Volvo C70 Adds Polestar Potency
2012 Volvo C70 Review:
If your lifelong desire was for a flashy car, would you pick “A,” a sleek new convertible, or “B,” the best-looking two-door coupe available? How about “C,” both of the above?
The 2012 Volvo C70 arrives precisely at that unlikely intersection as the best of both worlds. If the sun is shining and the temperature sufficiently warm, flip a button on the console and things start whirring: The rear decklid rises toward the rear, the steel roof unlatches itself from the windshield and rises up, folds itself into a double-deck sandwich, which moves rearward and drops into the perfectly shaped receptacle created by the raised decklid. The lid then closes with a secure click. Just like that, the sleek coupe you had been sitting in 30 seconds ago is transformed into a stunning convertible.Putting it back up is just as swift, because the same switch reopens the lid and starts the roof on its unfolding rise out of the stowage bin, finally refastening itself to the windshield. You can drop the top at home or in a parking lot, or really show off by lowering or raising the roof at a stoplight while waiting for the red to go green, which is pretty amazing.
True, there are other hardtop-convertibles from Germany, Japan, and the U.S., which operate approximately the same way. All of them have one thing in common — they look great with the top down. But all of the others look a little bit bulbous with the roof up, next to the Volvo C70. The C70 looks exceptional with the top down, and it also looks lean and sleek with the top up, especially when you lower all four windows for a true, pillarless hardtop. Surprisingly, there is still adequate storage space in the trunk, although reduced by a panel that pulls out and locks in place over stored items as a shelf to contain the folded roof.
My opinion of the hardtop coupe’s look was reinforced during my week-long road test of a new C70 Inscription model. I was enjoying the car both top up and down while driving around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, then I drove my usual 165 miles north to Duluth, Minnesota, where Interstate-35 has its annual summertime dose of single-lane construction. Cruising along with the top down in 82-degree warmth, I approached some dark clouds and a few drops of drizzle appeared on the windshield. You always get the feeling you could go fast enough to let the raindrops hit the windshield or else go harmlessly over the passenger compartment, but being more reasonable than that, I took the next exit. In seconds I had raised the top and returned to the freeway, just as the rain intensified.
About 20 miles later, I had passed through the rain and the sun reappeared. I didn’t want to pull off the freeway again, but I also much prefer fresh-air driving to enclosed air-conditioning, so I continued on cruise-control in the right lane at 70 mph, and lowered all four windows. Another car was moving up to pass me in the left lane, and I was unaware that somebody was in the back seat of that car until a hand appeared in the right rear window with its thumb upraised. Whomever it belonged tow had observed my window-lowering and felt compelled to signal a thumbs-up for how slick the metallic black C70 was as two-door hardtop. If he was impressed at the dropping of the windows, it would have been fun to see his reaction at a roof-lowering demonstration. But not at 70 mph.
The C70’s virtues come at a price, of course. Coming well-equipped with all of Volvo’s clever safety ideas and most of the features, the C70 lists at $40,450. The Inscription model, with Polestar and Platinum package upgrades, rises to $50,375, although only the buyer, and those who spot the beautifully unique 18-inch wheels, might discern the difference from the less-expensive car’s virtues.Convertibles and true hardtops were the status symbols of American motoring through the 1960s and 1970s, and while their genres pretty much went away over the last two decades, they are still held in high regard. The C70 came out a decade ago, when Volvo was owned by Ford, and it remained a bit under the radar as Ford sold off its Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Mazda connections to brace itself from the economic downturn.
Volvo was bought by a holding company that also owns Chinese auto make Geely, and compared to the demise of Saab after General Motors cut it adrift, Volvo has thrived under Chinese ownership.. While some may flinch at the thought of Chinese-ownership of the Gothenburg, Sweden, manufacturer, remember that last month, and in the model year 2011, Chevrolet’s recent sales resurgence is partially based on selling more cars in China than in the U.S., as it did last month, and for model year 2011. China has become the largest car-market country in the world, and I would guess Geely will have a substantial and successful partner with Volvo’s cars.
Under Geely’s cloak, an all-new S60 sedan came out two years ago, and general agreement was that its long-delayed restyling had broken away from the conservative — or stodgy — look of traditional “safety-first” Volvo sedans. That look transforms well onto the C70 and the 2012 C70 adds new personality, with the stylish nose and dramatically redesigned grille and front end of the new S60 sedan blending with the streamlined smoothness of the C70‘s sides and rear.
Volvo needed only financial support to continue making solid and safe cars that now have taken on a distinct flair for style and performance, and Volvo already had been evolving toward improved performance. When the company brought out its first XC-90 SUV, it arranged with Yamaha to build a high-tech V8, which also was installed in S80 sedans.
For 2012, Volvo is introducing its high-performance Gothenburg subsidiary called “Polestar,” which has been modifying Volvos with performance engine-management ideas behind the scenes for several years. It now has become more prominent, not only on cars wearing its tiny badge on the rear deck, but with performance software packages to factory-tune Volvos. It started with “T5” (turbocharged 5-cylinder) engines, and Polestar has expanded its presence to offer $1,495 packages for existing T6 (six-cylinder turbo) engines for Volvos as far back as 2008. The package increases the already-potent 300-horsepower six-cylinder powerplants by 25 horsepower and 30 foot-pounds of torque, without hurting fuel economy.
