Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Whisper quiet cabin and a sophisticated new suspension option.
Volvo has updated and upgraded its flagship S80 for 2004 with more than 700 changes. Many of those changes are parts and pieces that are hidden from the eye, but many were made to enhance the car's outward appearance and the environment within its passenger compartment.
The styling and interior of the Volvo S80 have been revised for 2004. The cabin is quieter and handling has been improved. Order the optional Four-C suspension and the S80 offers a smoother ride over bumpy pavement with less lean in corners.
Smooth and quiet, the big Volvo S80 offers luxury, roominess, and refinement. Its safety engineering is world class. Out on the road, it's as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar and its highly evolved, turbocharged six-cylinder engines deliver smooth, strong power.
Volvo builds three versions of the S80. All come with Volvo's most advanced safety features, including inflatable side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash seats, and Stability and Traction Control (STC).
The S80 2.9 ($37,045) is powered by a 2.9-liter six-cylinder engine that produces 194 horsepower and drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include dual-zone electronic climate controls, a pollen filter, a leather-wrapped and tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, a CD player, a rear fog light, and a retractable grocery bag or gallon milk jug retainer in the trunk. Cloth upholstery is standard on the 2.9 model. A Premium Package ($1,995) adds leather seating surfaces and a power glass sunroof.
The S80 T6 ($44,525) comes with a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter in-line six-cylinder thats produces 268 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque. The T6 also has a four-speed automatic transmission, but this one has the Geartronic feature that uses a microprocessor to allow the driver to change gears manually. The T6 also gets Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), larger 17-inch wheels and tires, a power glass sunroof, front fog lights, Volvo's On Call Plus telematics/mobile phone system (with a 12-month subscription to the service). Leather is standard.
The S80 T6 Premier ($48,515) is an almost limousine-like version of the car. It has the same powertrain as the T6 as well as special soft-leather seating surfaces, genuine walnut interior and rides on 17-inch 'Thor' alloy wheels. T6 Premier also comes standard with a DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system with twin seven-inch flat-screen monitors mounted in the back of the front-seat headrests. The Premier version also can be equipped with an optional rear seat refrigerator ($700) accessible behind the rear-seat armrest. Also included on the Premier version is a Climate Package that includes an air quality system, headlamp wipers and washers, high-intensity gas discharge headlights, heated front seats and precipitation-sensing Rainsensor windshield wipers. This Climate Package is a $625 option on the 2.9 and T6.
Options on all three S80s include a new Warm Weather Package ($575) that includes the air quality system, an electric rear sun curtain, rear door side sun curtains and an infrared reflective front windshield. Stand-alone options include metallic paint ($45), While Pearlescent paint ($600), high-intensity headlamps ($500), reverse warning monitor ($400), Dynamic Stability and Traction Control ($695), DVD-based navigation system ($1,895), 17-inch 'Stentor' wheels ($500), a premium audio system with an in-dash four-CD changer and 10 premium speakers from Danish audio company Dynaudio ($1,200), the telematics system ($835) and the Four-C suspension ($995).
Five years ago, the S80 introduced Volvo's no longer boxy styling theme, with design cues that have since been applied to the rest of the lineup, including the popular XC90 sport-utility vehicle. Those cues include softer, less decisive lines with 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 wheel wells 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.
For 2004, the Volvo S80 flagship sedan has undergone its own styling update with a new nose that features a square-mesh grille, a reshaped trunk lid with smaller tail lamps, a new rear bumper, chrome exterior door handles. The styling changes are so precise that they include new exterior rear view mirrors designed to reduce wind noise and help keep the side windows cleaner.
The S80's 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. For 2004, the interior has been updated with new door trim panels, chrome-accented ventilation system controls, redesigned gauges, and charcoal-colored trim around the center console.
The available leather 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.
The S80 has a roomy back seat and Volvo did not neglect comfort here. The wide rear bench easily accommodates three adults, with legroom compromised only when the front seats are in their rearmost position.
The 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. There's only a small amount of center console storage.
