The Volvo C70 is a solid luxury convertible

2012 Volvo C70 convertible, the Swedish automaker's latest 2012 Volvo C70 convertible, the Swedish automaker's latest entry into the mid-level luxury segment. Photo Credit: Handout

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If cars in the luxury convertible class were given grades, the 2012 Volvo C70 would get a B+. It's comfortable and solid, but it comes up short in some performance and ergonomic areas.

Performance

The C70 doesn't compete with the BMW M3s and Chevrolet Corvettes of the convertible world. It's more subdued than that, even when you get the top-of-the-line engine and option package like we tested in the T5 Inscription version.

The C70 gets satisfying, if not overwhelming, power from a 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder engine. It's mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that kicks down quickly when you need to pass. (Standard C70s get a 227-hp version of the turbocharged inline-five, also with a five-speed automatic.)

What I found most notable was that, because the transmission has only five gears and downshifts quickly, there was less lag before the power kicked in compared with other turbocharged engines I've driven. It didn't hunt around and have to shift through a lot of gears to get me the power I wanted.

With either engine, the C70 is estimated to get 18/28 mpg city/highway. Volvo recommends premium fuel for best performance, but using 87 octane will not affect engine reliability, according to the owner's manual.

To me, steering effort in the C70 is a positive as far as I consider it a luxury car. You don't get the feedback you get from a sports car — the steering is too overboosted for that — but it's also not a chore to drive at low speeds. It's definitely a member of the luxury cruiser class.

Convertible Negatives

With the top down, the C70 isn't as proficient as others in its class at cutting down turbulence in the cabin; you'll feel more wind rushing through your hair and "massaging" the side of your face. Volvo sells optional wind deflectors that should help, but our test car didn't have them. In addition to being burdensome to install, remove and store, these screens close off the backseat when deployed.

Also, while driving, the rear seat belts slap the backseat loudly enough that a couple of times I thought something had actually shaken loose. Is this the end of the world? No, but the best convertibles don't give you the sense that something's gone wrong in the cabin — or that you're riding a motorcycle.

Convertible Positives

It takes about 30 seconds to raise or lower the power-retractable hardtop. It motors up and down smoothly and quietly, which isn't common, even among luxury models. And in what was the most welcome attribute for me, the C70 doesn't require a lot of open space behind the car for that process to take place. Many other retractable hardtops tilt their trunk lids far back, risking damage.

Visibility with the top up is very good, which is unusual in a convertible. Most have a small rear window or a larger rear roof-support pillar. The C70 is afflicted with neither issue. It has the best visibility of any convertible I've tested with its roof raised. Road noise is also minimal, especially for a convertible. Overall, among convertibles the C70 is one of the best at acting like a fixed-roof car — in a good way.

Finally, Volvo put some thought into the trunk. With the top up, the C70 has room that compares favorably with many compact cars. That's significant, as sometimes the hardware necessary to raise and lower a roof cuts into trunk space no matter what position the roof is in.

As is the case with most retractable hardtops, when the roof is down trunk space is restricted to the size of two backpacks. It's a small area buried under a partition that must be locked down before the powered roof will operate.

However, with the top down the C70 has a feature that would be welcome in any hardtop convertible: a trunk "expander." It motors the roof panels up and out of your way so you can raise the partition a bit, slip something into the cargo area, then close the cover and motor the top back into the trunk. It's a clever system that owners will probably use more than they initially think they might.

Seating

The C70 is a comfortable car if you're in one of the front seats. They have a bit of side bolstering — so you feel like you're sitting in the seats, not perched on top of them — but the bolstering isn't so restrictive it's likely to bother anyone.

Volvo says the C70 seats four, but whoever is in the rear seats had best be a child. I'm 6-foot-1 and I couldn't fit unless the front seat occupant gave up a lot of legroom. Also, with the top up I found my head — not just my hair — was brushing the roof. It was fairly claustrophobic back there. Other reviewers mentioned it was tricky to get in the rear seats with the roof up. Top-up visibility may be the best in this class, but the rear seating area isn't.

Navigation Options

Volvo offers two navigation options: a common factory system that's built into the dashboard and a Garmin handheld system that mounts in the car.

Our test car came with the factory system, which uses either a remote control or a couple of buttons and a knob on the back of the steering wheel. It isn't easy to use, and there's a long delay before it responds to commands. I didn't test the portable Garmin option, and though removable systems have their own drawbacks, if I had to have a navigation system, I'd take my chances with the handheld unit over the in-dash system.

Style

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There are three C70 T5 trim levels: base, Premier Plus and Platinum. Our test car was a Platinum with the Inscription option package. The Platinum trim includes a number of exterior and interior additions (see the levels compared here). The $3,900 Inscription option package adds 18-inch gloss-black wheels, active dual xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, a rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals, a leather-covered handbrake lever and center armrest, and a sport steering wheel, among other things.

The Platinum trim includes navigation, Volvo's premium sound system, keyless drive and rear park assist, among other things. It's a $3,600 option package. The option packages were the major changes from the 2011 to 2012 model year, and you can compare the cars here.

Overall, the C70's styling drew solid marks both from me and from the other reviewers who drove it. The wheels, in particular, garnered consistent praise.

Safety & Reliability

The C70 scores the highest rating, Good, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal offset and side-impact crash tests, as well as for rear-crash protection.

In addition to the required front airbags, the C70 comes with door-mounted airbags that are designed to stay inflated in the event of a rollover, as well as roll bars that deploy from behind the rear seats if the C70 is about to roll over. See the full list of safety features here.

C70 in the Market

The C70 is a good luxury convertible, but it's in a class where good might not be enough. Competitors — notably the Mercedes-Benz E-Class — do a better job of protecting those in the car from buffeting with the top down. While the C70 isn't pokey, others offer a more rewarding driving experience. The C70 is a decent compromise.

Aside from driving and top-down performance, shoppers should consider how often they plan to use the rear seats, race through curvy roads for sheer driving thrills and lower the roof. If the answer to all those questions is "not often," the C70's comfort, style and top-up visibility make it a worthy consideration.

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