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First drive: Volvo C70 - on sale May

Volvo

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Review

The UK’s premium convertible segment has grown four-fold over the past decade, doubling in the last three years alone. New models have tended to boost the market and Volvo is hoping for a similar reaction when its new C70 hits showrooms in May.

Company executives call the car a coupé and convertible in one. It features a stunning three-piece retractable hard roof, a real feat of engineering. It’s likely to be the main selling point for customers – a real wow factor – and Volvo dealers have a year head-start before rival BMW brings its version to market.

Aside from the visual spectacle, which takes 30 seconds, the three-piece roof enables the metal to be stacked in the boot, which releases more legroom in the rear passenger compartment. It means that, unlike some rivals, the C70 seats four adults with ease, despite being shorter than its predecessor.

The design also leaves a smaller rear overhang, which Volvo says makes for a prettier rump. Boot space is not compromised with room to squeeze in two mid-sized suitcases, although with the top down there’s less room than in the 3-series and A4.

As you’d expect with a Volvo, the C70 is not a case of style over substance. Safety is paramount with multiple airbags, including a door-mounted inflatable curtain that covers the front window.

Crumple zones accommodate the lack of a fixed roof by distributing the impact of a crash through the door and sills with extra support from high-strength steel A-pillars and Volvo’s roll over protection system. Executives say the C70 “satisfies the sixth sense – common sense”.

Previously sold in separate convertible and coupé formats, C70’s most popular year was 2001 when dealers sold 2,189 (9.5% of the segment). Volvo hopes to find homes for 3,000 of the new model this year – dealers have already taken 750 orders – with volumes pegged back by a production limit of 20,000.

Gerry Keaney, Volvo senior vice president sales and marketing, says that with modest investment in the Uddevalla plant in Sweden, C70 production could rise to 25,000, enabling the UK to take another 1,000-1,500 next year if needed.

Volvo hopes C70 will appeal to a younger buyer, bringing down the average age from 51 to 43. Key targets will be young couples and families, and they will be pursued through a series of TV ads that are designed to appeal to emotional responses. “Buying with the heart and not the head,” is how Volvo puts it. Almost half (45%) the cars will go to fleet drivers, compared to 30% for the outgoing car.

Customers take delivery from April – the showroom launch is March 18-19 – choosing from two petrol units: 220bhp T5 and 170bhp 2.4-litre. The 180bhp D5 diesel, which will account for 30% of sales, follows in summer. Most popular model will be the 2.4-litre, five-speed auto C70 in the top SE Lux spec.

The entry Sport trim starts at £26,200; add £1,250 for the SE and £3,750 for the SE Lux. That pits the car squarely against BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Saab 9-3 – a segment in which Volvo is by far the smallest player.

The car slots in somewhere between the 9-3 and 3-series in terms of ability and gives dealers a strong proposition to take to market. And with the modest sales ambitions (Volvo expects to sell out long before the end of the year), residuals are likely to stay high – the guides are forecasting between low 40s to 50% over three-year/60,000 miles.

#AM_ART_APLIT# Behind the wheel

Current C70 suffers from a soft platform, which gives a wallowy ride. Volvo has reacted by doubling the stiffness of the new C70’s chassis, bringing it more in line with the S40.

That means far more satisfying handling, although the weight of the roof still makes the car a little ungainly during a series of hard slalom bends.

Stiffness is not at the expense of comfort, however, and on the silky test roads in Dubai the ride was very smooth. Volvo is confident that will be the case on the UK’s more pitted surfaces after carrying out extensive testing.

The trusty 220bhp T5 engine performs well, while the six-speed manual gearbox is fluid, and preferred over the slightly higher geared five-speed auto.

Wind noise and buffeting is low and high torsional rigidity ensures minimal body scuttle.

Strengths: Three-piece folding roof, looks, engines
Weaknesses: Bit of A-pillar wind noise with roof up
Opportunity: Win share of growing sector
Threat: Priced against premium makes
USP: Coupé/cabrio all in one
Price: £26,200-£33,225
Engines: 2.4-litre 170bhp, 2.5-litre 220bhp T5 (180bhp D5 diesel to follow in summer)
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.1-7.6sec (10.0-8.0sec auto); top speed: 137-150mph
Transmission: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic
Efficiency: 31.4-31mpg combined; 215-217g/km CO2 emissions (229-234g/km for the auto)
Rivals: BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Saab 9-3

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