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Review: 2004 Volvo S80 2.5 AWD Sedan

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)


When it was introduced for the 1998 model year, the S80 was a very revolutionary Volvo. It marked the beginning of the end of boxy styling, and set the mold for all subsequent Volvos to this day. It was the first large Volvo to have front-wheel drive, and the first Volvo to directly, and very successfully, take on the cream of the world's mid-luxury cars.

Although the S80 has been continuously refined during the past years, it gets its most major changes ever for 2004.

Most of the 700 modifications are not blatantly apparent, although the front, rear, and interior styling has been freshened. There are some new options, new color choices, and new safety and performance features. Mid-product cycle freshening is the norm in the industry, but the `04 S80 gets more than just that. A new all-wheel drive model joins the lineup, bringing the all-weather AWD system used in the S60 AWD and XC70 to Volvo's largest sedan. Six-cylinder models may now be outfitted with the ``Four-C'' electronic- hydraulic active chassis control system introduced in the premium sport S60R, modified for the front-wheel drive chassis and tuned for added comfort as well as improved handling response.

The new AWD model is the first five-cylinder S80, with a 2.5- liter low-pressure turbocharged engine under its hood. It beats the naturally-aspirated 2.9-liter six (which is still offered, in the entry- level S80) 208 horsepower to 194, and includes all of the safety and comfort features associated with a Volvo. It slots perfectly between the base-model 2.9 and the turbo six-cylinder T6 and T6 Premier models. I've been driving an S80 2.5 AWD for the past week, and it is a very pleasant vehicle. The original S80 was the smoothest and most refined Volvo ever when it debuted. This one is even more so. It compares favorably to any contemporary mid-luxury sedan in fit and finish, refinement, comfort, and smoothness, and has more interior space than many of its competitors. All-weather all-wheel drive moves the S80 into new geographic and demographic territory.

APPEARANCE: Volvo fanatics may immediately notice the differences between the new S80 and its forebears, but most people will not. The S80's styling changes reflect Volvo trends. A 1998 to 2003 S80 looks smoothly-rounded yet muscular on its own, but put it beside an S60 and it starts to look a little boxy. As the S60 was influenced by the original S80, so it influences the new S80 in turn. The `04 S80 gets a more rounded, S60-like front end, with a smaller egg-crate grille and restyled fascia with larger integrated fog lamps. The rear restyling is even more subtle, with a new trunk lid and slightly smaller taillights. The mirrors are new, and redesigned to reduce wind noise at speed. Chrome accents are found on the door handles and window and side trim. Interestingly, although the main part of the body is unchanged, the new front and rear panels make it look sleeker.

COMFORT: If the exterior changes are subtle, those of the interior are even more so. And that's fine, as there was nothing amiss with the old S80 interior. The 2004 model has restyled instruments and a revised center stack and console. The traditional Volvo pen-holder clip has been replaced by a small tray. As always, there is more interior space than is the norm for the class, and good design makes the most of that space. Volvo's excellent bucket seats are found in front, offering great comfort and support. Both are power- adjustable; the driver's seat has memory. The steering wheel is manually-adjustable for both tilt and reach. The rear seat offers more passenger room than most of the competition, and the trunk is commendably large.

SAFETY: Volvo's reputation for safety is backed up by safety cage construction, variable-deployment front airbags, three-point safety harnesses with pyrotechnic pre-tensioners for all seating positions, the WHIPS whiplash protection system, the Volvo inflatable curtain (VIC) on the sides of the car to protect both front and rear-seat occupants during a side impact, and the TRACS n traction control system. A dynamic stability control system is available for improved traction, handling, and safety in all conditions, including ice and snow.

ROADABILITY: When the original S80 was introduced, it established a high point for ride comfort in a Volvo. This was courtesy of a very rigid chassis structure and a well-designed MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension tuned for comfort and compliance with road irregularities, but damped firmly enough for control. Refinements since that time have only improved an already-good car. As in other AWD Volvos, the S80 AWD has a slight front-drive balance in static conditions and uses a Haldex multi-plate center clutch to quickly transfer torque rearwards when necessary. As I found when driving an XC70 with the same system in Alaska last winter, this gives the feel of a front-wheel drive Volvo in most circumstances, and quickly provides good traction when things get slippery. It also decreases any tendencies for torque steer, and it improves traction on dry, smooth surfaces as well. Steering effort is near-perfect, and the S80 AWD, while more of a luxury car than a sports car, is pleasantly suited for a quick drive on winding scenic roads.

PERFORMANCE: Volvo's light-pressure turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine gets my vote for best all-around powerplant in the lineup. If it's not the ultimate S80 sports engine, well, there's always the T6. The five's 208 horsepower at 5000 rpm is competitive with many larger naturally-aspirated engines, and more than adequate for the S80. Because there is not all that much boost, and maximum boost is produced at relatively low engine speeds, power is instantaneous, with no turbo lag. Torque is a healthy 236 lb-ft from 1500 through 4500 rpm - exactly where the engine will be operating 99 percent of the time in everyday driving. The six- cylinder S80s make do with a four-speed automatic; the 2.5 AWD gets a five speed with adaptive shift logic. It's the perfect complement to the engine, with quick, smooth shifting and a good choice of gear ratios.

CONCLUSIONS: Volvo's flagship luxury sedan gets freshened styling and new features including all-wheel drive for 2004.

2004 Volvo S80 2.5 AWD sedan

Base Price $ 37,200
Price As Tested $ 42,525
Engine Type dual overhead cam 20-valve turbocharged and intercooled 5-cylinder
Engine Size 2.5 liters / 154 cu. in.
Horsepower 208 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 236 @ 1500-4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 109.9 in. / 189.9 in.
Curb Weight 3,653 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 17.6
Fuel Capacity 21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement premium unleaded gasoline
Tires P225/50 VR17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 27 / 22
0 to 60 mph est 8.6 sec

Metallic paint $ 450
Premium package - includes: leather seating surfaces, power glass moonroof, power passenger seat $ 2,495
17-in ``Interceptor'' alloy wheels and speed-sensitive steering $ 500
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control $ 695
Bi-Xenon headlights $ 500
Destination charge $ 685