Volvo's flagship sedan, the S80, got redone for the 2007 model year, but it took until now to get a date with one, a beautiful 2008 model. It was worth the wait.
By now, the Volvo-as-box image has faded from public perception. When the first S80 arrived years ago, it was a revolution, with a return to traditional "shoulders" but otherwise a modern, even daring approach to sedan design, with a laid back rear window, tapered rear deck, and tucked in side panels. The blunt, medallion-wearing grille was squeezed down to a slender strip. The same fresh approach was applied to the interior, as well.
In typical Volvo fashion, however, the 2007 update was surprisingly modest, at least at first glance. I parked my test car next to an older S80, and there were the changes sides filled out more, taillamps higher and shorter, subtle shifting of details. If you liked the '06, you'll like (and recognize) the '07 (or '08, in this case).
Volvo offers only a sedan in the S80 range, no coupes or wagons, although the XC90 is a good crossover SUV alternative. Within the single body style you can order up three levels of power, all through a six-speed "Geartronic" automatic transmission that you can manually shift without a clutch.
The standard car comes with a normally aspirated 3.2-liter inline 6, which puts out 235 horsepower. At the other end, the 4.4-liter V8 model offers 311 horsepower and some special trim upgrades. In the middle is the new T6 model, which, despite a smaller, 3.0-liter displacement, uses a simple, compact turbocharger to generate 281 horsepower. Its 295 lb.-ft. of torque is available from 1,500 rpm all the way up the tachometer, so you can let it fly. My tester was one of these T6 models.
The T6 gets Volvo's All Wheel Drive with Instant Traction. This system shifts traction between the front and rear wheels automatically, supplying the performance and safety that drivers want and expect in cars. It is not intended for rugged off-road use.
The EPA rates the S80 T6's fuel economy at 15 City, 23 Highway, the same as the V8 and just 1 mile per gallon less than the plain non-turbo version. I averaged 17.9 mpg during my test period. In the EPA's online Green Vehicle Guide, all S80 models earn a 7 out of 10 for the Air Pollution score, pretty good, considering the engine size and the car's two-ton weight. The Greenhouse Gas score is an average 5.
The S80 wouldn't be a Volvo without a raft of safety features. It starts with dual-chamber side airbags that give extra protection to hips and chest. Four different grades of steel are combined to afford maximum crash safety. The WHIPS rear impact protection system saves driver and passenger necks from whiplash.
It's the electronic gadgets that really impress, though. The Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) alerts you when another vehicle enters the areas your mirrors can't show. You become used to this rather quickly and it's a great help. I also discovered the car's Lane Departure Warning system, which beeps if you veer too close to the road's dotted lines. And one time, when I closed in quickly on a car ahead that braked suddenly, a noise and red flash went off. Volvo wants you to arrive at your destination in one piece, and can be quite stern about it!
The S80 delivers the kind of luxury you'd expect from a Swedish car company, it's clean, modern, and restrained, with terrific materials, from the soft leather of the seats to the real wood inlays to the dull gleam of the metallic accents. Volvo seats are famous for their ergonomic support and comfort, firm underneath with a soft outer layer. My car's seats offered three-way heating and cooling. The S80's not showy, but you feel great driving it.
Pricing is what you'd expect for this kind of car. The S80 3.2 starts at $38,705, the T6 begins at $42,045 and the V8 jumps to $49,210. Add $745 for destination charges. You can order a few options, such as the 650-watt super audio package with Dolby Pro-Logic II Surround Sound and 12 speakers, a navigation system, or rear seat entertainment center.
Volvo's S80 blends today's technology with traditional solidity and comfort, offering a tasteful alternative to German models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi as well as the Japanese Lexus and Infiniti brands.