2007 Volvo S80 3.2 Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Volvo S80 3.2
When it was introduced at the top of the Volvo lineup in 1998, the S80 was revolutionary in both style and intent. Previous Volvos looked like the box they came in; the S80 most definitely did not. Its broad-shouldered look combined elegance and a hint of muscle, and defined a new direction for Sweden's largest automaker. And, as importantly, where the 960, the car the S80 replaced, sold primarily to the established faithful, the S80 was meant to broaden Volvo's customer base - a task that it accomplished very well.
The first-generation S80 had a long, successful run, but it never quite became a mainstream choice in the mid-luxury class. In the eyes of the performance-oriented, its choice of five- and six-cylinder engines, even with turbocharging, did not measure up to other cars in the class that were offered with V8 and well as six-cylinder engines - and that meant all established European and Japanese makes. Seven model years is a long product cycle today, and besides new powerplants, there were new structural, safety, and electronic technologies to be used that required a new vehicle.
So the second-generation S80 has become the first Volvo sedan with an available V8 engine, a 4.4-liter, 311-horsepower version of the 60-degree Yamaha-developed unit found in the XC90 SUV. The six-cylinder engine is also new. Although a transversely-mounted inline unit superficially similar to the one found in the first S80, that in the 2007 model is larger, at 3.2 liters displacement versus 2.9, and incorporates a number of new technical features to improve power output and delivery while reducing both fuel consumption and emissions. In U.S. trim, V8 models have all-wheel drive, while those with the six-cylinder engine are front-wheel drive. All feature six-speed automatic transmissions with "Geartronic" manual-shift mode.
Outside, styling is an evolution of the 1998 revolution, more rounded and muscular but still not muscle-bound. The interior theme is "Scandinavian Luxury", which means simple, functional, yet upscale styling and intuitive controls. Underneath it all is a completely new structure that provides the basis for improved handling and passive safety. Active safety is addressed by a revised suspension, strong antilock disc brakes, and a full complement of standard electronic safety systems including the Dynamic Stability Traction Control system.
I first drove the 2007 Volvo S80 when it was introduced to the automotive press in Las Vegas, NV, last Fall. Starting out in a V8, I was immediately impressed by its power and most un-Volvo-like exhaust note. Like the best German competitors, it was a car that was seriously overqualified for use in speed-limited America. The six was no less refined and comfortable, little slower, and suited very well for use in the mix of city, highway, and country road driving at the introduction. When it came time to choose an S80 for a week's test at home, I took the six. No regrets - it compares very well indeed with any six-cylinder car in the mid-luxury class and has a unique character. The 2007 S80 is the best Volvo yet.
APPEARANCE: If, after a quick glance, the new S80 doesn't look much changed from the old, compare the two side by side. Suddenly the original looks almost boxy. Generation Two is smoother and more rounded, with a more sloping hood, lower headlights, and a more graceful, coupe-like roofline. The rectangular grille with diagonal bar, V-shaped hood bulge, and strong shoulder line that have been Volvo hallmarks since the original S80 are further developed. The taillights are familiar, but subtly different from those of the old S80.
COMFORT: "Scandinavian Luxury" is the S80's interior theme, but what is that? Look to high-end furniture and audio component design for examples, and think simple, smooth, harmonious, and intuitively functional. Baroque complexity need not apply. This theme not only defines the interior styling, it also applies to the climate, audio, and navigation systems. All have their own, well-marked, controls - there is no simple to look at, complex to use little toggle knob as beloved by some Germans and Japanese companies. Comfort and ergonomics are supreme. The front seats are moderately firm and offer very good support, and rear seat room and comfort are first-rate. The rear seat fold with a 60/40 split, and a ski-passthrough offers more cargo flexibility. Trunk capacity is huge, and there is plenty of interior storage as well, highlighted by space behind the stylish but functional semi-detached center stack. Instrumentation is complete and readily visible. The standard audio system provides high-quality sound from AM or FM radio or a MP3-capable 6-CD changer and accepts input from external music players. With the optional Personal Car Communicator, engine start and stop functions are by pushbutton, with the transponder key fob placed in a dashboard receptacle. The full range of contemporary cabin information and entertainment systems are standard or available.
SAFETY: The new S80's unibody structure is designed for optimal energy and deformation management in an accident. Areas away from the passenger compartment deform more than those nearby. A transverse front engine layout was chosen, and the engines were designed to be as compact as possible, in order to provide the largest possible front deformation zones. Brakes are large ventilated discs on all four wheels, with ABS, EBD, and brake assist. Front and improved, dual-chamber side airbags and the WHIPS whiplash protection system are standard. Safety-related options include adaptive cruise control, the Blind Spot Information System, the Personal Car Communicator, and adaptive bi-xenon headlights.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The improved chassis structure also has benefits for ride and handling. Increased structural rigidity and an enhanced strut front, multilink rear suspension give a comfortable, moderately-firm ride and sporty handling characteristics in standard trim. My test car was so-equipped, and was engaging to drive. With the optional sport package comes the latest iteration of Volvo's "Four-C" electronic/hydraulic active chassis control system, now with three different damping modes. I drove cars with that at the intro, and found that it does make a noticeable difference in vehicle dynamics.
PERFORMANCE: An available V8 may be the most obvious news in the S80's engine compartment, but the six is in no way deficient. And it's actually newer and more technically interesting. As in the original, it's a transversely-mounted inline design, and it's compact enough to fit across the car and still allow a reasonable amount of steering lock. Of aluminum alloy construction, with dual overhead cams and 3.2 liters of displacement, it produces 235 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm. That low torque peak implies good low- and mid-range torque, and that's true. A variable intake system and both Variable Cam Timing (VCT) and Cam Profile Switching systems ensure a wide spread of useable power and low ULEV-II emissions. Like the V8, it's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with "Geartronic" manual-shift mode. "D" is fine for everyday driving, as it shifts very well; using Geratronic to hold one gear - 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, no need to be precise thanks to the wide torque band - for sportier operation. There is no need to get acquainted with the redline.
CONCLUSIONS: The evolution of a revolution, Volvo's new S80 can hold its own against the world's best mid-luxury sedans.
2007 Volvo S80 3.2
Base Price $ 38,705 Price As Tested $ 41,865 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24-valve inline six cylinder with variable valve lift and cam phasing Engine Size 3.2 liters / 195 cu. in. Horsepower 235 @ 6200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 236 @ 3200 rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode Wheelbase / Length 112 in. / 191 in. Curb Weight 3486 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.8 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P225/50 VR17 Michelin Pilot HX Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, ABS and EBD standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 28 / 19 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Metallic paint $ 475 Adaptive cruise control $ 1,495 Personal Car Communicator $ 495 Destination charge $ 695