2006 Volvo S80 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sam Moses and Larry Edsall.
Last year Volvo updated and upgraded its flagship S80 with more than 700 changes, improving the ride, handling and cabin quietness and generally raising the level of refinement. So overall the 2005 version reflects mostly only adjustments to the options, however there are big changes to the actual model lineup and major component availability.
The non-turbocharged version of the six-cylinder engine has been dropped from the S80 lineup, replaced by the trusty turbocharged five-cylinder. It's this engine that comes with the all-wheel-drive system Volvo has been using so successfully in the midsize S60 sedan. The 2.5T five-cylinder is adequate, but lacks the smooth power of the T6 six-cylinder, which seems a better match for the S80.
The S80 offers luxury, interior comfort and a stylish body. The suspension is highly sophisticated. It offers a smooth ride and feels extremely stable on the highway. And Volvo's safety engineering leads the automotive world. The S80 is not a flashy or showy car. Like any Volvo, it doesn't shout out its quality, it simply and quietly delivers it.
Safety is what Volvo is known for, and the S80 reaches new levels. With side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash seats, as well as a sophisticated steel structure that's computer designed around crash-resistance, the S80 achieves the coveted 5-star crash-test rating in both front and side collisions, as well as a 5-star rollover-resistance rating.
With the all-wheel-drive model, Volvo now builds four versions of the S80.
The 2.5T FWD ($35,900) is powered by the 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine that produces 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, driving the front wheels through a five-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, and a retractable grocery bag or gallon milk jug retainer in the trunk. Cloth upholstery is standard on the 2.9 model. Also standard: Stability and Traction Control (STC), front and rear fog lights, 16-inch wheels.
A Premium Package ($2,995) adds leather seating surfaces, power passenger seat, wood inlays, and a power glass moonroof. Cold Weather Package ($625) adds heated front seats, headlight wipers and rain sensor.
The 2.5T AWD ($37,550) is the newest model, with most of the same features and option packages as the FWD but using all-wheel drive. Important stand-alone options include Dynamic Stability and Traction Control ($695) and Bi-Xenon headlamps ($700).
The T6 ($44,525) comes with a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter in-line six-cylinder making 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It uses a four-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), 17-inch wheels, moonroof and fog lights.
The T6 Premier ($48,515) is the deluxe version of the S80, featuring soft leather seats, wood steering wheel, walnut interior trim and a DVD rear entertainment system with two seven-inch monitors mounted in the back of the front-seat headrests. From the outside, Sentinal alloy wheels distinguish the Premier. Options include a refrigerator ($950) located behind the rear-seat armrest that comes with two Swedish crystal glasses and opener, an power rear sunblind, and bi-xenon headlights.
Options include the Four-C active suspension ($1,100), a DVD navigation system and Sirus Satellite Radio ($2,120); reverse warning monitor ($400); run-flat tires; a premium audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer with Surround Sound ($1,200); metallic paint ($450) and White Pearlescent paint ($600). A Sport Package for the 2.5T ($750) includes Sport front seats and 17-inch wheels; 18-inch wheels are available for the T6 models ($995).
When the S80 first came out, it was considered radical for a Volvo, simply because it was so good looking. It still is, although many cars have caught up to the S80's great lines. But in a parking lot among prosaic cars, the S80 continues to stand out for its good looks.
Contemporary Volvos are sleek, and the S80 led that Swedish revolution away from the box. S80 design cues have gone over well, having been applied to the rest of the Volvo line, even to the best-selling XC90 sport-utility vehicle. Those cues that describe the S80 include soft lines with a gently sloping hood, steeply raked windscreen, slightly bowed roofline and coupe-like rear window. A short rear deck lid completes the seductive silhouette. Flared wheel wells gently wrap the striking alloy wheels. Every little corner is rounded off, while doors and side panels are lightly sculpted.
The nose contains a traditional but sweeter mesh grille, while the rear end was tweaked for 2004 with smaller tail lamps and a new bumper. The styling changes were so precise that they included new exterior mirrors designed to reduce wind noise and help keep the side windows cleaner.
The 2005 S80 T6 Premier gets a fully color-coordinated exterior.
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 optional dark walnut lends a nice accent to the charcoal trim around the center stack.
