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2007 Volvo S80 Preview

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Preview: 2007 Volvo S80
By Carey Russ

When it debuted as Volvo's flagship luxury sedan in 1998, the S80 was revolutionary. Most immediately noticeable was its styling - the box was gone, replaced by a distinctive broad-shouldered look that combined elegance and a hint of muscle. And where the Swedish manufacturer's previous luxury sedans, like the 960, had appealed primarily to the Volvo faithful, the S80 was meant to bring in new customers with its new look and greater refinement. It was quite successful in that mission, and established a design language that continues in the Volvo line to this day.

But after eight model years, the S80 was old. And, with six- and five-cylinder engines, even turbocharging meant that the Volvo was, in the eyes of some potential buyers, at a disadvantage competing against V8s from the other players in the mid-size luxury class.

So there is an entirely new Volvo S80 for 2007. When it goes on sale in February, 2007, it will be instantly recognizable, even though it's a completely new car that shares little besides its name with its predecessor. For the first time, Volvo is prepared to have the S80 compared on equal footing to any car in the mid-luxury class, as it will be available with a choice of six-cylinder or V8 engines.

Consider it the evolution of a revolution. The 2007 S80 is the same length as the original, but is slightly wider and taller, with a longer wheelbase and wider track for improved ride and handling qualities and increased interior space. The body shape is similar to the first generation's, but more rounded in contour and refined in detail. Still, there will be no doubt as to its maker, or its place in the Volvo lineup.

Inside, the new S80 further refines the "Scandinavian luxury" concept introduced in the first generation. The design philosophy - visually simple but elegant, with function foremost - will be familiar from the style of Scandinavian furniture and audio components. And the optional Dynaudio sound system is Scandinavian, made in Denmark. Besides a six-CD changer with MP3CD capability, it has an external jack for MP3 players or an iPod, and direct USB and dedicated iPod connectivity are in the works. The S80 has all of the sophisticated electronic features expected in a contemporary luxury car, and a simple interface to them. Don't look for complex single-knob, multi-system controls.

Engines in the new S80 are a 3.2-liter inline six, with 235 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, and a 4.4-liter V8 with 311 horses and 325 lb-ft. Both are mounted transversely and matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with "Geartronic" manual-shift mode. The six is new this year, and is shared with the XC90 SUV. The compact Yamaha-sourced 60-degree V8 debuted in the XC90 a couple of years ago and sees its first use in a Volvo car. The six-cylinder model will be exclusively front-wheel drive; V8s will be offered with all-wheel drive.

Volvo's "Four-C" electronic/hydraulic active chassis control system has been used in the S80 in the past, but like the rest of the car, it has significant improvements for 2007. There are now three different modes, with noticeable effect on ride and handling. An S80 so equipped can be switched from a comfortable luxury cruiser to a much sportier specification with a turn of a knob.

Volvo is almost a synonym for safety, and the new S80 was designed to meet the highest standards of both active and passive safety - not only for its occupants, but for occupants of other vehicles and even pedestrians. The transverse engine layout provides maximum front deformation space, for protection in a frontal impact, and the unibody structure was designed to channel crash energy around the central safety cage in a progressive way - there is less deformation closer to the cabin. Four different kinds of steel are used in the S80's structure, depending on requirements for strength and deformation. New side airbags with two separate chambers - one for the hips and one for the chest - improve the effectiveness of the Side Impact Protection System (SIPS). Inflatable side curtains offer head protection in side impacts, while an improved Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) reduces the chance of neck injury for front passengers.

Optional safety systems include radar-based adaptive cruise control, which keeps a set distance between the S80 and a vehicle in front of it, collision warning with brake support, which flashed lights on the dash if sensors suspect an imminent collision and prepares the brakes for immediate use, and the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which uses cameras in the outside rear-view mirrors to alert the driver if there is a vehicle in the side blind spots. Active bi-xenon headlights that swivel to better illuminate the road at night are also available.

The 2007 S80 was recently introduced to the automotive press in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had a the opportunity to drive both front-wheel drive six-cylinder and all-wheel drive V8 examples. The cars were European-spec, as US-spec production hadn't started at the time, but differences were limited to interior trim and other minor details. I was expecting a good car, but my expectations were exceeded.

The first S80 I drove was an AWD V8, fully-equipped. In interior noise (or, rather, quiet) levels and refinement, it was easily the equal of any car in its class, be it German, Japanese, or American. That was not surprising, but the exhaust note was.

As was the torque when I pressed on the right pedal. Instant acceleration, and an interesting V8 burble. I played with the Four-C control, and found that it made a small but noticeable difference in ride softness on the Las Vegas surface streets. After a short jaunt through city traffic, and then down The Strip, we headed to the freeway and then to country roads leading toward Lake Mead. At that point, I was able to try the S80 V8 as a sport-luxury sedan, and it passed with flying colors.

After a break, it was time to drive back to town in a six-cylinder car. Even though it had noticeably less power than the V8, it was in no way underpowered, especially for American driving conditions. If it took a touch longer to reach any given speed, the difference was minimal, and, in the manner of the benchmark German sedans, even the S80 3.2 was still overqualified for life on American roads, high praise.

With the new S80, Volvo has parity with any potential competitor, and its own unique Swedish character. Prices are expected to be very competitive. The six-cylinder 3.2 starts at $38,705 plus destination, with the average transaction price just over $40,000. The V8 has a $47,350 base price, with a typical price expected to be just over $49,000.