The C70 Inscription model with Polestar I drove has a similar boost. The turbocharged 5-cylinder in the C70 has 2.5-liter displacement featuring dual-overhead camshafts with variable valve timing and intake tuning, with 227 horsepower at 5,000 RPMs and 236 foot-pounds of torque over a range from 1,500 to 5,000 RPMs. The Polestar software increases those numbers by 23 horses and 37 foot-pounds to a spry 250 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque. And it still gets ULEV II (Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle) certification.The front-wheel-drive C70 has a five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic and a manual gate on the console shift lever. The shifting is smooth and the power readily available at any RPM level. So available that if you start up too eagerly from a stoplight, you’ll surprise yourself with a screech from the front tires. It surprised me when my wife, Joan, who loves Volvos for their solid feel and extraordinarily comfortable and supportive seats, said the C70 wasn’t her favorite among the Volvos we’ve tested. “I can’t start up without screeching the tires,” she said. Duly noted, but many drivers my not consider that a criticism. I was able to modify my right-foot pressure after a few screeching starts, and I accept the notion of a back room near Volvo’s safety center in Gothenburg, Sweden, where some closet hot-rodders are conspiring to help you make those all-season tires scream.
Boosted power notwithstanding, we compiled an average of 27.6 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, and got up to 29 mpg strictly on the freeway. It also stops as well as it goes, with the four-wheel disc brakes bolstered by electronic brake distribution and brake force assistance.
As a company that makes the safest possible sedans, Volvo was not about to compromise to make a convertible; it just made some of the safety concepts a little more subtle. Occupants are surrounded by multi-stage airbags amd side curtains inside the steel cocoon, and the windshield frame and A pillars are hydro-formed extra-high strength steel, much like a rollbar, and behind the rear-seat headrests are stylish little humps with “ROPS” inscribed on them. That stands for rollover protection system, and actual rollbars pop up from them in the event a rollover is imminent.
Picture a commercial where someone goes over an embankment in a C70 — possibly the only way to roll such a stable, well-planted car — and comes to rest upside down, supported above the ground by the windshield frame and rear ROPS bars, while the four occupants continue their conversation with their heads a few inches from the ground, still secured by their seat harnesses.
When the C70 was first developed, it incorporated a large, horseshoe-shaped brace of high-grade steel inserted low, under the rear of the car. That aids structural safety, and the rigidity also makes the car more stable and entirely free of the familiar cowl-shake that is evident to the point of being acceptable on lesser convertibles.
Volvo seats are always supportive and comfortable. There are many impressively bolstered seats in the industry nowadays, but Volvo’s remain the standard of the industry, and the C70 version upholds that tradition, with full power adjustments to reach perfect driving position. The headrests are tapered slightly toward the center, cradling the back of your head toward a comfortable central location. Most headrests are hard, obtrusive, force you to lean farther forward than you’d prefer and, next to Volvo’s, seem almost adversarial rather than hospitable. And the comfortable headrests are part of Volvo’s WHIPS — whiplash protection system.
If you like ROPS and WHIPS, you’ll also appreciate SIPS, for side-impact protection system, although Volvo may have run out of catchy acronyms for the rest of their airbag restraints that surround occupants. Top-down deadbolt door locks and immobilizer anti-theft ignition with coded keys complete the security concept. All four seats have enclosed storage bins, and even the large pass-through door to the trunk is lockable. Speaking of pass-through convenience, the C70 has Volvo’s signature slender center stack, with room behind it for a small bin to hold and conceal keys or change or cell phones. As for connectivity, I paired by iPhone with the C70, and every time I started up it wanted to play the songs I had coded into my phone, from Trampled By Turtles, to Waylon Jennings, to Sarah Brightman.The C70’s handling is exemplary for a sporty coupe, with stabilizer bars reinforcing both the front independent strut and rear multilink with coil spring suspension. Starting off with a high-strength steel passenger safety cage helps the car’s rigidity, and every particle of the C70 shows that Volvo kept up its well-earned reputation for safety, and all the reinforcements make the car feel stable and secure even when pushed.
Along with the standard luxury of the steel retracting roof, the seats and door panels covered with “Sovereign Hide” soft leather, and steering wheel remote controls for the eight-speaker audio system, the Inscription package adds active dual xenon headlights and LED running lights, a rear spoiler, aluminum pedals, and a sport steering wheel, along with the Polestar engine enhancements, for $3,000. Another $3,000 for the Platinum package adds navigation, premium sound with a subwoofer, keyless driving and rear park assist. A Climate package, which is mandatory for Northern climes from Gothenburg to the Upper Midwest of the U.S., is only $1,000 for heated front seats, and an interior air-quality system that includes a humidity and rain sensors.
All of those packages are worthy, though expensive, but without them, although in its most basic form, it remains far too special to be consider any C70 as a base model.