It's sobering how close Volvo and Saab came to joining Mercury, Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Plymouth, Isuzu, Daewoo and Oldsmobile on the lengthening list of recently shuttered brands.
At the last minute, General Motors managed to sell Saab to Spyker, a tiny European sports car manufacturer. And Ford sold Volvo to Geely, China's largest privately owned automaker.
It would have been such a shame to lose the two Swedish automakers, though the long-term future of both is unclear: In Volvo's case, for instance, did Geely buy Volvo to get a ready-made dealer network to sell its own Chinese-built vehicles here? Or do they really plan to allow Volvo to operate with some autonomy, building solid, premium automobiles for an admittedly niche market?
I hope that's the case, as I've seen little evidence that any Chinese manufacturer is ready to do business in the U.S. under its own brand, with its own cars. The best thing Geely can do is watch Volvo and learn. But at some point, you have to think: Sweden is among to most expensive places to build a car, and China is among the cheapest. If I worked at the Volvo plant in, say, Uddevalla, Sweden, where this week's test car was assembled, I'd be worried.
Fortunately, politics and posturing did not affect our 2010 Volvo C70, a car I had not driven in several years, and forgotten how much I like. The C70 is a four-passenger convertible with a retractable hardtop that lowers into the trunk at the touch of a button. Certainly there's something charming about traditional cloth tops, but these retractable hardtops are literally the best of both worlds — the safety and structural integrity of a coupe, and when the weather's right, you get to go topless.
It doesn't hurt that, since the C70 was introduced in 1996, it has been the vehicle that led Volvo away from the "boxy but good" reputation for industrial-looking styling.
Inside, the C70 is showing its age a bit. Instruments and controls look a little dated, and the optional, smallish navigation system pops up out of the top of the dashboard like an afterthought. Front seats are a little flat, with less adjustment than I like, but they're certainly adequate. Rear seat room will satisfy two short passengers, especially if the front-seat passengers are short, too.
Handling is not quite at sports-car levels, but it's very good, and the ride is smooth and surprisingly quiet with the top up. Trunk space is 12.8 cubic feet with the top up, less than half that with the top stowed.
The 2010 C70 starts at $39,950, and with options, most of which I could happily do without, the test car listed for $46,550. There will be some styling updates to the 2011 C70 — no notable mechanical changes — so I would expect a discount off a 2010's sticker.
This is a good car. Volvo in general, the C70 in particular, deserve a future. I hope Geely sees it that way.
2010 Volvo C70
Base price: $39,950
Price as tested: $46,550
EPA rating: 19 miles per gallon city driving, 28 mpg highway
Details: Front-engine, front wheel-drive convertible with a turbocharged 2.5-liter, 227-horsepower five-cylinder with a five-speed automatic transmission.
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 180.4 inches
Parting shot: Overlooked, underappreciated.