Volvo S80 creates a delightful driving experience

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Volvo has become known for its great seats and cutting-edge safety and nothing has changed with the all-new 2007 S80 mid-sized luxury sedan.

The seats are heavenly.

And as the competition catches up to Volvo in safety equipment, the Swedish automaker has jumped ahead with a couple of innovations. Some might consider these new features technology run amok. We disagree, at least on one.

We began to rely on the Blind Spot Information Center so much that near the end of our test week in the new V-8 edition, we caught ourselves looking for the door-mounted warning lights while driving another car. Of course they weren’t there and we marveled at how much we had begun to depend on the unique feature.

Cameras under the outside mirrors detect vehicles approaching the car on the left or right, typically a blind spot, and relay this information to the driver through an amber warning light. It worked fine and was especially instructive for vehicles coming up on our right. Looking in the right-hand mirror or over our right shoulder to accurately detect the speed and placement of oncoming traffic has always been a concern.

We enthusiastically recommend the Blind Spot Information Center, a $595 option. (A footnote here — these devices are designed to aid the drivers not to replace them).

Another innovation is a collision warning system that lets the driver know through a red light atop the dash and a warning buzzer when the system thinks the Volvo is closing too fast or is too close to the car in front. It’s part of adaptive cruise control for $1,495.

We also think Volvo’s new Personal Car Communicator should be labeled a safety feature. In addition to providing keyless entry and keyless startup — a feature found on most luxury cars these days — it can determine through two-way radio technology whether the car is locked or unlocked and if the alarm has been activated. It can also determine if someone is in the car through the use of a high-tech heartbeat sensor.
That might be a mall parking lot lifesaver for someone on a busy shopping day.
It’s a $495 option.

But the new flagship Volvo is much more than a few newfangled optional safety features. It’s an excellent luxury sedan with two engine choices, road-carving attributes rivaling most European sedans in its price range, all the requisite safety features available, a tastefully appointed interior with clear gauges and intuitive switchgear, and a quiet environment with divine chairs.

Although it’s hard to tell, the exterior has been restyled. Designers did a commendable job updating the S80 with creases and lines but without losing the distinctive Volvo look. In fact, for the casual observer, it’s difficult to determine a 2007 model from a 2006.

The ’07 is more athletic with an extra layer of muscle. It has a more aggressive stance, but no mistaking, it’s still an S80.

The interior styling is exquisite with a beautifully styled dashboard outfitted in upscale materials and assembled with extraordinary care.

We’ll have more to say about the living quarters in a bit.

One of the most obvious changes for 2007 is under the hood where the new S80 now packs the wallop provided by 311 horsepower from a 4.4-liter V-8. It’s the same V-8 that powers the XC90 sport utility and gives the Volvo the performance one expects from a luxury sedan measured in 0-to-60 times of about 6.0 seconds. As a bonus, all V-8 models come with standard all-wheel drive.

We enjoyed the urgency that the V-8 puts into Swedish luxury. But it also adds considerably to price. The base price of $48,045 can be quickly escalated toward 60 grand with the addition of worthwhile but pricey options.

And that brings us to some good news. There’s a lively inline 6-cylinder engine available for a starting price of $39,400. And most of the interesting options available on the V-8 are also available with the front-wheel-drive 6-cylinder edition, although customers will have to opt for the bigger engine to get the all-wheel drive system. Volvo says it may bring a 6-cylinder AWD package to the U.S. as early as the 2008 model year.

The 3.2-liter makes a satisfying 235 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque and completes the ubiquitous 0-to-60 run in about 7.5 seconds. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic.

The brakes match the urgency created by the V-8, offering solid, consistent feel and noteworthy, reliable stopping distances.

An interesting adaptive suspension system is available in a $2,495 sport package, which also includes speed-sensitive steering, high-performance 18-inch tires and alloy wheels.
Damping can be softened or stiffened through three settings — comfort, sport and advanced. It noticeably works, especially between the comfort and advanced settings giving the car a luxurious ride at one end and a sports sedan stance at the other.

Of course we were more attuned to the advanced suspension setting, especially when navigating the two-lane back roads.

The S80 living area is among the best in the business highlighted by perforated leather seats wonderfully attuned to the human body.

But the seats are only part of the interior package. The new dashboard is eye-catching with areas of wood and chrome. Instrumentation is easy to read and lights up like a Christmas tree at night. One of the standout features is the so-called thin floating center console that has been used in other Volvo products including the S40. It’s a modern, sleek look. We think it encompasses the elegance of Swedish design.

Back-seat passengers are rewarded with generous knee and leg room and outboard passengers get reading lights, cupholders and seat pockets.

Trunk space is measured at an average 14.9 cubic feet, but unlike many luxury sedans, the rear seatbacks can be folded forward to dramatically increase the cargo area.

In addition to the aforementioned safety innovations, Volvo still matches all other manufacturers in standard safety features. They include an anti-lock braking system with brakeforce distribution and brake assist, traction control, stability control, front side airbags with chest and hip protection, anti-whiplash front head restraints, full-length side-curtain airbags and tire pressure monitoring.

There are numerous tempting options that will inflate the S80 price.

One that would get our attention is the 12-speaker premium 750-watt sound system that we found delightful. It’s $1,550 and includes six months of Sirius satellite radio.

Our V-8 edition with options came to $56,025. If you can live with the 6-cylinder model, and we think it’s very livable, you can get into a well-optioned S80 for well under 50 grand.

Volvo continues to offer state-of-the-art safety and wonderful comfort. New for 2007 is a more delightful driving experience.


Base price: $48,045; as driven, $56,025
Engine: 4.4-liter V-8
Horsepower: 311 @ 5,950 rpm
Torque: 325 pound-feet @ 3,950
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.6 inches
Length: 191 inches
Curb weight: 4,065 pounds
Turning circle: 40 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: 25 mpg highway, 17 city
0-60: 6 seconds (AutoWeek)
Also consider: Acura RL, Audi A6, Cadillac STS

The Good:
• Still a leader in safety technology
• Great seats and impeccably designed interior
• New excitement from V-8

The Bad:
• Still not up to high performance driving dynamics of some of its competitors. An S80R would solve the problem.

The Ugly:
• All-wheel drive not available in more reasonably priced 6-cylinder edition.