Volvo C70 Review

Terry Parkhurst
by Terry Parkhurst
volvo c70 review

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.

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2 of 54 comments
  • Majajh Majajh on Jun 17, 2009

    This car is stinkin' fantastic! I can't believe the depredating comments. I've never owned a Volvo, and have a hotrod Mustang. I'm in love with this white car like the hottest girl in high school! I told my wife she looks like a rich white woman driving it. I told her to get a license plate that says, "Bling"!

  • Jschinito Jschinito on Feb 22, 2013

    gorgeous car. always wanted a convertible and my wife gave the thumbs up so got my 2008 c70 with 27k miles for $21k with factory warranty thru 6/2014. have had it 4 months. looks as good as a coupe as a convertible, unlike other hard tops. wouldn't even consider an eos (way too jetta blob and feminine) and miata (again too feminine and small). tried a saturn sky but too small and very cheap interior and horrible ergonomics. closest competitors for me were used boxsters... opted for safety and reliability and lower maintenance costs (a comparable used boxster would've definitely be higher mileage). amazing seats. great visibility and very quiet top up... very easy to use radio/hvac and lovely elegant interior. love the real oak, unlike the ghastly plasticky stuff in the is250 and others. no scuttle shake at all. nice umph from the t5, a big 50hp step up from my non-turbo subaru legacy. an elevate engine torque mount swap for under $100, took out the throttle response slop, turbo lag, and sloppy shifts. really solid car now and solved what bothered me most about the car before. new continental extreme contact dws to replace the stock michelins also improved take offs and wet weather handling dramatically. between the torque mount and new tires, launches went from squirrely, unpredictable, wheelspinning, torque steering messes with sudden lulls in throttle response due to the weak mount and turbo lag, to now a great steady and smooth response to my right foot. amazing. installed a elevate 25mm rear sway bar to replace the stock 19mm really reduced body roll on high speed turns. it's suspension is still on the plush side, which is its intended purpose - great cruiser. but the sway bar upgrade really improves stability at high speed curves/on ramps so a definite must. and the plusher suspension is really needed for my l.a. horrible roads commute. being based on the same p1 platform as the c30/s40 and mazda3speed, you learn a lot from those enthusiast forums on how to maximize the performance of the car. may some day consider the polestar factory tune or an elevate tune for more power but at this point very happy with the performance..

  • SCE to AUX Beautiful find! I can't fit inside, but I'd admire it any time.$16500 seems decent for a semi-rare collectible in good condition, but others will know better.
  • Dukeisduke I would use the phrase "new clutch disk and pressure plate", or simply "new clutch". Hopefully it's got a new throwout bearing, too. It looks okay, but the stripes have to go.
  • Crtfour I love those old "Heartbeat" commercials, and brings back memories of growing up riding in Astro vans.
  • Tassos Murilee's piece of junk today was a Camaro from 1992. I told him to scrap it ASAP and put it out of its misery before Tim steals it and makes it his so-called 'used car of the day'. I did not count on Tim being much more ambitious than that. He was able to find one that is TWENTY Years older than that.It may make a collectible for a few (sure as hell not for me), but it SURE AS HELL IS NOT A "USED CAR OF THE DAY".
  • Jeff I like these 3rd generation Camaros much better than the 2nd generation. I might be in the minority but I always liked these Camaros. As for the S-10 pickups I had a second generation S-10 for almost 21 years very reliable so I might be in the minority here as well but when something gives me good service and costs not much to keep up then I like that vehicle.