Volvo C70 T5 SE Lux
By Oliver Marriage
Here's the proof that Volvo's expertise on safety has finally been matched with style! The new C70 is the first production convertible in the world to get a three-piece retractable hard-top - and it's a work of art.
The transformation from coupé to cabriolet takes 30 seconds, and watching the panels perform a delicate ballet before stowing snugly and quietly under the rear deck is a joy in itself.
But just as impressive is the fact that the complex arrangement (developed with Italian styling house Pininfarina) hasn't compromised the design. Unlike some rivals, the C70's rear doesn't look overly bulky, and is practical, too.
With the roof up, the load bay offers 400 litres of space, while the cabin is big enough to carry four adults. Rear headroom is tight, but legroom is generous.
Most appealing, however, is the car's versatility. You'd expect the neat tail to lack load space once the top is folded - but by ditching the spare wheel, the area underneath still offers 200 litres.
There are even lidded cubbyholes front and rear which are linked to the central locking, meaning secure storage with the roof down. Up front, the cabin is broadly the same as that in the S40 and V50, but to add a touch of luxury, it's been given chrome highlights on the air vents and heating and stereo controls, plus a tactile leather steering wheel.
The family cars' floating centre console looks especially good in the convertible, while the fine driving position, comfortable seats and solid build quality add to the appeal. Safety hasn't been overlooked, and rollover protection hoops and front and side airbags are joined by Volvo's new head airbag system. Mounted in the door tops, the semi-rigid bags pop up on impact.
So the C70 is very well packaged and designed - but is the driving experience up to the same standards? When the car goes on sale in mid-March (the first deliveries aren't likely until May), it will come with two engines: a 170bhp 2.4-litre five-cylinder or a 220bhp turbo version of the same unit, in the T5. Early summer sees the most interesting option appear: a 180bhp 2.4-litre D5 diesel.
Only the T5 was available for us to drive, however, and it's very muscular. Performance is strong, with 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds, and there's a warbling engine note. Our car's six-speed manual box also had a neat shift, although a five-speed Geartronic auto is a £1,250 extra. On the smooth roads of our Dubai test route, the C70 was solid, with only a slight wobble from the strengthened structure over mid-corner expansion joints. It's not the last word in involvement, but isn't cumbersome or wallowy around bends, either. Body control is impressive, it's reasonably well balanced and while there's some wind noise from the tops of the A-pillars when the roof is up, buffeting is minimal with it down.
We'll need to drive the C70 here to give a definitive verdict, but first impressions are good - not least because of the value for money on offer. All cars get climate, cruise and stability control, and prices range from £26,200 for the 2.4i Sport to £33,225 for this T5 SE Lux.
Until now, the Volvo C70 has been a small player in the premium four-seat convertible class, with around five per cent of sales; bigger fish such as the Audi A4 Convertible netted 30 per cent. However, thanks to a unique three-element folding roof, excellent packaging, good design and an attractive price, the latest version promises to make a bigger impact.
At a Glance
* From the rear, the C70 makes the most of Volvo's design philosophy, as a wide shoulder line flattens the appearance of the big load area. The bootlid itself is a clever piece of engineering; it's double hinged to allow the clamshell to open for the roof and to give access to luggage.
* Engine: 2.4 5cyl, 220bhp
* 0-60mph: 7.6 seconds
* On sale: March
* Price: £33,225