2002 Volvo S80 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Easily the best-looking Volvo in more than a generation, the flagship S80 is luxurious, roomy and safe. A pair of highly evolved six-cylinder engines deliver silky-smooth power to S80's front wheels. Inside as well as out, the S80 is welcoming, attractive and understated. The twin-turbocharged T6 version delivers outstanding acceleration.
Volvo designed the S80 to compete against the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, Jaguar S-Type, Acura 3.5 RL, Cadillac Seville, Lexus GS, Lincoln LS and Saab 9-5. That's tough opposition, and a few of those cars offer significantly better handling. But the S80 compensates with its near-silent ride and unique look and personality.
The Volvo S80 is improved for 2002, with a revised navigation system, improved engine management, and enhanced traction control. The performance-oriented T6 now rides on 17-inch wheels, and all S80 models let the sun shine in through a now-standard power sunroof.
Volvo builds three versions of the S80.
The base-level S80 2.9 ($38,150) is powered by a 2.9-liter six-cylinder engine that produces 194 horsepower. It comes with everything associated with a premium luxury sedan, including leather seating surfaces, automatic air conditioning with dual controls, power windows, alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes and traction control.
The S80 T6 ($42,150) is equipped with twin turbochargers, boosting the output of that same 2.9-liter six to 272 horsepower. T6 also comes with lower-profile tires (P225/50HR17, in place of the 2.9's P225/55R16's). In both cases, the tires are Michelin MXM4's.
Both engines drive the front wheels through an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. But only the T6 has Volvo's Geartronic manual override.
New for 2002 is the T6 Executive ($49,950), whose rear compartment is re-configured for an additional two inches of legroom. Other rear-seat amenities include seat heaters, burl wood trim, console, refrigerator, 68-channel television, and DVD player. The T6 Executive can be recognized from outside by its body-color bumpers and side moldings.
An Elite Option Package ($1950) for the standard T6 includes most of the Executive's luxuries put passes on the refrigerator and television.
Also for 2002, Volvo has added a 75th Anniversary Edition model. The Volvo S80 75th Anniversary Edition made its North American debut at the New York International Automobile Show in March and went on sale in May 2002. Availability is limited to just 500 units. The model commemorates the first Volvo car ever produced, known as 'Jakob,' in 1927. The Anniversary Edition is based on the standard Volvo S80, but with several additional standard and available optional features, all designed to enhance passenger comfort, especially in the rear passenger area.
At first glance the S80 doesn't look like a Volvo, unless you're facing its signature grille, with its bright vertical bars and diagonal slash. Gone is the box-on-box design that distinguished the Volvo profile for a generation. It's replaced in the S80 by softer, less decisive lines: a gently sloping hood, steeply raked windscreen, slightly bowed roofline and almost coupe-like rear window. A short rear deck lid completes the seductive silhouette. Flared wheelwells circle alloy wheels. Every corner has been rounded and rid of severe angles. Lightly sculpted doors and side panels contrast sensuously with the slab-sided look of Volvos past.
The whole styling gamble pays off in the rear. Prominent, jewel-like taillights perch high on either side of the trunk, the lenses themselves forming the car's rear corners. They're molded in an interesting notched shape, giving the S80 a distinctive flavor that sets it apart from anything else on the road.
The same styling enhancements exercised on the S80's body flow seamlessly inside. A tasteful two-tone color scheme ties the cabin together in cool, muted hues, from the dashboard and glove box to the doors and kick panels. The spare use of a simple, dark simulated wood lends a nice, understated accent. The tree stuff appears only on the shifter, the perimeter of the center console and in a single swath of trim that rings the cabin.
The leather-clad front seats feel rich and firm and provide ample support, with just enough bolstering for a snug fit. Getting in and out of them takes little effort, as the seating position is upright and the doors open wide. But just in case a little help is needed, Volvo provides a driver's-side grab handle, a convenience found in only a few trucks and fewer cars.
Volvo paid every bit as much attention to the comfort of the S80's rear-seat passengers. The wide rear bench easily accommodates three adults, with legroom compromised only when the front seats are in their rearmost position.
The S80's instrument panel is particularly clean. The gauges fit logically and don't overwhelm the driver with unnecessary clutter. Wherever the driver positions the tilt steering wheel, the center-placed speedometer and tachometer remain in plain view. The rear-view mirror dims automatically, and the adjustable outside mirrors have a memory function. A nicely designed hand-brake lever is used in place of the foot pedal often found in this class.
