The New Volvos

In a gracious and rigorous 2 day press session held in Santa Barbara, to be repeated with over 700 journalists from all over the world, Volvo's president and a supporting cast of engineers, designers, marketing experts and public relations people rolled out the upcoming changes and additions to the product line. This is a major press event for Volvo, necessary because the company is going it alone; now that the long rumored partnership with Renault is off for good. The challenge is clear, gain market share against the best European competitors and the global industry giants and move the brand upmarket to more profitable price points. Redefine the Volvo image to include desirable attributes of luxury, performance and individuality to augment longtime Volvo virtues of safety, durability and practicality. The new cars are ready, and well poised for success.

C70 Coupe

We'll take the exciting one first. The C70 coupe, premiering now in the major film "The Saint", is a lot more car than the P1800 that Roger Moore chased bad guys with in the original "Saint" TV series. Certainly in the C70, he'd catch them. The new coupe as described by Volvo head designer Peter Horbury, "It is not the Volvo you need. It is the Volvo you desire." After an extensive test drive through the best twisties southern California has to offer, I must agree.

The C70 will be coming to the US market late his spring as production steps up in the entirely refitted Autonova plant in Uddevalla. Autonova is also a joint-venture operation between Volvo and TWR, Tom Walkinshaw Racing that is. TWR, a British based specialty racing outfit, has extensive Formula 1 experience and manages Volvo's touring car racing program. Volvo lists them as co-developers of the C70. Their influence shows directly in the chassis tuning which is offered worldwide in three stages, dynamic, sports and low sports. We'll get the sports chassis with 17" mags and 225/45R17 tires. The low sports with 18" BBS wheels is currently slated for Europe only, but may eventually become a US option.

On road dynamics are of a very high order. Pressed very hard, at speed and through very tight switchbacks, on some of California's best sports car roads, I found the C70 chassis an utter delight. Composed, confident, supremely capable and as predicable as flowers in springtime, this is a delightful car to chase rainbows in. The steering is perfectly weighted, the grip aggressive and the balance offers just a touch of front end push at the limit, while being completely controllable. A beautiful car for fast driving. The C70 shares most of its chassis bits with the S70 sedans, derived from the excellent chassis of the 850 series. TWR provided the final tuning and their hand shows clearly in the utterly direct and vice free character in which the chassis communicates with the driver. In the handing arena the C70 is truly world class.

Ride quality is firm and well damped. Assisted by an immensely rigid chassis structure and a very quiet interior; very comfortable indeed. A sporting balance, to be sure, but an eloquent compromise which offers reasonable comfort. The only weak spot was an undue sensitivity to the irregular concrete of aging freeways and a resulting, nervous pitter patter on this type of road.

click here to view the C70 Cabriolet

Power for the US version is slated to be a 236 horsepower variant of the proven Volvo 5 cylinder turbo from the 850 series. This engine has excellent low end, strong response, plenty of power on top and will haul a C70 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, by Volvo's reckoning. I won't dispute the claim. That figure is quoted with a 5 speed manual transmission, a new option across the range this year with the high pressure turbo, as the sports version is now called, since a low pressure turbo is newly offered in the sedans & wagons. This is competitive performance in the luxury coupe segment and matches the 6 and in some cases, 8 cylinder competition.

When is comes to style, the C70 is an interesting creation. The front end bears all responsibility for linkage to the Volvo family and the C70 is certainly familiar from this angle. The rest of the car is considerably more tapered and shaped than any Volvo in recent history and comes off looking very proper and svelte, despite an actual length a few inches over the 850 sedan. It appears entirely contemporary and tastefully trimmed, if not the progressive statement a coupe usually represents. Volvo loyalists and conservative tastes will find it very pleasing indeed, although I wonder if it has enough pizzazz to attract the conquest buyers Volvo is looking for.