2009 Volvo S80
MSRP
$51,850
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2009 Volvo S80 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

Safe, luxurious, fast, beautiful.

Introduction

Big and luxurious, the Volvo S80 is Volvo's flagship sedan. It's fast, comfortable and roomy. It rides nice around town and it's powerful and tracks straight as an arrow at high speeds. It is without question a worthy competitor to comparably sized luxury sedans from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Acura, and Cadillac. 

The S80 offers a choice of engines, headlined by a 4.4-liter, 311-horsepower V8 built by Yamaha. The V8 sounds like a Corvette engine when it first starts up then settles to a smooth idle. It's smooth and creamy when cruising and very responsive. At high speeds the S80 V8 is quiet and smooth. Its performance (0-60 in 6.0 seconds, with a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph) stretches beyond what anyone can realistically use. But where the V8 really shines is in foul weather, where buyers will appreciate its standard all-wheel drive. 

Steering effort and chassis settings are adjustable, allowing the driver to set the chassis for smooth, soft sailing or taut control for more responsive handling. We found the car handles quite well for a large luxury car. 

Even the base-level, six-cylinder, front-drive-only S80 3.2 can sprint to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, and risk arrest with a top speed of 130 mph. In between is the S80 T6, with a turbocharged six, all-wheel-drive, and a somewhat longer option list compared to the base model. 

Inside is a sumptuous cabin with comfortable seats, sophisticated audio, and an available navigation system. Optional adaptive cruise control allows the driver to maintain set following distances with the cars ahead: the system will accelerate or slow the car as needed. 

The S80 is loaded with safety equipment, from its protective structure to its state-of-the-art active and passive safety features. We think the S80 is the best car overall ever to come out of Sweden: slick, modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful. It's relatively sporty and there aren't any rough edges on this package anywhere. 

Changes for 2009 are minimal. Some models have new wheels. There's more standard equipment at very level, including Bluetooth, and the various options and option packages have been rearranged a bit. 

The 2009 Volvo S80 is a luxury sedan. Three engine/driveline combinations are available: an inline-six with front-wheel drive, a turbocharged six with all-wheel drive (AWD), and a V8 with AWD. All come with a six-speed automatic transmission and Geartronic manual override. 

Lineup

The S80 3.2 ($39,600) is powered by a 3.2-liter 235-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. Standard are a power glass sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control with pollen filter; AM/FM/6CD/MP3 160-watt audio with eight speakers and auxiliary input; real wood trim; leather seats; leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with audio and cruise controls; leather-wrapped shift knob; eight-way power driver's seat with memory; split folding rear seat; power windows; central power locking (including the fuel filler door) with remote keyless entry; power trunk release; power heated outside mirrors with memory; auto-dimming inside mirror, an outside temperature gauge; four reading lamps; two 12-volt outlets; and 225/50R17 tires on 17-inch alloy wheels. New for 2009 are a Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, Rainsensor automatic windshield wipers, and a blueband tinted windshield. 

The S80 T6 AWD ($42,050) comes with a 3.0-liter turbocharged version of the same engine, producing 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, and driving all four wheels. Content-wise, T6 adds a standard electric parking brake. A Convenience Package ($1,995) consisting of Volvo's Personal Car Communicator (PCC) with Keyless Drive (more below); Interior Air Quality System (IAQS) with humidity sensor; front and rear park assist; and Dynaudio 650-watt, 12-speaker stereo with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound, rear headphone jacks, and rear audio controls. Climate Package ($825) includes heated front and rear seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, and high-pressure headlight washers. Xenon headlights with Active Bending Light ($800) and 18-inch alloy wheels ($750) are now stand-alone options, along with navigation ($2,205) and Sirius Satellite Radio ($395, including six-month subscription). 

The Executive Package ($2,495) adds more and upgraded wood trim, premium soft leather seats (ventilated in front, with massage), power passenger seat, IR-protected windshield, leather front center armrest, aluminum console storage cover, bright lower door moldings, and an analog clock in the center control panel. 

The S80 V8 AWD ($51,850) develops 311 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and also drives all four wheels. Standard equipment comprises most of what's listed above, including the complete Executive and Climate packages, plus Sirius Satellite Radio, front and rear park assist, and 245/40R18 tires mounted to 18-inch alloy wheels. Exclusive to the V8 is a Technology Package ($3,300) that adds navigation, speed-sensitive steering, xenon ABL headlights, and the Dynaudio sound system. Those seeking to further enhance the ambience of executive transport can specify an optional rear seat refrigerator with two crystal glasses ($695). 

