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You know they’ve got a problem when even the sales guy doesn’t have much good to say about the new car on the lot. In the case of the new Volvo C70 HPT convertible, I see why. To be fair, Volvo has made a cautious foray into the performance convertible market with its 236-horsepower turbocharged 5-cylinder C70. At more than $46,500, the C70 is meant to compete with the more expensive Mercedes CLKs and with less expensive offerings from BMW and Saab. But while Volvo has obviously put a lot of thought into the C70′s design and features, the end result is a blandly styled vehicle that offers an uninspiring driving experience. The C70 has some strong points, and these are very strong indeed. Not content with a take-your-chances approach to an open-top ride, Volvo has engineered its convertible to be the safest vehicle of its type. The rear of the C70 is braced with an inverted steel frame that is integrated with the rest of the car’s protective passenger cage. The steel frame also makes the C70 as rigid as a hardtop. Add to that a reinforced windshield frame and a pair of pop-up roll bars designed to support the weight of the car, and you’ve got one safe convertible. Rollover tests indicate that the C70 convertible equals and even surpasses many hardtop cars (as long as you’re wearing your seat belt). Trouble is, the C70 drives like a “safe” car. While the engine is spirited enough to move the car’s 3,600 pounds with authority, there is a pronounced lack of feedback from the road. Driving the C70 feels like driving a heavy American sedan — albeit with magnificent seats. The Volvo is competent, but distant and uninvolved. It lacks the raw, go-cart immediacy of a BMW 3 series, the precision and control of the Audi TT, or the dangerous growling muscle of the Saab Viggen. The C70′s solidity and creature comforts qualify it as a serious highway cruiser for the front passengers. For along with those comfortable seats, there’s plenty of leg, hip, and shoulder room. But Volvo’s engineers have made some curious choices with the C70 that don’t always add up. The layout of the driver’s controls needs to be more ergonomic. Access to the cramped rear passenger area is delayed by glacially slow motorized front seats. And the inclusion of a Dolby Surround Pro Logic sound system is an odd choice for a convertible. Instead of the optional twin subwoofers that pound through the rear seat backs, Volvo should have engineered more trunk space. The C70′s trunk is significantly smaller than that of competing models — with only enough space for small luggage pieces or a mini golf bag. Without enough trunk room for a CD changer, Volvo mounts its in the dash. But with limited room up front, the changer only holds three discs. This provision seems at odds with Volvo’s inclusion of such a sophisticated sound system, and is indicative of the C70′s fundamental identity crisis. If you like your excitement in small doses, you may still enjoy the Volvo C70 convertible. Just bring along someone to change out your CDs … and to help you remember where you’ve parked. M.S.R.P. � $46,500 Mileage � 19 city/26 highway Warranty � 48 months or 50,000 miles, with 24/7 roadside assistance Web site � www.volvocars.com

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