Don't blame the C70. True, its modest engine, which Volvo calls the T5, hasn't changed much since it debuted in the 1994 Volvo 850 T5. Yet its plateaulike torque curve peaks at 1500 rpm with a by-no-means-modest 236 lb-ft, ensuring that the C70 always has usable pull. That means you don't have to constantly shift the standard six-speed manual, although, with its pleasant, almost slippery feel, you will be perfectly happy if you do so. You can also pick the optional $1250 five-speed manu-matic, which usually can be counted on to choose the right ratio. Both transmissions are more than up to the task of reacting quickly, but speed, on this drive, isn't really the point.
The Road to Hana contains some 600 corners, most of them blind, and more than fifty one-lane bridges in its fifty-five miles. Ten-story cascades of water plunge into immense gulches, black-sand beaches peek out from holes in the tree line, and multilevel tide pools empty into the constantly crashing surf. Although the initial impression is that of a two-lane road tailor-made for sports cars, to drive on it quickly in daylight is to miss something. The scenery overwhelms, and the best bet is to let yourself be overwhelmed by it.
That approach serves the C70 better as well. As a touring car, the Volvo does exactly what it's supposed to: it becomes transparent, doing everything it needs to do just well enough to keep you from noticing it's there.
The C70's benign characteristics and top-down composure prompt you to pay more attention to the world you'd otherwise go storming right through. Although the re-tractable hard top helps push the Volvo's weight to 3772 pounds, the car moves more nimbly than its size and weight would suggest. As a result, it has a down-the-road feel much more akin to that of its competitors-the Saab 9-3 and outgoing BMW 3-series convertibles, for example-even though those cars weigh, on average, two to three hundred pounds less.
Try harder or press on more quickly, and some shortcomings emerge. Throttle response can be rubbery in the upper rev ranges, and torque steer through the front-wheel-drive chassis gets annoying. The optional eighteen-inch wheels and 40-series Pirelli P Zeros not only can't match the ride quality of the standard seventeen-inch setup, they make the steering heavier and less communicative as well. When pushed hard, the MacPherson-strut front end becomes unsettled by midcorner throttle adjustments or normal changes in road camber. The overall effect isn't excessive but usually brings along a decrease in front-wheel feedback. The end result is additional steering correction when there really shouldn't be a need for it.
After winding its convoluted way along the coast, the Road to Hana eventually veers inland, meandering past unmanned fruit stands and homes until it reaches HI-365. If you take 365 south, the highway swoops down into a lusher, greener valley for a few miles before climbing out and back up into the town of Makawao, which neighbors Pukalani and the Haleakala Highway.
Originally settled by Portuguese and Japanese immigrants who were brought over to work the sugar plantations, Makawao has evolved from a small collection of ranches and stores into the passel of slightly overtouristed art galleries and restaurants it is today. The town contrasts starkly with the view of the massive volcano and national park rising behind it, but it still presents enough visible remnants of its past to remind you that Hawaii's main industry was once something other than tourism. When you're in the midst of a bustling intersection and a traffic jam twenty cars deep, it's somewhat saddening to think that, in the name of living quietly, enough people have moved here to make the town anything but serene.