Review: 2012 Volvo C70 T5 Inscription

Volvo designs tend to have a long shelf life, and the C70 is no exception. The Volvo C70 went on sale in 2006, so is now in its seventh year of production. The versatile C70, with its retractable metal roof is a stylish, comfortable “personal luxury” coupe which just happens to be able to retract its roof and become a convertible. It is comfortable for two people, and works for four in a pinch. Despite the fact that the C70 is nearing the end of its production life cycle (due to impending closure of the factory where it is being manufactured following the 2013 model year), it remains a stylish, comfortable coupe.

The C70’s current appearance is the result of a facelift that was introduced for the 2011 model year. This modest restyling provided more expressive design of the front end and subtle restyling of the rear, leading to a more aggressive and modern appearance to a car nearing the end of its life cycle. The styling update works for me, looking sleek, sporty, and aggressive.

Climbing inside, the C70 features very tasteful supple leather seating surfaces, with contrast stitching. The Inscription Package adds a leather-covered dash with contrast stitching and a steering wheel finished in soft leather with aluminum inserts. Black-faced Instruments are clear, with white lettering and silver bezels. Volvo’s signature “waterfall” center stack is trimmed in a silver metal in the C70 Inscription. The center console features two cupholders and a storage compartment (with USB port) between the front seats, plus a covered double cupholder for the two rear seats. Other storage is in the deep glove box, plus covered bins in each front door and in each outboard rear position.

The power-adjustable driver’s seat has three memory positions (as does the passenger seat). As in other Volvo models, it is very comfortable. View out from the driver’s seat is obstructed by very thick A-pillars, but is otherwise quite good through the retractable hardtop’s large backlight and nearly-pillarless side glass.

The charcoal-colored leather interior of the Black Sapphire Metallic C70 became incredibly hot when parked in the summer sunshine, with the steering wheel’s metal insert earning (dis-) honorable mention for being too hot to touch after a long day in the office. The pedal box is tight for my size 13 shoes- I wish the pedals could be located a bit closer to the firewall, there’s plenty of room behind them before hitting carpet.

While the styling is just my taste, the interior’s infotainment is certainly dated. As the C70 is based on the S40’s 2004- vintage vehicle platform, it employs the first iteration of Volvo’s “waterfall” center console. While 60/70/80 model lines have been upgraded to the Sensus system which integrates navigation, telephone, and infotainment into a single color screen driven by a rotational dash knob and menu structure, the C70 (and C30 and S40 platform mates) soldier on with the older style control, which has many small buttons to navigate menu options on a very small monochromatic screen; the navigation system is totally separate from this, on a lower-resolution color screen which deploys from the dash and is controlled with a joystick plus two buttons (Enter and Back) mounted on the back of the steering wheel’s right spoke or by an infrared remote control. Compared to competing vehicles from Audi and BMW, the C70’s electronics integration is archaic. Notably, the system does properly control a USB-connected iPod, supports Bluetooth audio playback, has Sirius satellite radio, and can pair a mobile phone over Bluetooth.

During my week with the C70, we used it for a family trip from Seattle to Portland and back. It was a comfortable cruiser, at least for those of us up front. Our three-year-old kicked my wife’s seatback repeatedly, and didn’t have a lot of “wiggle room” in the back of the C70 the way she does in our family’s Ford Flex (or even in our Saab 9-5). She ended up entertaining herself by playing with the reading lamp, which was essentially the only thing she could reach. With the roof closed, there is adequate headroom for adults in the back seat, though legroom is virtually nonexistent without significant compromise by the front seat occupants.

While the C70’s back seat is tight, the boot is enormous when the roof is up. We fit baggage for our family of four for a weeklong trip with no problem; that was easy to load thanks to the large opening area of the decklid to access the 12.8 cubic foot boot. In order to stow the roof, a cargo divider in the trunk must be lowered, which reduces cargo space significantly. Note that when the folding hardtop is stowed in the trunk, the remaining cargo area can be accessed by pressing a button just inside of the trunk lid, which hydraulically raises the stowed top a few inches, permitting access to the luggage area. There is an armrest-width pass-through from the trunk to the back-seat which is accessible after removing a central upholstery bolster between the two rear seating positions and folding down a plastic divider into the trunk; this is accessible whether the top is raised or lowered.

