Sweden is home to an automotive cult known as “Raggare” (roughly translated: “pick-up artist”). Its adherents revere American hot rods and the cruising lifestyle depicted by the film "American Graffiti." It’s helpful to think of the Volvo C70 hardtop convertible in this context, as a latter day Swedish pony-car. I know; it's a bizarre concept. A hardtop convertible produced by a car company known for impeccable safety and wildly inoffensive design aspiring to super-cool sex appeal? Like Swedish meatballs, it tastes a lot better than it sounds.
The C70 certainly doesn’t serve-up any funky ingredients or visual spice. It employs the same ultra-conservative squat-nosed jelly bean shape that make the S40 and S50 look like a pair of nurses’ shoes, only longer and wider. Peter Horbury originally penned the C70 as a coupe. The rear seats were added after the fact. Whether by accident or design or accidental design, the resulting shape is far more cohesive and delicate than most four-seat drop tops.
The C70’s retractable metal roof connects the convertible with the Golden Age of American cars; the Swede’s party piece hearkens back to ye olde ’59 Ford Skyliner (a Fairlane derivative). As we’ve come to expect from hardtop drop tops, the C70’s mechanical ballet is precision engineering as street theater. The four piece lid origamis into the car’s trunk in about 30 seconds, disappearing beneath the C70’s carapace to create a genuine– and genuinely handsome– four-seat roadster. The large rear glass is a welcome addition to the show, affording C70 drivers some much-appreciated additional visibility.
Mazda MX5 aside, we’ve also become accustomed to the compromises that no-compromise retractable hardtops inflict on luggage space. Once stowed, all those fancy folding metal bits cut the available trunk space in half (the upper half). So while the C70 convertible is fully capable of mussing the hair of four full-sized adults, it’s completely incapable of stowing the traveling quartet's luggage. In fact, the truncated trunk means that even a couple of fresh air adventurers must pack light. In soft cases.
Ask a Nordic furniture designer; there’s a fine line between austerity and minimalism. The C70’s cabin struggles to cross this aesthetic boundary. While its “floating console,” easy-to-read analogue dials and sensible, tactile switchgear are the very model of a modern major general, there’s a fundamental lack of drama to the space. The blahs weren't helped by our tester’s British Pensioner Grey colour scheme. And as long as we’re being sensible, the C70’s seats provide excellent lumbar support, and nothing helpful in terms of lateral support.
As with many Volvos (I’m looking at you XC90), the C70’s engine bay is too small for the kind of large displacement powerplant that you’d expect in such a glamorously impractical automobile. Yes, transverse-mounted engines conform to the Volvo brand's safety first demands. Yes, the C70 gets an entirely respectable 21 mpg in urban pose mode, and 29 mpg during open road cruise control. But the C70’s 2.5-liter engine is hardly the stuff of muscle car dreams. We’re talking 218hp @ 5000 rpm.
Mind you, Volvo’s been at this turbo-five business for quite some time. They’ve tweaked the mini mill to deliver 236 ft. lbs. of torque @ 1500 – 4800rpm. With so much twist arriving early and staying for lunch, the C70’s acceleration feels a lot more than merely adequate. (Zero to sixty takes roughly seven seconds.) It’s a remarkable achievement, given the C70’s heavy roof, chassis stiffening, Boron steel windshield pillars and ballistic roll-over bars.
Unfortunately, when the revs start to swell, the C70’s throttle response becomes a bit… vague. And then there’s the fact that the C70 puts its power through the front wheels. In Oakley wearing mode, the little Swede is nimble enough. Should wind-in-the-hair motoring tempt you into a little accelerative abandon, it's best to start paying attention. For one thing, torque steer is an issue. For another, despite a top-flight suspension (MacPherson struts with coil-over shocks and stabilizer bars at the front and an independent multi-link at the rear), the sporting C70 driver must make constant mid-corner corrections.
In that sense, the C70 has traditional pony car dynamics: quick off the line, comfortable over the long haul and "challenging" in the bends. Of course, any Raggare worth his “Yank tanks rule!” T-shirt would reject a front-driver sight unseen– especially one from a marque whose products are chrome anti-matter. Never mind. There are enough wealthy Volvo-lovers out there who don’t see any disconnect between
sexy handsome, safe and practical, who'd no more thrash the C70 through the twisties than a ducktail wearing Raggare. In short, just like köttbullar, the C70 may not be cool, but it is satisfying.