Volvo S80 Review

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
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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  • Kwoerpel Kwoerpel on Mar 12, 2008

    Funny, how all these people have the answers for Volvo owners. I was an executive of Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company. I drive an XC90. I am an Independent and definately not a liberal like my kids. I raced Porsches, so I am not just some one who putts around. I still have 2 that I drive regularly and 2 old models in storage. I am contemplating buying an S80 T6 this month. Keeping the XC90. Maybe If this gets know, they will reposess the XC90. The XC90 has been perfect, whoops CD jammed. I never would have thought I would own a Volvo. I purchased it as it was the most comfortable seat for my wife ,who had back surgery. Dealer is fantastic. I will probably get drummed out of Porsche club when this info gets out.

  • Bshrop Bshrop on Nov 04, 2008

    I see that many of the comments shared here are mere assumptions and borrowed from outside opinions. I have owned the S-80, 281hp, AWD, with Turbo now for 7 months. If you desire sport and comfort it's a excellent choice. However, not many autos can compare to the ride the Lexus 350S in comfort, but the lexus lacks speed, handling and power. It also is a (front wheel drive)car. However, the combination of power, and torque will change your mind about the S-80 AWd/T6, it will run with a 7 series BMW. Do you hear me!!!!!!!!!!!! Two months ago I raced a 7 series and KEPT PACE, UP TO 120MPH with one. The light weight engine, coupled with the AWD does make a difference on the S-80 T-6/AWD. However, Motor Trend holds a contrary view on this. I can say that, Yes I agree that the S-80 is more comfortable than the 5 series BMW and by far the Audi-6. But lacks the handling. The average driver will clearly not notice the difference, but will enjoy the seat comfort and the power of this car, equal to any BMW-5 or Audi-6 . You will be persuaded especially when you compare the price.

  • Statikboy Those tires are the Wrong Size.
  • Mustangfast I had an 06 V6 and loved that car. 230k trouble free miles until I sold it. I remember they were criticized for being too small vs competitors but as a single guy it was the right size for me. I recall the 2.3 didn’t have a reputation for reliability, unlike the V6 and I4. I think it likely didn’t take off due to the manual-only spec, price tag, and power vs the V6 engine and the way it delivered that power. It was always fun to see the difference between these and normal ones, since these were made in Japan whereas all others were flat rock
  • VoGhost Earth is healing.
  • ToolGuy "Having our 4th baby and decided a camper van is a better use of our resources than my tuner."Seller is in the midst of some interesting life choices.Bonus: Here are the individuals responsible for doing the work on this vehicle.
  • MaintenanceCosts Previous owner playing engineer by randomly substituting a bunch of components, then finding out. No thanks.