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Car reviews - Volvo - S80 - T6 SE sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Engine performance, equipment levels, safety
Room for improvement
Understeer-orientated chassis, outdated transmission, price

5 Jul 2001

VOLVO'S swoopy new S80 luxury sedan replaces the 700-series based S90, which dates all the way back to the early 1980s.

The T6 model - with its 200kW, twin-turbo, 2.8-litre, inline six-cylinder engine - is the S80 range-topper.

Fluid, forward design replaces Volvo's trademark origami shapes.

The bold snout and waterfall sides impart real presence while recalling traditional, even conservative, sedan styling. There is no denying that the S80 can be anything other than a Volvo.

Something that is very unlike Volvo, however, is the single body shape that the S80 currently comes in. At the model's 1998 launch, Volvo emphatically denied there would be an S80 station wagon

Such a car would be called V80 in Volvo-speak, since V stands for (wagon) versatility.

But anything is on the cards since Ford's buyout of the Swedish firm in early 1999, so minds (and body shapes) could alter soon.

The S80 impresses immediately with its well-equipped, inviting interior that gives the impression that yes, this is a car worth the big price tag.

The S80 gets anti-whiplash front seat design, inflatable "curtain" airbags and advanced Multiplex electrical wiring.

The instrument panel display is clearly Volvo but manages to look modern and relatively user-friendly. The electrically adjustable seats, too, are very Volvo with excellent support as well as an adjustable lumbar - that is very tricky to reach.

The steering wheel has integrated controls for the cruise control, steering and telephone. Rear seat passengers can access the phone via a normal handset integrated into the front centre armrest.

The rear seat head restraints can also be folded forwards by a dash-mounted button to improve the driver's rear visibility when reversing, a neat trick borrowed from Benz.

The S80 comes in two versions, the "base" model with a 150kW normally aspirated inline six-cylinder engine - which is based on the familiar inline five-cylinder from the S70/850 series - slung transversely across the engine bay, and the 2.8-litre twin- turbocharged T6 version that cranks out an impressive 200kW.

The automatic T6 accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in 7.0 seconds, despite a hefty kerb weight of 1675kg.

The smooth four-speed "Geartronic" transmission offers slick sequential-like changes while the traction control system takes care of unintended enthusiasm.

To manage the aggressive power output, the T6 comes with traction and stability control plus a viscous-coupled driveline.

The T6 is a refined and easy car to drive and although it is a big highway cruiser it handles the twisty bits with aplomb.

In the 80km/h to 110km/h overtaking zone the car blasts past trucks with a great deal of reassurance and a high margin of safety.

But the overall feeling is not that this is a 200kW powerplant. It does not have the same promise of lurking power that exists in a Mercedes E430 or a BMW 540i. But the S80 will easily squeal an inside front wheel if the boot is applied while turning.

The power-assisted rack and pinion steering also took some getting use to, appearing over-assisted even at highway speeds.

Given the car's almost sporty levels of handling and roadholding, it could do with more feel and feedback.

The multi-link rear end is new and 35 per cent lighter than that on the old S90.

It is mounted in an aluminium sub-frame to keep noise and vibration at a minimum and to offer a degree of passive rear wheel steer when cornering.

Overall, the ride quality is disappointing. The S80 does not impress in the same way as a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-class with mechanical noise finding its way through to the cabin on rough surfaces and a slightly unsettling tendency to "walk" over rough surfaces.

The T80 is a reasonably quiet cruiser, only some wind noise from the door mirrors and amplified tyre noise upsetting the peace and quiet of the cabin.

In all, the S80 is an impressive assault into new markets for Volvo.

The main problem for the Swedish company is convincing buyers with $100,000 or so to consider they should look at an alternative to the safe German brands.

- Automotive NetWorks 05/07/1999

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