LAS VEGAS, Nevada - First launched for the 1999 model year, the S80 is Volvo's "flagship" model. Now, as Ford Motor Company (Volvo's parent) faces difficult times, the Swedish automaker needs a strong contender in the increasingly crowded near-luxury sedan field.
Redesigning of the S80 has resulted in what Volvo calls an "all-new" model. As described by product manager Anders Robertson, though, the 2007 S80 exhibits "evolutionary styling," in contrast to the "revolutionary" shape of the original model. Nevertheless, the second-generation sedan "shares nothing but the name with the outgoing S80."
Two new engines are available: a 235-horsepower 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder, or a Yamaha-developed 4.4-liter V-8 that generates 311 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The S80's V-8 is similar to the one that's available in the XC90 sport-utility vehicle. In the previous S80, a turbocharged five-cylinder engine made 208 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission replaces the prior five-speed unit.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel economy with the six-cylinder at 21-mpg city/31-mpg highway. Choosing the V-8 drops those figures to 20/27 mpg.
Front-drive is standard with the six-cylinder engine, whereas the V-8 is accompanied by all-wheel drive. The S80 can be loaded with advanced safety and convenience technology, though several of the most appealing items are optional rather than standard equipment. Volvo's SIPS system, which has been around for 15 years, now uses a double-chamber bag.
Wheelbase has grown by 1.5 inches, and the S80 features a large grille and vee-shaped hood. Equipped with an integrated spoiler, the front end has been raised in an effort to prevent pedestrian injuries. In a notable change of profile, the rear quarter glass is now built into the back door. Making the glass 5 millimeters thick should result in less wind noise. At the rear, taillamps are similar in shape to those on the previous S80, but less pronounced.
In American models, wood inlay is standard for the interior. First introduced in the smaller S40 and V50, the unique center stack reaches all the way into the rear seat. A menu system permits modifications to such features as door-locking, mirror-foldback when locking, and steering-force level. If so equipped, steering force (amount of boost) can be adjusted to three levels - but only when the car is stopped.
Volvo's standard audio system is an eight-speaker unit that produces 4 x 40 watts. The available premium setup, with 12 speakers, delivers 5 x 130 watts. A six-CD in-dash player with MP3 capability is standard.
One notable option is the Personal Car Communicator (PCC) remote unit, which includes a heartbeat sensor that warns if a person is inside the car. Said to be unique to Volvo, it operates from about 100 yards away. Volvo also offers an optional Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), using a mirror-mounted camera, which illuminates when a vehicle is in the S80 driver's "blind spot." BLIS works both in daylight and in the dark. Adaptive cruise control also is available, with a collision warning system.
An S80 also may be fitted with Ready Alert Brakes, which precharges the braking system if an imminent incident is detected. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control is standard equipment. Alloy 17-inch wheels are standard, along with leather upholstery and a sunroof. An electric parking brake with auto-release is included with V-8 all-wheel-drive models.
Expect a lovely highway ride in Comfort mode, but Sport mode can get jumpy even on the expressway if the pavement isn't perfect. Advanced mode reaches a step beyond Sport in tautness and consequent harshness. On smooth roads, it's actually quite pleasing in terms of ride quality, and the extra firmness is welcome. The Advanced setting gives an appealing solid feel. Comfort mode is noticeably looser through curves, but by no means frightfully so.
Response with the V-6 engine is quite spirited on takeoffs, if less energetic at higher speeds. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth and often hardly noticed, but the transmission occasionally "hunts" a little too much for the next gear. Quiet-running, the V-6 is not utterly silent and emits a pleasant - if sometimes snarly - sound when pushed. Though more energetic than the six-cylinder, Volvo's V-8 isn't quite a powerhouse - at least in the American sense of that term.
An awful lot of buttons sit on the center console, and not all of them are clear and immediately understandable. Volvo's information screen isn't so easy to read either, and doesn't always respond to what seem to be logical commands. Having to stop the car to change the steering-level setting (if so equipped) partially negates the value of that optional feature. This is something that should be adjustable "on the fly."
Firmly-upholstered seats don't seem quite up to true luxury-car level in the six-cylinder model, but those in the S80 V-8 felt better. Front headroom is good, but a bead around the sunroof looks like it might be a tad painful if someone's head hits it. The huge expanse of horizontal dashboard looks a bit odd, but adds to the feeling of roominess. European-style instruments are big and easy enough to read. They look more distinctive in the V-8 sedan.
A test sedan suffered from moderately distorted back glass. Outside mirrors presented a woozy image, because test models were European-spec. American sedans might have different mirrors, but take a close look to be sure.
Volvo competes against such near-luxury sedans as the Acura RL, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Infiniti M, Lexus GS, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Some of those rivals are more luxurious than others. With the new six-cylinder engine, an S80 stickers for $38,705 (plus $695 destination charge). Picking a V-8 with all-wheel drive boosts the price by quite a bit, to $47,350. An Air Quality System with humidity sensor is standard with the V-8 or optional for the six-cylinder sedan.
As a comparison, the 2006 S80 with its five-cylinder engine started at $37,585 (plus destination charge). Volvo's midsize S60 sedan can be driven home for as little as $30,885 (again, plus destination).
Volvo's Sport Package includes 18-inch alloy wheels as well as the Four C chassis setup, which offers three chassis settings. Only Sport Package models include the speed-sensitive steering with its choice of three levels.
Options add even more to the cost, of course. The Blind Spot Information System costs $595, while the Personal Car Communicator adds $495. Navigation adds $2,120 to the car's price, and $495 buys front/rear parking assistance. Adaptive cruise control runs $1,495 extra, and 18-inch wheels add the same amount.