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.

  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.