2008 Volvo S80 Expert Review:Autoblog
Even before safety was such a critical part of the buying process, Volvo had pushed the envelope by offering cutting-edge technology and cold, hard steel to protect its vehicles' occupants. Today, everything from luxury BMWs to basic Hyundais have five star crash protection, but Volvo is doing what it can to raise the safety bar even higher. The new-for-2007 Volvo S80 is the Swedish automaker's flagship sedan, with amenities like a V8 engine, all-wheel drive, an upscale interior, and classy yet understated looks.
Where the S80 really makes its impression with Volvo faithful, however, is how far the automaker has gone to make its full-size sedan a safety flagship. Volvo has billed the S80 as having the latest safety advancements, while also packing the luxury amenities customers want, so we decided to put the S80 through the wringer in the Autoblog Garage. Hit the jump for impressions from our one-week test of the 2007 Volvo S80 V8 AWD.
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On our first day with the S80, we had the type of experience that nobody wants to have, especially with kids in the car. On a rainy summer afternoon, we took the kids out for GameWorks and a movie. We were accelerating down an on-ramp and about to merge into traffic when an oncoming truck hit one of the ever-present orange construction barrels. The barrel banked off the cement barrier to our right, and settled directly in front of my intended path. We banked hard to the right at about 45 mph and then immediately back to the left, missing both the barrel and the barrier by no more than 18 inches. To complicate things, the pickup truck didn't slow down and was fish-tailing, so I slammed down on the throttle, and the Yamaha-sourced V8 engine accelerated the Shunk clan out of harms way. In some other cars without the added traction of AWD or a well-tuned suspension, we'd have hit the barrel, the wall, or both. That's a good starting point for any review, and we didn't experience too many downers from there.
At first glance, the S80's design is an evolutionary step from its predecessor, but the aesthetic similarities tell very little of the story. The new S80 has more refined lines than the previous generation, and it's underpinned by the all-new EUCD platform that is shared with the Ford Mondeo and Land Rover LR2. Power comes from either Volvo's new 3.2L inline six (with our without turbocharging), or the transversely-mounted 4.4L V8 engine that was delivered with our tester. Our car also had the Haldex AWD system, which is standard on the V8 and T6, and optional with the base, non-turbo in-line six.
The exterior is largely based on the previous generation S80 penned by the Jan Wilsgaard/Peter Horbury design squad. Lines have been softened in most places, with brightwork and lights coming off much more high-end. The headlights, for example, are bi-Xenon, but their design is clean, without the busy jewel treatment many luxury vehicles receive. Very little chrome is used up front, but the bright work around the grille and Volvo logo really stands out. From the side, the S80's front end is almost shark-like, with the headlights as eyes and the lower air dam looking a lot like a mouth.
Volvo really took care in sculpting the metal to look more aggressive and sporty, as evidenced by the bulging hood, but the Swedish automaker retained the car's trademark C-pillar that flows into its broad shoulders. The S80's wide stance is further accentuated with optional 14-spoke 18" rims with Pirelli rubber.
On the inside, Volvo sticks its neck out a little with more flash and flair. The center stack carries over Volvo's signature waterfall design theme, and we really appreciate the logical, easy to operate layout. Large buttons and easy-to-use HVAC controls can be figured out by a small child. If you want the warm or cool air to hit your feet, simply press the feet on the reclined humanoid shape at your fingertips. If all of these choices are too much to bear, the driver can also simply press the Auto button, and the cabin will become cooler or warmer in seconds with dual zone climate temperatures controlled by a knob on each side. Operating heated and cooled seats, the front or rear defroster, and ventilation is easy to do while driving, as buttons are large and easy to read while on the go.
The driver's cockpit is very comfortable, as the occupant is immersed in high-end leather with well-positioned arm rests and a grippy wheel. Volvo put vehicle data inside the speed and tach gauges, and the needles are short, which looks cool while consolidating all the important information in one place.
One area that is often overlooked by other automakers is the head rest, and the S80 has some of the safest, most comfortable noggin props available. Volvo engineers designed whiplash protection technology into the head rests, protecting drivers from the painful injury in the event of an accident. On a day to day basis, however, the head rest is comfortable to actually use in most driving conditions. This is in stark contrast to many headrests that are small, uncomfortable, and positioned too far back.
Accessing some of the Volvo's safety technology from the cockpit is easy, as adaptive cruise control and rain-sensing wipers can be operated with little fuss. The rain sensors detect water and quantity to vary the speed of the wipers, which is much easier than constantly fussing with the wiper controls as rain picks up or slows down.