The dual climate controls are intuitive and attractive, and allow separate temperature adjustment for the driver and passenger. Controls for both front seat heaters sit closer to the passenger. The radio uses a dial to select programmed stations, in place of the once-familiar row of buttons. A dial is also used to choose between AM, FM or CD sources. Additional radio controls are on the steering wheel.
Carrying a lot of cargo is no problem. The S80 has a large, deep trunk made all the more accessible by its low lift-over height, trunk-mounted rear seat back releases and a pass-through space. (The rear seat on the Executive model does not fold down.)
The S80 comes with a dual-stage airbag system for both driver and front-seat passenger. Specially designed active headrests reduce whiplash in a rear collision. Inflatable window curtains, as well as side-impact airbags, protect the head and torso in a side collision. All three rear seating positions have three-point seat belts.
All three rear seats have electrically retractable headrests as well; pressing a button on the center stack gets them out of the way for improved rearward visibility.
The Volvo S80 is smooth, comfortable, and quiet. Crank the ignition key and you can barely hear the starter motor. The engine purrs at idle. Listen carefully and you can barely hear the pleasant rattle of busy valve gear and overhead cams.
Once underway, it hums when it's working, very lightly and muted. You can scarcely hear it, even when pulling steadily uphill at 80 mph with good momentum. Wind noise and tire noise are heard as much as the engine; there isn't much of it, either, but you notice it because the engine is so quiet. You don't hear the engine at all when the transmission downshifts. All you see is the upward twitch of the tachometer needle.
Volvo has re-tuned the basic 2.9-liter inline-6 for 2002 to improve responsiveness and quicker acceleration. Last year's engine seemed on the light side for a luxury car, making the standard S80 a bit sluggish off the line. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections, and the standard 2.9 still offers much less of it than the T6: The naturally aspirated 2.9 delivers just 207 foot-pounds of torque at 3900 rpm. By comparison, the twin-turbocharged engine on the T6 develops 280 foot-pounds at just 1800 rpm. That's more way more power sooner for the T6.
With its more powerful engine, the T6 is a rocket. Mash the throttle and the response is instantaneous. It has lots of power at the low end. There's enough power here to light up the front tires, assuming you've pressed the STC button to shut off the traction control. Its small twin turbochargers spool up quickly to develop maximum power at low rpm: its 280 pounds-feet of torque are available from 1800 to 5000 rpm (and 272 horsepower at 5400 rpm). As a result, the T6 is quite responsive when cruising at moderate speeds, say 25-50 mph.
For 2002, the T6 engine develops more torque at below 4000 rpm than last year's engine. That means more power and improved response. The 2002 T6 gets both larger displacement and the engine has variable control of both the intake and exhaust valves. The variable-valve timing camshaft gives the engine maximum torque at engine speeds from as low as 1800 rpm (previously at 2400 rpm). With the two turbochargers, one for each set of three cylinders, the engine reacts very quickly to the throttle.
Stand on it and Volvo's traction control system steps in when necessary to ensure the front tires only momentarily lose grip. 2002 brings a new, more powerful processor for the traction control system.
Regardless of model, the Volvo S80 ride is comfortable, and the suspension absorbs bumps effectively, eliminating road imperfections. It handles a full load of passengers and luggage very well. However, its luxury-tuned suspension, maybe combined with front-wheel-drive steering geometry, allows it to move around on the road a bit. Add to that a vague spot at the center of the steering, and the S80 wanders ever so slightly, requiring small steering corrections. In Volvo tradition, the steering is a bit on the slow side, demanding more steering input than other cars in this class. Overall, the S80 doesn't have the handling precision and poise of some of its competitors, such as the BMW 5 Series or the 2003 Jaguar S-Type.
The S80's brakes are adequate, although the pedal isn't particularly sensitive. The suspension does a good job of keeping the S80 level under hard braking: Nosedive during an 80-mph stop was minimal.
The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and precisely, most notably at higher loads. But occasionally at lower speeds, a quick stomp on the gas causes it to trip over itself, momentarily bogging down before downshifting, and then lurching as it finally finds the right gear.
Premium luxury trim and world-class safety features make the S80 an alternative to BMW or Mercedes-Benz. The Volvo will reward the individualist with a comfortable, quiet and smooth ride.
2.9 ($38,150); T6 ($42,150); T6 Executive ($49,950).
Options As Tested
Cold Weather Package ($450) includes heated front seats, headlight wipers/washers; metallic paint ($400).
S80 T6 ($42,150).
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