The optional leather seats are rich and comfortable. The optional Sport seats have more bolstering to keep the driver and passenger in place during sporty driving. The S80 offers the most front and rear shoulder room among luxury sedans. The doors open wide and there's a driver's-side grab handle, so climbing in and out is easy.
The rear bench seat is also roomy and comfortable, easily accomodating three adults, with legroom pinched only when the front seats are in their rearmost position.
The instrument panel is clean and uncluttered, having gauges that are easy to see, read and understand. The rearview mirror dims automatically, and the outside mirrors are heated and have a memory function. A nicely designed handbrake lever is used in place of the foot pedal often found in this class. The center console includes two covered cupholders and CD storage in the folding armrest, with modest storage space.
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. For 2005 there's an improved CD/radio unit with easier functioning buttons. Redundant audio controls are located on the steering wheel. The T6 models come standard with a wood steering wheel that's optional on the 2.5T models.
The S80 has a large, deep trunk that's very accessible thanks to a low lift-over height, so carrying a lot of cargo is no problem. A release inside the trunk allows the rear seatback to fold down for even more cargo capacity. The rear seats have electrically retractable headrests for better rearward visibility.
As in any new Volvo, the list of safety features is long. 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 cars (and owners and passengers) benefit from the Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Sweden, where amazingly thorough research and development is done, including expensive crash testing, to make Volvos safer.
The newest S80 is the 2.5T AWD, the only model with all-wheel drive. Its 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is a good workhorse and it's plenty quick. Fitted with an intercooled turbocharger, the 2.5T makes 208 horsepower but feels like more, with 236 pound-feet of torque available at a low 1500 rpm. There's a small dead spot at intial throttle application, possible lag from the turbocharger, and you have to push the throttle farther down to get response. The 2.5T five-cylinder is neither as smooth nor as powerful as the T6 six-cylinder. Its five-speed automatic transmission is very smooth, however, and helps the engine by offering more gear ratios. The five-speed automatic features adaptive shift logic for improved response and efficiency in different driving conditions and a Winter Mode to help reduce wheel spin on snow and ice.
The speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering gives the S80 a light touch and a steadiness in the curves. In addition to all-wheel drive, the 2.5T AWD comes with Volvo's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, one of the most sophisticated electronic stability control systems around. If you get the S80 out of shape, it will bring you back in line without drama, often before you even knew you were out of shape. But the ride isn't as smooth in the 2.5T AWD, possibly because of suspension changes that may have been made to accommodate the system. You can feel the sharp bumps on the freeway in a way that you don't feel them in a BMW, Mercedes or Lexus, or in the Volvo S80 T6.
By comparison, the front-wheel-drive T6 offers a smoother ride. The T6 comes with Volvo's new Four-C system (Continuous Controlled Chassis Concept), which 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. In the S80 T6, we found Four-C smoothed out rough railroad tracks and reduced body lean when cornering.
As indicated, we also found the smoother six-cylinder engine a better match for Volvo's flagship luxury sedan than the five-cylinder. In addition to being smoother, it's also more powerful. The T6 is considerably quicker than the 2.5T, although it uses a four-speed automatic compared to the five-speed in the 2.5T. The T6 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds, quicker than a Lexus LS430. It develops 280 pound-feet 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 hills. Variable-valve timing enhances the performance of the T6, but the real power comes from 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.
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 S80 is environmentally correct. The radiator has a special coating that converts up to 75 percent of the ozone it encounters into oxygen.
The Volvo S80 offers superb safety engineering, a smooth ride, a quiet cabin, and roomy, luxurious accommodations. The S80 competes with the Audi A6, Lexus ES 330 and GS 300, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Acura RL, which is tough competition, but it remains unique in some of its virtues, now including the optional Four-C suspension.
The S80 T6 represents the best of the S80 models, offering speed and super-smoothness. The S80 2.5T AWD delivers all-wheel drive, but lacks the smoothness of the T6.
Volvo S80 2.5T FWD ($35,900); 2.5T AWD ($37,550); T6 ($44,525); T6 Premier ($48,515).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2495) includes leather upholstery, power glass moonroof, power passenger seat; 17-inch alloy wheels ($500); Dynamic Stability and Traction Control ($695); xenon headlamps ($500).
Volvo S80 2.5T AWD ($37,550).
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