Retracting the C70’s metal roof is done by pressing and holding a console-mounted switch with the ignition on and the brake pedal depressed. Keep your finger on the button while the windows lower slightly, and the whir of a hydraulic pump accompanies the lifting of the decklid and origami-like folding of the roof and headliner. I didn’t time the operation of the top, but it probably takes around 30 seconds to lower or raise. Deploying the roof is simply the opposite of stowing it, lifting up on the console-mounted switch until the roof cycle is completed. When the top is lowered, the LCD radio display sometimes is washed out in direct sunlight, but otherwise the cabin is just as usable as when the roof is in place. With the accessory wind blocker in place and the top lowered, wind buffeting was essentially nonexistent.

While the C70 enjoys a fairly solid feel with the roof up, lowering the shapely top and stowing it in the trunk affects the C70’s dynamics in a couple of ways. First, it transfers the significant weight of the C70’s roof structure into the trunk, behind the vehicle’s rear axle. For a power front-wheel-drive vehicle, this further lightens the amount of weight carried by the driven wheels, so spinning the front tires, even on dry pavement (and even when already underway) is easy to do- I’m sure I could burn through a set of front tires very quickly in the C70.

The second effect of lowering the top is a noticeable reduction in vehicle rigidity. Cowl shake was noticeable by feel through the steering wheel, as well as by the motion of the rearview mirror relative to its view of the trunk. While still quite a solid vehicle, I was surprised by the amount of additional rigidity provided by the raised hardtop.

Whether the top is raised or lowered, torque steer is a part of the C70 driving experience- especially when hard on the throttle in the Polestar-tuned version I tested. Sadly, the pre-facelifted 2010 model year was the last year a manual transmission was available in the C70 (my wife’s stepmother actually drove a 2009 6MT for two years). The only transmission now available is Volvo’s five-speed Geartronic unit, which offers Drive or a manual shifting gate, which allows manual gear selection but does not hasten the speed of the gearchange nor offer rev-matched downshifting. Despite the Polestar ECU tune, the transmission is programmed to upshift quickly for fuel savings, and there is no Sport mode to take advantage of the 2.5 liter five-cylinder engine’s extra 23 HP.

The EPA rates the C70’s fuel consumption as 18/28/21 miles per gallon (city/highway/combined). During my week in the C70, I covered about 570 miles, which surprisingly required two stops at filling stations (chalk that up to the 15.9 gallon fuel tank). The Volvo’s trip computer indicated 41 MPH average speed and 23.4 MPG; the Polestar ECU on the C70 is calibrated for use of Premium Unleaded fuel.

The C70 I drove had as starting price of $40,450, to which was added the $3900 Inscription Package (Polestar Performance upgrade from 227 to 250 HP; 18” wheels with gloss black finish; leather-covered dash, handbrake lever, and center armrest with contrasting stitching; active dual xenon headlamps; LED DRLs with chrome trim, gloss-black finish grille, rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals, Inscription embroidered, Sovereign-hide soft-leather seats with contrast stitching; sport steering wheel with aluminum inserts); $3600 Platinum package (navigation system, premium sound system with subwoofer; keyless drive; rear park assist; HomeLink; and compass); $1000 Climate Package (heated front seats; humidity sensor; rain sensor; interior air quality system (IAQS)); $700 Blind Spot Information System (BLIS); $550 metallic paint; $495 accessory wind blocker; and $875 destination charge, for a total MSRP of $51,570.

As I alluded to earlier this year when I reviewed the Mercedes-Benz C350 coupe, I tend to think of myself as a coupe guy. The C350 (as well as Audi’s A5 I had driven several months before) didn’t fill my coupe need. If you read my profile below this review, you’ll see that I’m a Swedish car guy. Something about the way Volvos (and Saabs, RIP) are designed and assembled really appeals to me. That said, I loved the C70- as a coupe. Especially in black- which disguises the shut lines in the roof and rear fenders- the C70 looks sleek, aggressive, and “sporty”. The boot lid opening is huge (thanks to the top mechanism), allowing the C70’s boot to be filled with a week’s worth of luggage for a family of four. The coupe’s interior is airy thanks to the pillar-less greenhouse , large backlight, and light-colored headliner. While the extra weight and complexity of the folding roof mechanism (and the uninspiring five-speed automatic transmission) keep the C70 from being a sport coupe, the Polestar tune does give the car a satisfactory amount of power. While the price is high, the C70 is an interesting vehicle in Volvo’s otherwise-utilitarian model lineup that should continue to draw customers who wouldn’t otherwise consider a Volvo.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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