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Car reviews - Volvo - S80 - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
V8 flexibility and exhaust note, neutral AWD handling, whisper-quiet cabin, interior space ride quality, outstanding standard equipment list, cutting-edge safety features, hi-tech options
Room for improvement
Suspension noise over pot-holes, no remote gearshift paddles, space-saver spare

16 Feb 2007

VOLVO has long been synonymous with safety. So much so that, for a long time, non-negotiable motoring hallmarks like dynamics, performance, luxury and style took a back seat to the likes of airbags, seatbelts and crumple zones.

In an automotive world that values safety above all else, and in which even a Hyundai Getz can be had with a stability control system, Sweden’s biggest car-maker needed more than just safety to sell cars.

A succession of genuinely quick turbocharged models like the 850R, S60R and V70R showed Volvo could do performance, and the current S40 and V50 compact sedan and wagon revealed that neither contemporary, individual styling nor solid front-drive handling were beyond the Scandinavian company’s grasp.

But only now, with its second-generation flagship sedan, does Volvo demonstrate its ability to produce a legitimate entrant for one of the most lucrative and coveted vehicle segments of all: the full-sized luxury saloon.

Discontinued ahead of time almost two years ago, even Volvo executives admit the first-generation S80 was below-par. Contributing to its failure was boxy styling, average interior space, too-light steering that kicked through bumpy bends, noisy and soggy suspension, and a laggy 200kW turbocharged six-cylinder engine mated to an outdated four-speed auto.

Of course, it’s no surprise the redesigned S80 is better than its forebear. In fact, the all-new flagship is not just the best model Volvo has ever produced, but a far more convincing alternative to the dominant large luxury sedans in the Benz E-class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6.

For starters, Volvo’s top-shelf sedan now has what every self-respecting luxury sedan offers – the power, performance and prestige of a muscular V8. Developed by Yamaha, the 4.4-litre 60-degree alloy bent eight offers a substantial 232kW and 440Nm of torque.

Despite tipping the scales at a still-competitive 1742kg (67kg heavier than the front-drive T6 flagship it replaces), the all-new V8 propels the range-topping S80 to 100km/h in a respectable 6.5 seconds.

What’s more, it offers bristling off-idle response, a chunky V8 burble via twin exhaust outlets and rewarding overtaking urge from any engine speed - thanks in part to the silky Aisin six-speed auto with manual-shift mode, which lacks the now-common novelty of steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.

Claimed fuel consumption rises marginally to 11.9L/100km (we averaged a total of around 13L/100km, which is still acceptable for the undulating 340km launch drive) and the icing on the Volvo V8 cake is the fact it resides transversely within the S80’s engine bay without any plastic engine covers, its well-crafted alloy inlet manifold on full display.

Underneath all this is a stretched version of Volvo’s beefy new P1 platform dubbed P2, which offers all-wheel drive capability via a Haldex II centre coupling. Standard on the flagship V8 and the mid-stream 175kW/320Nm 3.2-litre inline six-cylinder variant that won’t arrive here until April, AWD is the other significant hardware advance over the outgoing S80.

Combined with a rigid new chassis, it gives the S80 new-found levels of handling neutrality, and responsive steering that can be locked into three preset levels of assistance. Gone is the previous model’s tendency toward torque-steer and bump-steer (though there’s still a hint of steering rack rattle right at the limit, and deep pot-holes are encountered with a crunch at speed), and cabin noise suppression and ride quality are outstanding despite the handling response now on offer.

That said, the front-drive D5 entry variant, powered by a 136kW/400Nm 2.4-litre turbo-diesel, is also a surprisingly pleasing package, offering spirited in-gear flexibility, lower claimed fuel consumption (7.2L/100km officially we averaged a commendable 8.5) and that distinctive inline five-cylinder Volvo engine growl.

Opening the range at $71,950, the D5 is $4000 cheaper than the petrol six-powered 3.2 AWD, which in turn is a whole $20,000 less than the flagship V8 ($95,950). All three variants get Volvo’s effective Four-C adjustable suspension damping system, which offers the choice of comfort, sport and advanced settings.

In fact, the new S80’s long list of standard gear humbles even sharply-priced but less characterful Japanese newcomers like the superb Lexus GS and Honda Legend.

Throw in cutting edge new options like radar-operated active cruise control ($2950) and a clever blind-spot alert system ($1200), and it’s clear Volvo’s premium sedan now offers the royal flush of V8 performance, an agile AWD chassis, an extremely comfortable and ergonomic interior, a long list of luxury equipment, benchmark safety features and enough style to befit Scandinavia’s newest luxury flagship.

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