Optional on all models is a rear-seat entertainment system ($1,800), now with larger eight-inch screens integrated into the backs of the front-seat headrests. 

Safety equipment on all S80 models is world-class, starting with the patented body structure and including ABS with a sophisticated hydraulic brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, dual-threshold front airbags, dual-chamber side airbags (with one chamber for the hips and one for the chest), side-curtain airbags, next-generation WHIPS rear-impact protection, tire pressure monitor, daytime running lights, and front and rear fog lights. And those are just the highlights. 

Volvo cites studies suggesting that up to 90 percent of all traffic accidents are caused by driver fatigue and/or distraction. Based on this finding, Volvo introduced a Collision Avoidance Package ($1,695) for the S80 in mid-2008. The package includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Warning with Brake Support (CWAB), Distance Alert (DA), Driver Alert Control (DAC), and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). Also optional is the blind-spot information system, or BLIS ($695), that senses vehicles in the right and left blind spots and delivers a warning if there's something there. 

Walkaround

The Volvo S80 may be the best looking sedan in the mid-range luxury class. It's arguably the most distinctive. Younger people may find that surprising, but folks with longer memories will not. From the late 1940s, well into the 1970s, Volvos ranged from functionally handsome (recall the 122 and 144 sedans) to quirky-sexy (the 1800 ES Sport wagon). For a while after that, as tighter budgets for new-model development forced Volvo to de-prioritize styling, the company cleverly promoted packing-crate ugliness as a self-righteous virtue. It was a successful strategy, and it bought the independent Swedish automaker another 20 years of survival. Thankfully, however, sometime in the 1990s Volvo rediscovered curves. 

Americans got an eyeful of Volvo's slinky new style when the first-generation S80 debuted in 1998. It was low and sleek, and rounded at the nose; but with broad shoulders and slab sides suggesting the much-loved 122 of 1956. Strikingly distinctive taillights followed the tapered contours of its rear quarter panels. About all the S80 seemed to share with the Volvos of the previous two decades were its six-window greenhouse and the diagonal stripe across its grille. Visually, it had more in common with a Jaguar than with any Volvo in a generation. And it set the style for every Volvo that's come since. 

The latest S80, which debuted for the 2007 model year, dispenses with even the six-window roofline, favoring the semi-fastback profile of the smaller Volvo S60. As a result, perhaps, the S80 now looks a bit like a bigger version of a little Volvo. But it's also even sleeker than previous S80's, and the new roof is said to work better in the wind tunnel. The current S80 is also rounder in the corners, and higher in the tail, where it retains a less massive rendition of those intriguingly three-dimensional tail lamps. Up front, a domed hood still flows into a rectangular grille trans-sected by Volvo's trademark diagonal stripe. The bumpers are clear of arbitrary detail. Brushed aluminum moldings on the lower doors are optional on the T6 and standard on the V8. 

The previous S80 looked like a big car. It's harder to judge the size of the current model (unless it's parked next to something else), but its overall length of 191.0 inches almost exactly matches the BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS, Lexus GS 350, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Saab 9-5. The Volvo's wheelbase, at 111.6 inches, is the second shortest of this group (only the Saab, at 106.4 inches, is shorter) but is comparable to an Audi A6 (111.9) or Acura RL (110.2), both of which are longer than the Volvo overall. The S80 is significantly larger than a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class; but it costs more than those cars, also. 

It will take a sharp eye to spot a 2009 model. As with other Volvo's this year, V-O-L-V-O is spelled out wider and bolder on the trunk lid. The base 3.2 has new standard 17-inch wheels Volvo calls Cassini, with a bright-finish, nine-spoke pattern. Standard on the V8 are new 18-inch Balius wheels with a turbine-blade look. The T6 keeps its standard 17-inch Canicula wheels from last year, a bold, open, five-spoke design that we like a lot. 

Wheel options are plentiful. The new 18-inch Fortuna Diamond Cut, offered on both six-cylinder models, has seven spokes with a sharp, almost machined appearance that varies with the light. The Venator (also 18-inch, but carried over from last year) also has seven slim spokes but a cleaner, brighter look that makes it our esthetic favorite for both the 3.2 and the V8. Optional on the T6 only are the 18-inch, seven-double-spoke Zubra and 17-inch seven-triple-spoke Meissa (which was standard on last year's V8). 

