Whoosh hour

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 April, 2007, 12:00am

Launched last year in Europe, the C70 is the most eagerly awaited Volvo for ages. And the prospect of taking it on a spring jaunt out to Sai Kung is as juicy as a lingon berry.

The C70's a looker. Its curvy, noughties styling is right on the money and there's none of the ponderous handling of the boxy Volvo offerings of the 90s, either. Add a clutch of creature comforts and Volvo's urgent 2.5-litre T5 turbo engine, and the C70 challenges Saab's opulent, open-topped Aero in every respect.

Keeping the roof up for a commuter crawl through the Eastern Harbour Tunnel gives you more than enough time to survey the interior - a stylish, ergonomic finish you'd expect from the Swedish marque, but with a cutting-edge touch that's fast become Volvo's new trademark.

Inside, the C70 is well-sculpted for both driver and front passenger, with an impressive 'floating' centre console set off with polished steel accommodating the main controls for comfort and entertainment.

The cabin's a nice place to be, with soft leather seats and wood panels enhancing the dash and fascia, and taste that might put more prestigious marques to shame.

The C70 feels right for the driver, too. As you might expect, Volvo's attention to safety is a priority, and occupants enjoy the protection of door-mounted curtain airbags, a whiplash protection system that helps to make the front seats oh- so comfortable, and a roll-over protection system - a gyroscope that continually measures the leaning angle of the car - that's reassuring when you're whooshing around without the lid on.

And whoosh you will. If the emphasis in the interior ergonomics is on the driving experience, Volvo has ensured that it's matched by its performance. The five-cylinder turbo unit produces 220bhp and takes the coupe to 100km/h in about eight seconds, and there's plenty of torque for overtaking on Kai Tak Road, or swooping around the bends to Sai Kung.

And in this respect, the C70 is something of a revelation. It looks just as good with the roof up as it does down - but better still, it really has some power when you want it to move, and this makes the C70 a lot of fun to drive.

You'll need a pit-stop to drop the roof, turn up the CD player and get ready to take in the scenery. Part safety function, part necessity, you'll need a minute or two - and a foot

on the brake - to do this because

the metal roof takes a tad under

30 seconds to retract fully into the recesses of the boot. It's not fast, but at least it's graceful, and you'll have enough time to select your music.

There's enough space for a big stack of CDs back there, too, once the top is stowed away, thanks to that big rear profile (Volvo seems to have sought inspiration from Saab in this respect), but don't expect to get much more than a couple of Billy bookcases on your next trip to Ikea, because the Volvo's 400-litre boot capacity halves with the roof down.

Comfy as an open-top cruiser, the C70 is faster than you'd expect, but it also feels wonderfully secure on the road - there's no scuttle shake or flimsiness in the chassis and the cabriolet feels as rigid as any sedan. Its low body and 17-inch alloys help the handling, and it

feels as reassuringly stable as you'd expect from a Volvo.

The steering is light and responsive and the automatic gearbox gives a continuous pull throughout the ratios - enough to haul the 1.725-tonne car up the slopes outside Sai Kung with ease.

The entertainment system is a marvel, too, and with the top down the dulcet tones of Anni-Frid Lyngstad sound as crisp and dreamy as they do with the roof up. In fact, it's possible to have a conversation when you're open to the elements, thanks to some clever engineering and the rakish angle of the front windscreen - not the case in some wind-swept convertibles.

There's not much to fault the C70 on. It's beautifully designed and built and has just about everything you'd want from a Hong Kong daily commuter or cool Sunday coupe.

If there's a down-side to the new Volvo, however, it's that you may spend a lot of time with the roof up if our air quality doesn't improve.

Girl power

Volvo expects to sell 16,000 C70s worldwide this year

According to the Swedish marque's research, this is the anticipated percentage of female owners: 50%