lag, and the power delivery was accompanied by a turbo whine in the test car as I zipped into traffic and made passing maneuvers easily.

Brakes in the test car worked strongly, too.

The C70 with automatic, which was in the test car, is rated at just 21 miles a gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. In my test driving, I averaged 22.5 mpg in combined city and highway travel.

With a 15.9-gallon gas tank and premium fuel recommended for peak performance, the C70 would cost nearly $50 to fill up (at a $3.10-a-gallon price).

There's more to this car's safety than just the standard curtain airbags.

Standard safety items include stability control, traction control and anti-whiplash seats that also keep front passengers from submarining under the dashboard during a crash.

Deployable rollbars behind the C70's rear seats are engineered to work even if a crash occurs when the car's hardtop is on.

Front seats were eminently comfortable, and the dashboard gauges and controls, all nicely arranged, are reminiscent of those in other Volvos.

It takes just a push of a button for the hard top to dissect into three parts and stack itself neatly into the trunk. Note that this takes 30 seconds, which is considerably more time than some other convertible tops that are fabric and less complex.

There really is room for two adults in the back seat. Obviously, it's more comfortable back there -- not to mention getting in and out -- when the roof is down.

Maximum rear legroom is 33.9 inches, which is better than some third-row seats in sport utility vehicles.

Watch when opening the C70 doors in parking lots. These are long, heavy doors and they can swing out and dent adjacent cars before you know it.

Also, take care when entering the C70 after a rain. On the test car, the rain water dripped directly off the hardtop and upper window areas onto the door sills, splashing on me if I wasn't careful. If I was already in the C70 test car when the rain came and, say, needed to open a window to pay a toll, I'd wind up with rain water dripping down on the interior door armrest.

Trunk space is a decent 12.8 cubic feet when the roof is on the car. It shrinks to 6 cubic feet when the top is down and stored.

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