Included in the Convenience Package is the Personal Car Communicator (PCC), an electronic key fob that can lock or unlock the S80from distances up to 110 yards, and can tell you what state the locks are in. It can activate the alarm, and can sense the presence of a human heartbeat inside the car. 

Interior

The instruments in the S80 are mounted in the traditional Volvo trapezoidal binnacle, and Volvo's watch dial instrument faces are now standard on all models. The freestanding center stack that connects the dashboard to the console is a key design element, adding a Bang & Olufsen kind of elegance to the interior. An analog clock at the center of the panel is standard on the V8 and optional on T6. The switches, controls and instruments follow traditional Volvo themes, but everything is contemporary, including the tachometer and speedometer, more classic and less industrial than in previous designs. 

The navigation system, when ordered, pops up out of the dashtop, either by using the steering-wheel-mounted controls on the right rear of the wheel or the provided remote control, which stores in the console. We found the steering wheel controls a bit fussy and hard to use, but owners will figure them out quickly. 

A menu system tailors the seats, rearview mirrors, climate control, audio, navigation, and, the amount of steering wheel feel in the car's speed-dependent power steering system. 

The sumptuous surroundings in the S80 are amplified by the wonderfully comfortable seats and the generous front and rear legroom that helps to put the S80 car squarely in the luxury class. The seats are available plain, heated, or heated and cooled. 

The 160-watt, eight-speaker sound system will play MP3 files and has an auxiliary input for iPods and other players. Also available is a five-channel, 12-speaker Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound system developed with Dynaudio. 

Driving Impression

The Volvo S80 is a rock-solid sedan, a wonderful steed for covering large swaths of highway quickly and comfortably. 

We were impressed with the V8 engine, which sounds like a Corvette when first fired up in the morning then settles down to a nice, smooth idle. This engine is a Yamaha-designed 60-degree V8 with balance shafts, so it doesn't sound like a conventional 90-degree V8. It's smooth and creamy all the way up the rev range to 6500 rpm, and for its relatively small displacement, it pulls very well and can easily sustain speeds of 135 mph on the open road. (Maximum speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.) The V8 gets an EPA-rated 15/22 mpg City/Highway. 

The base six-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive gets an EPA-rated 16/25 mpg. The turbocharged T6 is rated at 15/23 miles per gallon. Maximum torque with the turbo is on tap from just 1,500 rpm and remains available all the way up the rev range. 

At high cruising speeds, the cabin is quiet, with a bit of wind noise and a bit of tire noise coming in. 

The Volvo chassis system underneath the S80 is an evolution of the 4C chassis, with adaptive shock absorbers changing second by second according to inputs from the road and the car itself. The system offers three different settings: Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. 

Steering effort is adjustable, and we found the firmest setting to be ideal for our tastes: hefty and solid, the way we like our steering. With the steering set this way and the Advanced settings plugged into the chassis system, the Volvo was a paragon of driving for the sheer fun of it, taut, quick to react, and flat in the corners, with the V8 engine always ready to play. 

We experienced the adaptive cruise control system, which worked as advertised to maintain our preset distance to the car ahead in the fast lane, and we heard and saw the collision warning system mounted directly in front of the driver on the dashtop, a system which we quickly silenced on the crowded two-lane roads. 

We found the brakes powerful and quick and positive when used hard from high speeds (100 mph). 

Summary

Modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful, the Volvo S80 is an excellent choice among luxury sedans. It's surefooted in its stance and solid on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system that comes on the performance models adds to an impressive safety package. 

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Sweden, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia, and John F. Katz reporting from south-central Pennsylvania. 

Model Lineup

Volvo S80 3.2 ($39,600); T6 AWD ($42,050); V8 AWD ($51,850). 

Assembled In

Goteborg, Sweden. 

Options As Tested

Technology Package ($3,300) includes navigation with DVD map data and remote control, speed-sensitive steering, xenon headlights with Active Bending Light (ABL), Dynaudio premium stereo with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound, rear headphone jacks and audio controls; blind-spot information system ($695). 

Model Tested

Volvo S80 V8 AWD ($51,850). 

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