Car reviews - Volvo - S80 - V8 sedan
Sparkling V8 performance, safety, quality
Room for improvement
Still needs to clear the credibility hurdle, space-saver
22 Jun 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
VOLVO never even came close to its original aims with the S80.
When the first model was introduced here in 1998, the company was incredibly ambitious. Volvo executives even talked about selling as many as 80 S80s a month, doing real damage to the dominant Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5 series.
That the new Volvo never, ever came anywhere near that is history. The best monthly sales ever recorded were 38 during its year of introduction but, as time went on, the volume reduced to a mere trickle.
In truth, the S80 was never a real challenger for the Germans. The style, safety, quality and packaging were at usual high Volvo levels, but the engine performance and on-road dynamics were simply not in the race.
And it was priced far too high as well, opening in 1998 at $85,000 for the base 3.0-litre six-cylinder and topping out at a lofty $95,000 for the 2.8-litre T6 turbo.
Now, considerably later, Volvo is fielding an all-new S80 and, despite the passage of nine years, the pricing is actually way less at the bottom end (the new S80 starts at $71,950 in five-cylinder diesel D5 guise) and virtually the same at the top, where an all-wheel drive, V8-powered S80 rules the roost.
Conservatively presented though it may be, the new car looks a much more likely contender.
For a start, it is now supported by an all-new chassis developed via the formidable technology available through the fact Volvo is now part of the Ford empire.
The first S80 was a big disappointment in this area, but the new car has taken up the opportunity to join small Volvos such as the S40/V50 models as a real segment contender.
The Volvo S80 is built up from Ford’s EUCD platform which is bigger than, but shares much with, the impressive platform used on the aforementioned S40/V50 as well as the Ford Focus and Mazda3, and uses MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link coil-spring rear end.
Combined with a re-worked Volvo Four-C adaptive damper system, this sets the new car up much more favourably than the totally unimpressive original.
On top of that, the top-level S80’s new all-alloy 4.4-litre Yamaha V8 adds no small measure of luxury segment credibility.
Brandishing a conservative armoury of high-tech credentials such as variable timing on inlet and exhaust camshafts (but no variable valve lift), the 60-degree V8 produces a decent 232kW at 5850rpm, along with an impressive-for-capacity 440Nm at 3900rpm.
The revs at which maximum torque is developed might sound a little high, but Volvo says not to worry because as much as 370Nm is available from just 2000rpm.
Then there’s the all-wheel drive system that is standard on the V8, as it will be on the 3.2-litre inline six-cylinder version that slots between the front-drive five-cylinder turbo-diesel and the V8.
It’s not a three-differential system though, meaning drive to the back wheels is sent through a multi-plate clutch to provide extra traction only when it’s needed – although on start-off, a higher amount of torque is always directed rearwards to stop the front wheels from spinning.
Sending power through to the wheels is a six-speed sequential automatic – without steering wheel paddles – supplied by Aisin.
The new S80 is reasonably trim, opening at 1587kg for the D5 and peaking at 1742kg for the AWD V8. These figures compare favourably with the 1675kg quoted for the previous front-drive T6 and the 1510kg of the turbo 2.5.
The new S80 is marginally bigger than the old one too, and is actually longer, wider and taller than the BMW 5 Series – if a little shorter in wheelbase.
This means it offers improved interior space that compares well with the likes of an E-class Benz, and has an Audi A6-like boot with its dark, deep recesses and relatively wide, usable shape. Volvo doesn’t tell us how many litres it will hold, but we would guess a minimum 450 litres of luggage could be loaded quite easily.
So far then, the S80 is stacking up well – and it continues, with a conservative but clean and well-balanced style that is clearly related to other current Volvos, particularly the almost boat-like prow of the front end and the familiar hip line that flows into semi-triangular tail-lights.
Inside, the S80 is quite elegant, notably the sweeping line of the upper dash and the flowing wood panels set into the doors.
Distinguished by its clean shapes and simple, easily deciphered controls, the S80 slots neatly into the luxury car niche with no bones about quality, comfort or safety.
Space inside the S80 is adequate without being generous – a 180cm passenger can ride behind an equally proportioned driver – and the seats are deeply sprung, quite wide and supportive enough to suggest long-distance travel would be a pleasure.
The S80 also gets a version of the "floating" centre console panel from the smaller S40/V50, leaving a handy, semi-hidden space behind to augment sliding-top and under-armrest cubbies contained in the same area.
The test car was a basic V8, so it missed out on options like (expensive at more than $5000) satellite-navigation, Volvo’s new adaptive cruise control and a sunroof, but we did appreciate the six airbags, anti-whiplash front seats, standard front/rear parking sensors, adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, thumping 12-speaker sound system, auto rearview mirror and dual-zone climate control. The lack of auto-on headlights was something of a surprise.
What was impressive was the barking blurt from the twin tailpipes as the Yamaha V8 was fired up, and its constant, if muted presence during much of the driving. It’s no Audi RS4 though, sending the engine’s burble demurely into the background as speeds rise.
However, the 4.4-litre engine is well in command of the S80, accelerating briskly from just about any point in the rpm range you’d care to mention. The zero to 100km/h claim of 6.5 seconds sounds pretty right and pulling out to pass on the highway is a rapid, no-nonsense business.
The steering feels good too, light and easy at low speeds but very nicely weighted at high speeds, where, according to Volvo, the assistance becomes non-existent.
What’s not to like?
Not much, as it turns out, apart from the surprising occasional revisit of previous S80 traits as the car’s rear-end shuffles slightly off-line when hitting a rough mid-corner patch of road. Absolutely not unsettling, this did nevertheless come as a mild surprise after marvelling over how well the S80 rides, and how accurate and stable it feels on winding roads.
The Four-C variable-damper system seemed to us to be pretty subtle in its affects on the handling. Passengers would barely pick the difference between the various modes – Comfort, Sport and Advanced – travelling on normal roads.
The S80 just feels composed and sure-footed regardless of which mode the driver selects. The driver is a little more aware because there’s also the ability to select from any one of three steering assistance modes.
But sizing it up with the last S80 is like comparing chalk and cheese.
The S80 V8 has all the good points of the previous car – solidity, safety, quality – but adds the zing of 4.4 litres and 232kW, along with a chassis that has no trouble handling it, yet rides with the aplomb expected of a luxury-class car nudging $100,000 before you start adding options.
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