by Gary Chan
When I think of Volvo design “exciting and passionate” do not come to mind. The last time I was excited about a Volvo was the mid-90’s 850 T5R model with the titanium-colored rims. Well, things have changed and the body on the S80 is downright sexy. Gone are the sharp edges and replacing them are curvaceous body lines. Plus, a 311 hp, 4.4L V8 engine that moves with the speed and determination of Gail Devers in the 100-meter dash is a nice boost for Volvo’s premiere sedan.
- Great engine and exhaust sound
- Solid braking and modulation
- Excellent Dynaudio sound system. Clean and accurate
- Interior materials fit and finish are exemplary
- BLIS – Blind Spot Information System for safe lane changes
- Non-intuitive cruise control interface
- Rear seat release
- Lack of Bluetooth and navigation
Keyless entry and start, now commonplace among many luxury vehicles, are two features I think all cars should have. I never had to fumble for the key fob; with a pull upwards on the door handle, the door easily unlocked. As the flagship vehicle in Volvo’s lineup, the S80 is loaded with a 4.4-liter V-8 (311hp, 325 lb-ft), satellite radio, the premium audio package by Dynaudio, the Climate Package, the Sport Package, and a host of safety features. Everything is well integrated and I wouldn’t hesitate taking this car on a long trip.
Heated and cooled seats help when the temps are extreme and the climate controls work quickly to make you comfortable inside the cabin. Once you have adjusted the leather seats to your liking, as well as the mirrors, you can quickly store the settings in one of three memory locations. The interior is luxurious with tasteful wood accents in front of the passenger and on the center console. The LCD display is rather small, but provides useful information.
One of the features not found on other luxury vehicles is the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS). It alerts the driver to vehicles in the blind spots (on either side of the vehicle) with small lamps that illuminate under the respective side mirror utilizing cameras (also mounted on the mirrors) to “see” other vehicles. This safety feature is gimmicky, but it works. If the orange warning lamp becomes annoying, the system can be defeated with a push-button switch on the center console.
Overall, the car is a pleasure to operate and invites the driver to drive further and stay longer due to the exquisite cabin and supportive seats. The adaptive cruise control works like a charm. I set the speed at 70 miles per hour and the distance between the Volvo and the car ahead to the shortest setting. As I began to approach slower traffic in my lane, the brakes were applied automatically and a distance of about 3-car lengths was maintained while dropping speed to about 50 MPH. As soon as I changed lanes and the system determined that another vehicle was not in front, it accelerated back to 70 MPH.
Just as with Volvo’s from the past, the S80 continues the tradition with having a solid structure at it’s core.The new chassis design, introduced in 2007, is very rigid. I never noticed any body flex or annoying creaks.
One neat feature (especially if you park on narrow streets) is the folding exterior mirrors. You can set this function on the center console to automatically retract when locking the vehicle. I turned it on at the beginning of my test drive, but had to turn it off a few days later because the passenger side mirror was stuck in the folded position. Getting the mirror to move back into it’s proper position involved a little pull on the mirror when opening the car with the remote. This is a relatively new luxury car and the defect reflected a questionable quality level. Luckily, everything else worked flawlessly.
The materials used in the cabin are quality materials, but the textured dash cover looked rather cheap for a flagship car. Under the hood the transversely-mounted engine is shrouded with covers. Except for the coolant refill cap, you have to look closely at all of the other fluid caps to see what they’re which reservoir they are covering. With the fluid caps being black with raised black text, it’s hard to read what each represents. At least Volvo could color-code important ones like making the oil cap yellow so it matches the yellow oil dipstick.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
From my few days of driving the Volvo, the two best parts of the interior are the adjustable seats and the climate control system. Using the side-mounted seat controls, I found the ideal driving position. The seats were supportive and the side-bolsters kept my body from sliding around during aggressive driving. The simple pushbutton-interface of the HVAC air source was a very intuitive design. I no longer had to look at small icons and turn a knob to the desired selection. All I had to do was push the buttons where I wanted air to blow (head/torso/feet) with a single knob controlling the variable air velocity. Although dual-climate controls are common with many cars, my girlfriend appreciated how well the climate system kept her warm and how the temperature was clearly displayed on the backlit LCD screen.
The dash design is very clean with a smooth bump over the instrument panel that levels out by the time it reaches the front of the passenger. All pertinent information is easily read and logically placed. The center console falls effortlessly from the dash and contains clearly marked buttons and knobs. The whole center console reminds me of a remote control leaning against a wall. One strange design is the small storage tray located behind the center console necessitating one to reach around to place something there. Otherwise, the Swedes did a good job of integrating leather, wood trim, aluminum, and vinyl to envelope the driver in a peaceful yet functional environment.
A few nitpicks:
- Due to the seat height selected, the manual lumbar adjustment was partially obscured by the center storage console.
- Opening the center storage cover requires squeezing buttons on the outsides of the cover rather than in the front where your hand naturally rests.
- No rear seat releases in the backseat. You must open the trunk and reach underneath to pull the releases.