The adaptive cruise control functionality is located on the steering wheel, and variables like speed and braking distance are easy to understand. The display for operating adaptive cruise is located in the gauge information screen. We found it to be a great feature for highway driving, since speed fluctuations by other drivers doesn't require you to go back to manual controls, or adjust the cruise setting. Off the freeway, however, we had a few problems. When using adaptive cruise on a two lane road with a center turn lane, on more than one occasion the radar sensors viewed the vehicle waiting to turn in the center lane as a threat, and the system sounded a loud alarm and applied the brakes... hard. Other manufacturers have experienced some of the same problems, which is why some have abandoned or limited the technology.
Another feature on our test vehicle was the BLIS blind-spot protection. It glows orange whenever someone is in the blind-spot and beeps wildly with flashing red lights on the dashboard when you ignore the warning and try to move over anyway. We thoroughly tested this feature and it worked very well, except when we were in traffic and they glowed constantly at both sides. Also, when you're passing other cars, the BLIS system doesn't activate, but when they pass you, it does. It should also be noted that the first few times the flashing red lights with sirens is engaged, it will scare the living daylights out of you. It's probably a good idea to safely test the device so you're ready in the event you set off the alarm.
Driving the S80 can be fun, but Volvo put more emphasis on ride refinement than sporty handling. The S80 does come equipped with optional fun features like adjustable suspension settings of Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. When selecting Advanced, you can actually feel the difference. The six-speed transmission holds its gears longer, and the suspension stiffens noticeably in turns. Steering is also improved versus Volvo's previous generation S80, as feedback increases and agility improves commensurably with speed. A quick jog through the menu settings unveils three settings for steering responsiveness, ranging from low to high force. The difference is more than subtle between the lowest and highest force setting, and we elected to take our force like we take our coffee: strong. This doesn't mean that Volvo can now go toe to toe with a BMW in the handling department, but the ponderous, floating Volvo steering and suspensions of old are long gone.
The 4.4L transversely-mounted Yamaha V8 in our tester had some serious oomph, and we thrashed it relentlessly. The manual shift mode was fun, too, as it enabled us to go right up to red-line before auto-shifting. We would have preferred the more instant gratification of paddle shifters, but shifting in manual mode with the tunnel-mounted shifter was fun nonetheless.
We were able to drive the S80 in heavy rain on several occasions, and were mighty impressed with the Haldex AWD system. All four tires remained so completely tied down to the road at all times, even when we were traversing some serious puddles. We had to remind ourselves on a couple of occasions that other drivers didn't have the same capabilities as our all-wheel-drive sedan, and tone down our four weather driving just a bit.
While we're big fans of the acceleration and sharp handling that come with BMWs, the safe yet entertaining-enough-for-public-roads approach definitely works for the S80. A V8 engine and AWD make the S80 a very fun car, but luxury appointments and safety all around is what makes the S80 a very good car. Volvo will need to work on short-comings like the overtly alarming nature of some of its passive safety devices, and the inadvertent heavy braking during when using the adaptive cruise control, but when overall value is considered, we still feel the S80 will appeal to higher income families and empty-nesters alike. We'd love to get our hands on an S80 T6, however, with its lighter weight, 285-hp engine, standard AWD and $43,000 base price. It may provide much of the fun and refinement of this top-end V8 model that checked out at $54,400, while improving on its observed combined rating of 19.5 mpg.
All Photos Copyright © 2007 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Luxurious sedan offers sumptuous cabin, all-wheel drive.
The Volvo S80 is fast, comfortable and roomy. Big and luxurious, it's Volvo's flagship sedan. It rides nice around town and it's powerful and tracks straight as an arrow at high speeds.
The S80 offers a choice of engines: a powerful V8 and two six-cylinder engines, including a new T6 turbocharged six-cylinder.
Built by Yamaha, the V8 sounds like a Corvette engine when it first starts up then settles to a smooth idle. It's smooth and creamy when cruising and very responsive. At high speeds the S80 is quiet and smooth. Its performance (0-60 in 6.5 seconds) should please most buyers, especially when the weather turns bad and the all-wheel drive can shine.
Steering effort and chassis settings are adjustable, allowing the driver to adjust for smooth, soft sailing or taut control for more responsive handling. We found the car handles quite well for a large luxury car.
Inside is a sumptuous cabin with comfortable seats, Bang and Olufsen audio, and an available navigation system. Adaptive cruise control allows the driver to maintain set following distances with the cars ahead: the system will accelerate or slow the car as needed.
The S80 is loaded with safety equipment, from its protective structure to its state-of-the-art active and passive safety features.
We think the S80 is the best overall car ever to come out of Sweden, slick, modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful. It's relatively sporty and there aren't any rough edges on this package anywhere.
