Volvo S80 Review
Safety legislation is killing Volvo. New rules and test procedures have virtually leveled the playing field, to the point where Volkswagen sells crash protection as credibly as Thor's mob. Even worse, the Swedish brand has at least partially surrendered the field. Sure, their cars still come laden with the latest safety-oriented gizmos and boast the best construction techniques, but the focus has shifted. According to the official website, you should buy the new Volvo S80 because of its “Scandinavian luxury.” In case you’re wondering, that means “comfort + power + safety.” Talk about changing priorities…
The new S80’s sheetmetal betrays the tension between Volvo’s desire to cling to its safe, stolid past and its [perceived] need to get funky with it. The even-more-gently-than-before sloping sheetmetal transitions (from the S80’s hood to its front windscreen and from the rear window to the trunk deck) continue the brand's established rounded radii = safety equation. At the same time, the S80’s broader and higher shoulders create a more masculine appearance. And the aggressive Aston/Jaguar-esque hood strakes try to tell the world that “me first” and “safety first” are not aesthetically incompatible– even if they are.
Anyway, Volvo wasn’t kidding about putting comfort at the top of the list. In typical Scandinavian fashion, the Volvo S80’s interior challenges the Audi for sybaritic supremacy. While both marques get full marks for top notch materials deployed with studied minimalism, Sweden pulls ahead with gloved user-friendly interfaces. The S80’s radio, for example, gives users immediate access to all functions without the previous model’s massive button array. If Swedes spent more time in the S80, Seasonal Affective Disorder would be a thing of the past.
Comfort? Check. Power? The $38,705 base S80 holsters an all-new 3.2-liter inline six that produces 235hp and 236lb.-ft. torque. The advanced cam profiles (toggling between high and low-valve lift) help make the engine relatively economical (19/28 mpg). Yes, well, that’s less horsepower, torque and fuel efficiency than a cheaper, equivalently-engined Audi A4. In subjective terms, S80’s mill labors to propel the car’s 3486lbs through its front wheels. She'll jog to sixty in a more-than-merely-adequate (but hardly spritely) eight seconds.
Scandinavian luxury ingredient number two isn’t missing from the premium S80– the first Volvo sedan with eight cylinders underhood. The same Yamaha-sourced 4.4-liter mill found in the XC90 sidewinds its way into the S80’s beak, pumping-out 311hp and 325lb-ft of twist. Even with almost a thousand pounds less to drag around, the S80 V8 scoots to 60 only slightly faster than the SUV– but a full 1.5 seconds faster than its lesser-engined sibling. Unfortunately, the S80 shares the truck’s dim-witted, mileage-seeking, stomp-to-go gearbox.
With great power comes great premiums; you have stump-up nearly nine more G’s for an optionless V8 ($47,350). Of course, the extra wedge also buys you all-wheel drive, which increases the S80’s bad weather capabilities, but does little to improve its handling dynamics. Whereas drivers of the base model are stuck in permanent plush mode, V8 owners select from Comfort, Sport and Advanced. More accurately, they choose between “Squishy, Slightly Less Squishy and Moderately Firm.” Only the Advanced setting would amuse the committed pistonhead. At best, the S80 is quick and controllable. At worst, it’s a Swedish Lincoln Town Car.
Completing Volvo’s not-so-secret luxury car recipe, the S80’s got all the safety kit covered: crumple zones, cushions and airbags aplenty (including kneepads for the front passenger), whiplash protection, ABS, stability and traction control, seatbelt pretensioners, collision warning adaptive cruise control and pre-panic brake charging. And you can bet that the new S80 will equal the previous model’s five-star NCAP rating when the government gets ‘round to smashing the S80 to smithereens.
The S80 has two unique safety selling points. For an additional $595, BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) radar sensors monitor your rear flanks ten meters aft. When another car is closer and it doesn't appear, the computer illuminates warning lights mounted next to the side mirrors. Unfortunately, the lights are not bright enough; I didn’t notice them turning on and off.
The second system consists of a forward facing radar system that computes the closing rate to objects ahead. If it reckons you're about to test your insurance compay's coverage, it sounds an audible warning and flashes a bright band across the windshield (unlike Mercedes' effort). It's a terrific unique selling point– buried under the general heading of Adaptive Cruise Control. Clearly, the S80 remains a Volvo in the traditional sense. Whether the ever-smaller extra safety margin is worth sacrificing power, handling, price and let's face it, snob value, remains an open question.
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