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First drive: V8 gives Volvo's new S80 promise

Reassuringly safe: The V8 adds another veneer to the S80’s safety story.

Volvo creates a much better luxury S80 sedan - with a V8 engine - to attract buyers

5 Dec 2006

AN ABSENCE of 16 months in the car game is almost a lifetime in today’s world, but Volvo Car Australia (VCA) believes there is enough currency in the S80 name to lure buyers back.

Company management is confident the new S80 V8 all-wheel drive and turbo-diesel models GoAuto drove in Spain last week will not only appeal to loyal S80 fans but present a strong argument against its German rivals, which dominate the upper luxury import segment.

Introduced in 1998, the first-generation front-drive S80 failed to ignite sales locally and was withdrawn from sale in July 2005, leaving a few cars to sell off after this date. VCA decided to pull the plug on the big sedan after the four-speed auto T6 ceased production, leaving the 2.5T S80, which cost around $75,000, as the only S80 model.

"We were subsequently limited to one model and our volumes were insignificant really, maybe we were doing five or 10 a month," VCA spokesman Todd Hallenbeck said. "So we decided to stop and plan everything for the next car." VCA is confident the arrival of the second-generation S80, offering a range of new engines – including a V8 for the first time – will redress the situation.

The S80 goes on sale within weeks initially with only two engines: a new Yamaha-sourced 235kW/440Nm 4.4-litre V8 and a 136kW/400Nm 2.4-litre turbo-diesel. An all-aluminium 175kW/320Nm 3.2-litre straight-six will join the line-up in mid-2007 with a price starting from around $80,000.

According to Volvo, the V8 will reach 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of more than 250km/h. The D5 takes 8.0 seconds to 100km/h and has a top speed of 225km/h.

Pricing for the D5 will start from $71,950, rising to $95,950 for the V8. Both engines are mated to new six-speed sequential automatics.

The second-generation S80 adopts an evolutionary approach to styling, using some of the design "language" developed by the previous Volvo head of design Peter Horbury – the defined shoulders, "boomerang" tail-lights and truncated boot, for example. However, Volvo claims the car now looks more compact, more dynamic and is a better driver’s car. It is also stronger and safer.

At 4850mm, the new S80 is the same length as the old car but width is up 27mm and the car is 34mm higher, while its wheelbase is up 45mm to 2836mm. Front and rear tracks have increased too, by 6mm at the front and 25mm at the rear.

The improvements are all designed to enable the S80 to go head-to-head against cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-class and Audi A6.

18 center imageStandard equipment should be comprehensive, with the V8 AWD getting active chassis, all-wheel drive from the XC90, electric parking brake, and dynamic stability and traction control. Inside, both models are tipped to get full leather upholstery, aluminium trim, in-dash premium Dolby Pro-Logic CD stereo, heated front and rear seats, Adaptive cruise control, personal car communicator and laminated side glass.

Given the S80 was an orphan in the Volvo line-up, Mr Hallenbeck believes the new C30, C70 and XC90 D5 and V8s will help increase showroom traffic and attract potential S80 buyers.

"Maybe they come in to see an XC90 D5 but buyers will then realise: oh, you’ve got an S80 as well," he said. "Most people think of us as wagons, and once we get the full model range there we think we’ll be able to get some strong throughput in the showroom." The previous S80 managed just 364 sales in its second year on sale after its 1998 launch. All up, Volvo sold 1107 during the car’s six-year lifespan.

The fall of the S80 was peculiar to the Australian market. It remained a strong seller in North America, Russia and Asia. This time around, like before, the key to the S80 market will be the US market, which should account for more than 50 per cent of S80 sales.

Mr Hallenbeck said there was still room for a top-end luxury Volvo locally. "We’ll have six-speed autos across the range, good power and good economy with the new car," he said.

He admitted that the S80 D5 was a somewhat unknown quantity for Volvo. Unlike its key German rivals, who have pushed turbo-diesels as luxury "sports" engines, Volvo, until now, has not had an engine to compete.

"The reason we’re optimistic about the S80 diesel is because of our corporate feedback," he said. "There’s a lot of interest."
Volvo S80 pricing:
2.4 D5 TDI (a) $71,950
4.4 V8 AWD (a) $95,950
Volvo S80 V8 AWD drive impressions:
NOT so long ago Volvo had a compelling campaign in the United States called "The Volvo Saved My Life Club".

It was an interactive website account - with graphic photos - of Volvo owners and passengers who’d survived horrific car accidents, some even walking away after totalling their cars.

Now we all know Volvos are as safe as a veritable Swiss bank but it is only when you’re caught on a winding mountain road with precipitous cliffs all around and fully loaded cement trucks driven by crazed Spaniards whizzing by that the leather cocoon of a Volvo becomes even more reassuring.

In the latest S80, that degree of safety and comfort is now aided by a sweet-revving Yamaha-sourced V8, which, when it goes on sale locally in a few weeks will also sport the same all-wheel drive system that underpins the XC70 and XC90.

It’s this compact 4.4-litre V8 that adds another impenetrable veneer to the Volvo safety story. It’s punchy enough to get you out of tight scrapes when some serious acceleration is needed.

Road safety campaigners might disagree but a powerful engine can also be a safety feature.

The V8 is new to the latest Volvos – the S80 shares it with the XC90 – developing 235kW at 5950rpm and 440Nm at 3950rpm.

Mated to a silky six-speed automatic, the V8 is ready to pounce in any gear. It reacts quickly and performance comes on strong right to the redline.

Volvo quotes a zero to 100km/h sprint of 6.5 seconds and top speed of 250km/h. Although impossible, and unsafe, to manage around the mountain roads of Majorca, we’ll take the Swedish company’s word on top speed. But the V8 felt particularly strong from a standing start.

When needed, the V8 would deliver instantaneous response and a rorty burble from its twin exhausts as it overtook slower moving traffic.

Plus, the "V8" badge on the boot will mean a lot more to luxury buyers in Australia than the old "T6" badge of the previous model. Luxury means a V8, something the Germans have known for years.

Apart from the silky V8, there was also a palpable difference to in how the Four-C active chassis management worked between "comfort" and "advanced" settings, firming the ride slightly and reducing body roll around corners. The AWD system would push the car wider through corners but the extra levels of grip and control are appreciated.

The pluses aside, the steering is still too vague for our liking and the interior, despite being contemporary and fresh, lacked sensibly sized storage areas and if the cupholders were there, we couldn’t find them except for the indents in the centre console. The boot too is small and has a narrow opening.

All the usual Volvo safety features are there though – enough airbags to refloat the Titanic – dynamic stability and traction control, active suspension, ABS and radar cruise control. An electric park brake is new.

Visually the new S80 is crisper and better looking that the old car, which has not aged as gracefully as some other Volvos.

Gone is the sixth-window while the car gets more aggressively raked front and rear glass, along with a sharkfin antenna on the roof.

The car’s corners are rounder and the headlights and tail-lights now wrap around the car.

At 4850mm, the new S80 is the same length as the old car but width is up 27mm and the car is 34mm higher while its wheelbase is up 45mm to 2836mm, providing significantly improved interior room. Front and rear tracks have increased too, by 6mm at the front and 25mm at the rear.

Anyone that has experienced the old S80 will be impressed with the newcomer.

It has a stiffer chassis, exhibits little steering kickback and rides far better, especially on rougher roads while the narrow-angled V8 has an engaging throb to it and plenty of old-fashioned grunt.

The improvements are all designed to enable the S80 to go head-to-head against cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6 and Lexus GS430.

Volvo finally may have the car to do that.

With a pricetag of $95,950, it is particularly enticing.

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