STEWARTS POINT, Calif. -- A cruise on Highway 1 heading north from Jenner to Stewarts Point along the rugged California coastline shows off a sophisticated ride quality and fancy appointments bound into the powerful S80 V8, elegant flagship for the fleet of Volvo from Sweden.
Volvo's largest sedan also ranks as the line's most luxurious model, yet the S80 of 2009 scores more amenities across the board for three models.
S80 debuted in 1999 built on the adaptable P2 platform with curvaceous styling surrounding a luxurious cabin trimmed in leather with room for five passengers, a powertrain either naturally aspirated or turbo-charged and some of the most advanced automotive safety systems on the planet.
Revisions in 2004 represented the next step in the car's development with a fresh shape for the body honed to a sleek expression of Scandinavian design.
Then in 2007 Volvo put the S80 in a larger package with three trims defined by three different engines.
These three models apply to 2009 editions.
S80 3.2 carries a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams (DOHC). It makes 235 hp at 6200 rpm plus 236 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm.
S80 T6 stocks a 3.0-liter straight-six with twin-scroll turbo-charging and inter-cooling to achieve high torque at relatively low engine speed without the typical annoying turbo lag. With dual cams on top and continuously variable valve timing, the turbo nets 281 hp at 5600 rpm with a flat torque curve at 295 lb-ft between 1500 rpm and 4800 rpm.
S80 V8 uses a DOHC 4.4-liter V8 engine designed by Volvo and built by Yamaha in Japan.
The plant -- set sideways in the engine bay -- conforms to a narrow-angle vee with only 60 degrees between cylinder banks. To conserve space, the left bank offsets half a cylinder ahead of the right bank and accessories like the alternator mount directly to the block.
The V8 generates 311 hp at 5950 rpm plus 325 lb-ft of torque at 3950 rpm.
Each S80 engine employs the same electronic automatic transmission with six forward gears and Volvo's Geartronic sequential shifter.
Shift-it-yourself maneuvers are made by throwing the console-mounted shift lever to the right through a gate, then pushing it forward to bump up a gear or pulling it back to drop down one gear at a time.
S80 3.2 has front-wheel-drive (FWD) traction, but S80 T6 and S80 V8 carry all-wheel-drive (AWD) equipment.
The active-on-demand AWD system -- from Haldex, a Swedish pioneer in AWD mechanisms -- divides the engine's torque between front and rear wheels through a wet multi-plate clutch.
An electronic device on the rear differential governs the system while also communicating with the car's engine control module and brake controller. When spin sensors at wheels detect rotational differences between front and rear tires, this mechanism reacts by sending more power to non-slip wheels and less to spinning ones. Ultimately, the unit brings both front and rear wheels back into equilibrium -- and the S80 proceeds safely in a straight-line path.
We note that every S80 model provides significant passive safety measures, beginning with a stiff core superstructure of high-strength steel ringing the passenger compartment and crush zones front and rear to absorb impact forces of a collision and deflect them from the cabin.
Riders are shielded in the cabin by frontal air bags and side-impact air bags in front seats plus Volvo's side curtain-style air bags.
And to damp the whiplash effect during a rear impact, front seatbacks instantly move rearward to pare acceleration forces on the passenger's back and neck.
S80 cars also carry the entire complement of electronic safety controls which characterize Volvo vehicles.
Among the alphabetical soup of acronyms for safety gear is an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with optimized hydraulic brakes (OHB), hydraulic brake assist (HBA), ready alert brakes (RAB), fading brake support (FBS) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Further, S80 has a traction control system (TRACS) plus Volvo's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) device which employs a computer and various lateral plus linear motion sensors tied to ABS, TRACS and the throttle.
DSTC monitors the car's forward progress and -- if dangerous oversteer or understeer skidding is detected -- it acts automatically to correct the unstable maneuver by braking wheels or cutting the throttle.
Rumples in the pavement won't upset the S80's smooth-riding suspension because of active chassis management in a high-tech mechanism which regulates actions for the shock absorber at each wheel through electronic damping in an effort to isolate movement of the wheel for less bounce, vibration and noise.
The chassis system has three settings: Comfort, Sport and Advanced.
More standard equipment goes into S80 3.2 and T6 models, such as a watch-dial instrument cluster, Rainsensor windshield wipers and Bluetooth hands-free phone interface.
Also, a new Convenience Package for S80 3.2 and T6 adds a personal car communicator, front and rear park assist and a Dynaudio Premium Sound System with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound.
S80 V8 for 2009 stocks a new Climate Package, Sirius satellite radio service with a six-month subscription, front and rear park assist, and the Executive Package which applies soft leather seat upholstery, ventilated front seats with massage feature, an aluminum lid on the front console, wood inlays in the cabin and a wooden steering wheel.
Volvo offers a Collision Avoidance Package for any S80 model with adaptive cruise control (ACC), collision warning with brake support (CWAB), distance alert (DA), driver alert control (DAC) and lane departure warning (LDW).
Other equipment options range from the Volvo Navigation System to active-bending xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlights and a backseat DVD entertainment system with a video screen in the back of each front-seat headrest.
Pricing for 2009 models begins at $39,600 for S80 3.2; the S80 T6 lists for $42,050, while S80 V8 bumps to $51,850.
Optional equipment loads the bottom line -- $1,695 (Collision Avoidance Package), $1,995 (Convenience Package), $1,800 (DVD Entertainment System) and $2,205 (Volvo Navigation System).