Review and road test of the Volvo C70 (1997 - 2000)
VOLVO THROW AWAY THE BOX BUT KEEP THE TOY
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Volvo C70 was possibly the first Volvo since the P1800 of the sixties that didn't look as if it was designed with rulers and setsquares. It's elegant fusion of compound curves and taut sheet metal was an instant hit, and further enhanced the credibility Volvo was gaining through touring car racing. The brand had metamorphosed from something only driven by schoolteachers and harmless eccentrics into something genuinely desirable.
(2dr coupe and convertible, 2.0, 2.3, 2.4 petrol)
The C70 was launched in the UK in June 1997 with a one-model range. The engine available was the powerful 2.3-litre T5 turbocharged five-cylinder unit. Volvo made optimistic noises about how this car would challenge the likes of the BMW M3, but in truth it fell a fair way short as a sports car.
In May 1998, the range was bolstered by the addition of the C70 2.5T, with a 193bhp light-pressure turbocharged five-cylinder engine. This model was more correctly renamed the 2.4T in April 1999, as its capacity was 2435cc, and a 2.4 without the turbocharger but which still generated an identical 170bhp was also offered. The Convertible models were introduced in April 1999 with a 240bhp T5 version and a 193bhp 2.4T model constituting the range. A 2.0-litre 163bhp entry-level convertible model was added in December 1999.
What You Get
Volvo like to make comparisons between the C70 and the old P1800. This was a stylish coupe of course, but there the similarities between the two cars end. For a start, the C70 is a full four-seater with an enormous boot; certainly, it's a size above coupes in the BMW 3 Series class - though the importers do cite BMW's latest M3 as one potential competitor. Though the similarity in price makes this possible, more likely rivals are cars like the Mercedes CLK.
Judge the car against these contenders and it begins to become quite a sensible proposition, particularly if you consider the exhaustive equipment list included as standard on the current version. This runs to a luxurious leather interior trimmed with wood veneer, electric everything and a state-of-the-art ten-speaker Dolby Surround music system.
Thanks to prominent dashboard mounted speakers, the 4x100W in-car entertainment is plenty loud enough to drown out all manner of road and engine noise. Fortunately however, it doesn't have to; this is one of the most refined cars in the class, an essential attribute given the C70's raison d'etre as a Grand Tourer. Certainly, behind the wheel in air-conditioned luxury, you feel you could quite comfortably drive to the South of France in a single day.
The Convertibles are very agreeable transport. For a start, like its Coupe stablemate, the styling looks great, with uncluttered lines thanks to a hood that slips neatly beneath a metal tonneau cover. British Designer Peter Horbury jokes that it's the best looking topless Swede since Sixties movie star Anita Ekberg: most will agree. Volvo claims that the electrically folding roof is one of the most technologically advanced available. It's operated via a single dashboard button: no hooks, no attachments, no broken fingernails or grazed knuckles. Just a silent transformation that occupies just thirty seconds. With the hood up, the only problem is a lack of visibility through the rather small rear window.
Better to fold it down at every opportunity, a process which conceals the soft-top and its glass electrically heated rear window out of sight behind the rear seat. The roof is available in four different colours to match the chosen body colour and an optional wind deflector (well worth specifying) can also be fitted behind the front seats. The wind deflector isn't the cleverest looking thing, but it's undoubtedly effective. There's also an 'intelligent' climate control system and a sophisticated 10-speaker stereo to keep you cool when it's hot and hot when it's cool. All models now come with leather upholstery, cruise control and interior wood inserts.
What to Look For
Whilst the C70 shares its mechanicals with that old workhorse of the nineties Volvo range, the 850, it's unlikely that you'll need to check them for towing stress or load bay damage caused by antique Ottoman chests. The C70 will have led a far more pampered life, although the front tyres and shock absorbers on all models, but especially the T5, are worth inspecting. Also check that the hoods of the convertible cars are in good operating condition as they employ a large number of electric motors which are easily damaged by anybody attempting to lower the hood manually. Sounds idiotic but it happens, especially if the car has been used by a number of drivers. The basic mechanicals of the car are sound, but try to get one with a decent main dealer service record.
(approx based on a 1998 2.3 T5 coupe) Spares for the C70 are on the whole fairly reasonably priced. A clutch assembly is £150, whilst a new exhaust system is around £260. Front brake pads won't see much change from £70 for a pair, whilst rears weigh in at a more lightweight £38. You'll be looking at £140 for a radiator and the best part of £150 for a starter motor. A headlamp unit is £160 for the complete kit or around £40 for a replacement lens.
On the Road
In a straight line the T5 models can mix it with M3s and quick Mercs. In the 2.3 T5, rest to sixty takes just 6.9s on the way to an artificially limited top speed of some 155mph. So far so good. Volvo is quite capable of producing luxurious mile-munchers and has a stable of potent engines. Where the Swedes have no track record is in producing BMW-bashing standards of handling.
Wisely then, they turned to Walkinshaw; Tom Walkinshaw, he of TWR, the outfit that runs the Arrows Formula One Team and developed the Jaguar XJ220. The company, too, that took the boxy Volvo 850 and turned it into a race-winning force in the British Touring Car Championship. The Kidlington-based operation specialises in chassis engineering and had a hand in the car's development. However, without recourse to silk purse/sow's ear comparisons, the C70 is always going to be a punchy front-wheel drive car, so to expect it to handle like a sporty BMW is perhaps aiming a bit high.
No, it isn't a BMW M3 - but then, given its Grand Touring aspirations, it could hardly afford to be. By far the best option is the 2.4T engine with an automatic box, as this best suits the car's gentle nature. The T5 models try rather too hard to be sporting, and the sad truth is the basic chassis layout just isn't good enough. If you want a rapid motorway and A-road car, the T5 is great, but it just won't destroy corners with the aplomb of many coupe rivals or, indeed, many more prosaic saloons. Turn-in is crisp; but ride quality could be slightly better. The convertible models suffer from very little body distortion and are beautifully finished; again the 2.4T engine is the most satisfying bet. The 2.0-litre models try hard but are ultimately a little breathless in such a heavy car.
A Volvo C70 will appeal if you are the sort of driver who appreciates a good-looking car, buys into the Volvo philosophy of safety, security and sensibility and has probably put the days of tyre-smoking sideways antics behind you. If you need an urbane, indestructible and slightly quirky coupe, the C70 fits the bill. The convertible models are equally impressive and will appeal to those who might otherwise have considered a soft-top Mercedes CLK, Audi Cabriolet or Saab 9-3 Convertible. The 2.4T cars are the most impressive, combining a fair amount of power with a sweet, tractable and reasonably fuel-efficient engine. Don't think the T5 models will keep up with BMW M3s or Audi S4s on twisty roads, but instead buy one if you want to over big distances quickly. In short, one of the better boulevard cruisers.
Volvo C70 (1997 - 2000) review by ANDY ENRIGHT