The 2008 Volvo S80 is available with an inline-six-cylinder engine and front wheel drive ($38,705), a V8 engine and all-wheel-drive ($49,210), or the T6 turbocharged six-cylinder ($42,045)
Option packages for the S80 include the Sport package ($2,495) with 18-inch alloy wheels and 245/40R18 tires and speed-sensitive steering with three-way adjustable steering effort. An audio upgrade includes a six-CD changer, MP3 player, auxiliary input and USB. Other options include satellite navigation with remote control ($2,120), adaptive cruise control ($1,495), front and rear park assist ($495), and dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system ($1,800).
The safety package on the S80 is world-class, from the patented body structure to the ABS, traction control, yaw control; front airbags; the new dual-chamber side airbags, with one chamber for the hips and one for the chest; radar adaptive cruise control that can brake the car without driver action; the collision warning system with pre-braking; and the optional blind-spot information system, or BLIS ($695), that senses vehicles in the right and left blind spots and delivers a warning if there's something there. The headlights are active xenon lamps that follow the road around curves. Also included in the safety roster is the Personal Car Communicator, a new electronic key fob design that can lock or unlock the car from distances up to 110 yards, and can tell you what state the locks are in. It can activate the alarm, and can sense the presence of a human heartbeat inside the car. A traffic distance warning system on top of the dash triggers a flashing red light and an audible warning, both of which can be defeated by the driver if desired. And those are just the highlights.
The Volvo S80 looks like a big version of the S60 and S40 sedans.
It's not as long as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a Cadillac STS.
The S80 features a large grille opening, a sporty bumper and under-grille treatment, large headlamps, a domed hood, a whole new rear end treatment with large taillamps and a sportier bumper, a roof that works better in the wind tunnel, and body sides that are free of moldings.
The instruments feature the traditional Volvo trapezoidal binnacle. The freestanding center stack that connects the dashboard to the console is a key interior design element, adding Bang & Olufsen elegance to the interior design.
The switches, controls and instruments follow traditional Volvo design themes, but everything is contemporary, including the tachometer and speedometer, more classic and less industrial than the previous design.
The navigation system, when ordered, pops up out of the dashtop, either by using the new steering-wheel-mounted controls on the right rear of the wheel or the provided remote control, which stores in the console. We found the steering wheel controls a bit fussy and hard to use, but owners will figure them out quickly.
A menu system tailors the seats, rearview mirrors, climate control, audio, navigation, and, the amount of steering wheel feel in the car's speed-dependent power steering system.
The sumptuous surroundings in the S80 are amplified by the wonderfully comfortable seats and the extra front and rear legroom that Volvo hopes will help to put the new car squarely into the luxury class. The seats are available plain, heated, or heated and cooled.
The 160-watt, eight-speaker sound system will play MP3 files and has an auxiliary input for iPods and other players. Volvo will also offer a five-channel, 13-speaker Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound system developed in-house with Bang & Olufsen and Dynaudio.
The Volvo S80 is a rock-solid sedan, a wonderful steed for covering large swaths of highway quickly and comfortably.
We were impressed with the V8 engine, which sounds like a Corvette when first fired up in the morning then settles down to a nice, smooth idle. This engine is a Yamaha-designed 60-degree V8 with balance shafts, so it doesn't sound like a conventional 90-degree V8. It's smooth and creamy all the way up the rev range to 6500 rpm, and for its relatively small displacement, it pulls very well and can easily sustain speeds of 135 mph on the open road. The V8 gets an EPA-rated 15/23 mpg City/Highway.
The six-cylinder engine gets an EPA-rated 16/24 mpg (with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive). The T6 is rated at 15/23 miles per gallon.
At high cruising speeds, the cabin is quiet, with a bit of wind noise off the tires and a bit of tire noise coming in.
The Volvo chassis system underneath the S80 is an evolution of the 4C chassis, with adaptive shock absorbers changing second by second according to inputs from the road and the car itself. The system offers three different settings: Comfort, Sport, and Advanced.
Steering effort is adjustable, and we found the firmest setting to be ideal for our tastes: hefty and solid, the way we like our steering. With the steering set this way and the Advanced settings plugged into the chassis system, the Volvo was a paragon of driving for the sheer fun of it, taut, quick to react, and flat in the corners, with the V8 engine always ready to play.
We experienced the adaptive cruise control system, which worked as advertised to maintain our preset distance to the car ahead in the fast lane, and we heard and saw the collision warning system mounted directly in front of the driver on the dashtop, a system which we quickly silenced on the crowded two-lane roads.
We found the brakes powerful and quick and positive when used hard from high speeds (100 mph).
Modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful, the Volvo S80 is an excellent choice among luxury sedans. It's surefooted stance and solid on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system that comes on most models adds to an impressive safety package.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Sweden, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia.
Volvo S80 ($38.705); AWD; T6 AWD ($42,045); V8 AWD ($49,210).
Options As Tested
navigation system, blind-spot information system.
Volvo S80 V8 AWD ($49,210).
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