Climate controls are intuitive and attractive. Dual controls allow separate temperature adjustment for 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. Volvo's radio controls take some familiarization, but work well and give the driver more presets. A dial is also used to choose between AM, FM, or CD modes. Additional radio controls are on the steering wheel.
The S80 has a large, deep trunk made all the more accessible by its low lift-over height. Carrying a lot of cargo is no problem. A release inside the trunk allows the rear seat back to fold down for even more cargo capacity (except on the T6 Elite, where the reconfigured seat does not fold).
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.
When it comes to safety engineering and features, Volvo has no peers. Dual-stage airbags for both driver and front-seat passenger adjust according to the force of the collision. 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. Volvo benefits from an amazing facility in Sweden, the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, that conducts testing for crashworthiness, rollover, and other safety issues.
Already notable for its smooth ride and quiet cabin, the 2004 Volvo S80 is even smoother and quieter than before. Volvo has worked hard with such things as the new rear view mirrors to keep all outside sounds outside. It also handles better, thanks to revised steering, and with the optional Four-C suspension, the S80 can also provide the firm and responsive ride that appeals to the auto enthusiast.
The normally aspirated 2.9-liter inline-6 provides good response and acceleration. Volvo says this engine, EPA-rated at 20/28 mpg City/Highway, can propel the S80 from 0 to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds.
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, enough to light up the front tires, assuming you've pressed the STC button to shut off the traction control. The S80 T6 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds, quicker than a Lexus LS430 and much quicker than an Acura RL. The twin-turbocharged T6 engine develops 280 foot-pounds of torque at just 1800 rpm, and maintains it up to 5000 rpm. More torque at lower revs means stronger power for accelerating away from intersections or making passes on long, steep grades. Variable-valve timing enhances the performance of Volvo's T6, but most of the credit belongs to its two small turbochargers, which feed three cylinders each. Two small turbos spool up more quickly than one larger unit, delivering maximum thrust at low rpm. As a result, the T6 is quite responsive when cruising at moderate speeds, say 25-50 mph. Leave the traction control system turned on when you stand on it, and the computer steps in to ensure the front tires lose their grip only momentarily.
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, so that it momentarily bogs down before downshifting, and then lurches as it finally finds the right gear. Using the Geartronic to select gears manually enhances the experience for the driver who likes more sporting dynamics.
Both 2.9 and T6 models ride comfortably. The suspension absorbs bumps effectively, eliminating road imperfections. The S80 rides and handles well even with a full load of passengers and luggage. A new steering gear for 2004 offers more direct feedback and enhances dynamic performance, good whether you're driving to the grocery or galloping through the mountains. (The new gear comes from ZF, the German automotive supplier.)
Handling, whether for smoothness or sport, can be enhanced with Volvo's new Continuous Controlled Chassis Concept. The system, developed with Sweden's Ohlins Racing AB, monitors speed, acceleration and other dynamic forces and then adjusts the electronically damped hydraulic shock absorbers to provide either optimal comfort or sport control, depending on the position the driver selects on a switch mounted on the center console. The system can adjust the shocks up to 50 times in a single second. We found Four-C smoothed out rough railroad tracks and reduced body lean when cornering.
The S80's brakes are easy to modulate for smooth stops. Even without Four-C, the suspension does a good job of keeping the S80 level under hard braking: Nosedive during an 80-mph stop was minimal.
The Volvo S80 offers excellent safety engineering, a smooth ride, a quiet cabin, and roomy, luxurious accommodations. Volvo designed the S80 to compete against the Audi A6, Lexus ES 300 and GS 300, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Acura RL. That's tough opposition. But the S80 has its near-silent ride, unique look and personality, Volvo's renowned engineering designed to protect its passengers. Now, with its new steering gear and optional Four-C suspension, the S80 also offers outstanding dynamics.
S80 2.9 ($37,045); T6 ($44,525); T6 Premier ($48,515).
Options As Tested
Climate Package ($625) includes heated front seats, high-intensity gas discharge headlamps, headlight wipers/washers, Rainsensor wipers, Air Quality System; metallic paint ($450).
Volvo S80 T6 ($44,525).
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