- Simple cruise control not intuitive (same button is also used for adaptive cruise control)
The last “performance” Volvo I drove was a 2004 V70R .. fast in its own right, but this S80 makes it feel comparatively sluggish. Maybe it’s the extra cubic inches from the V-8, but whatever the reason, flooring the gas pedals launches the S80 like a rocket. Entering HWY 101 I was following some slower traffic. Checking to make sure there were no cars in close proximity, I mashed the accelerator and before I knew it I was in the fast lane passing people. It reminds me of the acceleration on my Honda 600F4i motorcycle on the same on-ramp. Awesome capability, in my opinion, for a car.
Switching to the manual-shifting mode, clicking through the gears was a seamless affair with smooth transitions. One other point about this engine is the phenomenal sound quality from the exhaust. With the windows down at stop lights, I grinned with pleasure as I revved the engine.
Driving in the “Advanced” mode of the adjustable suspension, I pushed the car in a smooth cloverleaf. Gotta love all-wheel drive, lots of horsepower, an adjustable suspension, and sticky tires (Pirelli 245/40ZR18 Rosso’s) as they all added up to confidence and a flat-ride. I felt safer in this fast turn than in my friend’s 2000 Audi A6 (also with V-8, AWD, plus sports suspension). I probably could have gone faster before the electronic stability control intervened, but it was definitely fast enough.
Braking is awesome. Hitting the brakes is akin to dropping an anchor out the trunk. The car just stopped quickly. Never wavering nor did the ABS intervene. Definitely the best braking system of all the cars I’ve ever driven. The front brake rotors are not drilled or slotted, but they’re large enough to almost filling the visible area behind the rim.
You can adjust the power steering assist levels, but even at the lowest setting (there are three), it seemed perfect. The connection from the driver to the road was direct and communicative. I already spoke about the handling in turns, but when I darted in and out of traffic I was reminded of the old Frogger video game. I picked the openings and the S80 just jumped effortlessly into place. During these moves, the car remained taut. On-center feel was good and tracked straight.
The turning radius for this relatively small car was not that good which was a bit surprising. I made the u-turn to the office and it was not as tight as the Ford Explorer. Maybe that has to do with the speed-sensitive power assist, but I expected better.
Regarding the suspension compliance, you had a choice between Comfort, Sport and Advanced, with each setting being progressively firmer. The lowest setting definitely gave the smoothest ride whether traveling on the highway or on roads that had been scraped in preparation for repaving. Supple would be a good word to describe the ride at this setting. Overall, kudos to the Volvo engineers for the clearly marked suspension buttons making it easy to “dial-in” the ride depending on desired vehicle dynamics.
The Electric Silver Metallic is a good color for this car helping it remain unobtrusive in the sea of vehicles on the road.The color also blends well with the muted colors of the interior. Looking at the side profile of the car, the steeply raked windshield and similar rear section remind me of water gently flowing over a smooth stone. The soft contours reduce turbulent airflow over the car and add to the serenity of the cabin.The bulging shoulders of the rear quarter panels are now less pronounced and blend well with the mild flaring under the windows along the side of the S80. The trunk lip mates with the bumper a few inches from the trailing edge of the bumper. Having the short shelf at the rear detracts from the fluid lines of the rest of the vehicle. Despite my minor complaint, I believe Volvo has done a great job designing this sexy beast.
When I picked up the car, I had to transport my road bike home. I easily placed the bike in the trunk by removing the front wheel and folding the rear seats forward. The added cargo space indicates possibilities for the outdoor enthusiast or for someone who occasionally carries home something other than a few passengers .
The sticker price started at $47.4k and with all options the sticker closed at $56k.That’s a lot of money for a luxury vehicle without navigation and Bluetooth. Comparing the S80 to other models, it was still on the lower end of the pricing after adding all of the options. Only the Acura may beat it on final price.
Some other models:
- An Acura RL AWD starts around $43k, but only has a V-6
- The Audi A6 Quattro with the V-8 starts around $56k
- A BMW 535i starts around $49k (with V-6 twin turbo)
- Lexus GS 350 AWD begins at $46k (V-6)
With a great engine, comfortable and quiet interior, the S80 is a great buy. You’d have to spend a little more to get the navigation further inflating its cost.
I thoroughly enjoyed driving the Volvo S80. Its interior is uncluttered and calming, complemented by a fantastic engine, and wouldn’t hesitate selecting the Volvo for a long weekend drive up to the Napa wine country. If you pick up an S80 brochure from your local dealer, one page says, “At ease in any situation, attentive to your every move.” That sums up my overall driving experience whether cruising down Highway 101 or during spirited driving on twisty roads. The technology, engineering, and engine all integrate so well that you can just drive.
Some may desire more character or feedback from the S80, and if that’s what you want, this car is not for you. The 2008 EPA mileage figures are 15/23-mpg, city and highway, respectively. In mixed driving over several days, I averaged 18 (same value as the EPA combined driving figure), while instantaneous gas mileage at 70-mph (with cruise control) was 25-mpg … a bit higher than the government figure. Give it a spin and be sure to floor the V-8 from a standstill. Even if you don’t buy the S80, you will walk away with a big grin on your face.
>> Do you have an opinion of the current generation S80? Submit your review of a 2007 or 2008 Volvo S80 at CarReview.com
>> See all of the Volvo S80 photos in our photo gallery
>> Watch the video and listen to the growl of the 4.4L V8, along with Kurt’s review of the Volvo S80
** For 2008 the T6 AWD is added to the lineup featuring a turbocharged 3.0-liter 285-horsepower engine.