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2008 Volvo S80
Big sedan offers seamless combination of comfort and safety

By Bill Roebuck

2008 Volvo S80. Photo by Bill Roebuck.
Volvo's flagship luxury sedan, the S80, sure makes you feel you've 'arrived' when you first sit inside it. Certainly the exterior has all the necessary design cues to express that this is a luxury sedan -- a good size one at that -- and it looks quite sturdy and safe, as does almost every Volvo ever made. But settling into the thicker-than-typical leather skins that coddle you in the seats and glancing over the busy dashboard, you immediately get the sensation you're safe, secure, and well, really well-off.

The 2008 model looks similar to the 2007 model, when the S80 was last redesigned. And that wasn't too much of a departure from the original S80, first launched in 1999. The 2008 version gets a minor update to the Luxury option package: the company has moved the 18-in, wheel and summer tire combination to the stand-alone options list. The standard wheel is 17 inches in size and is equipped with all-season tires.

The S80 is available with either a 235-hp inline-six or a 311-hp V8 engine, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic (manual-like shifting). All 2008 S80's come standard with Volvo's All-Wheel Drive system with Instant Traction. No front-wheel drive version is available on the 2007 or 2008 V80 models (but see the preview of the 2009 model below, in which it will be offered).

The six-cylinder model we tested was certainly powerful enough for this big Volvo, and we never wanted for more power, except at the initial launch from start. You'd never call it sporty, though, even though you can set the suspension from 'Comfort' to a firmer 'Sport' mode. We expect the V8 would feel like it had more than enough power. The six-speed tranny performed exactly the way you want an automatic to -- it was unnoticeable, always seeming to be in just the right gear that you needed, just when you wanted it. In a word, we found the engine/transmission combo to be seamless.

At low speeds the S80 feels heavy at the front wheels, but that sensation disappears at typical city speeds. Body lean is minimal on curving on-ramps or hard turns.

2008 Volvo S80 interior. Photo by Bill Roebuck.The dashboard is busy with too many buttons, yet fairly intuitive to use. All gauges are easy to read.

Inside, roominess abounds, both for front and rear passengers. The climate control system kept the temperature comfortable both front and rear.

You can't talk about Volvos without talking about safety, as the topic always takes a high priority in the company's marketing and design efforts. With the launch of the redesigned S80 in 2007, Volvo began offering vehicles with more advanced preventive safety systems to help buyers avoid a collision.

Aside from the now-standard technologies such as ABS and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, the S80 offers a Collision Avoidance Package (CAP). CAP uses long-range radar and a short-range digital camera to deliver a Collision Warning system with Auto Brake that will visually and audibly warn the driver of a potential collision and autonomously apply up to 50% braking power should a collision become imminent. It also includes Lane Departure Warning, Distance Alert to help maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front, and Driver Alert to evaluate the driver's control of the vehicle and warn them if there is increased likelihood they are asleep or distracted. The S80 can also be equipped with the company's camera-based Blind Spot Information System (BLIS).

The S80's safety systems can be broken down in to three sections: protective, preventive and personal security.

Protective safety involves a structure composed of four different kinds of steel designed to absorb and distribute collision energy away from the passenger cabin. A Side Impact Protection System, including dual-chamber side airbags (for more adaptive protection for the hip and chest) and full-length inflatable curtains, distribute collision energy in side impacts. To help protect occupants in rear-end collisions, the Volvo Whiplash Protection System slides the front seats rearward and tilts them back slightly to reduce g-forces and the risk of soft tissue injury.

Preventive safety comes from standard features such as Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution and Electronic Brake Assist, all designed to help drivers avoid a collision. Personal security can be found in systems such as approach lighting, Home Safe lighting and automatic re-locking.

Canadian prices for the S80 start at $54,995 for the 3.2 six-cylinder AWD model. For V8-equipped vehicles, the starting price is $64,995. The Luxury package adds $3,300 for the 3.2 and $2,100 for the V8. This option includes features such as the Volvo Four-C active chassis, front-and-rear park assist, perforated leather sport seats and active bi-Xenon headlights for the 3.2 (standard on the V8).

Another option, a $3,150 Security package, includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning, Blindspot Information System and the unique Volvo Personal Car Communicator (PCC). If within 100 metres, the PCC key fob communicates with the S80 to determine if the doors are locked, if the alarm has gone off and detect if a heartbeat inside the car.

2008 Volvo S80 instrument panel. Photo by Bill Roebuck.Our tester had both the above packages, which enhanced the good impression this sedan made on us. In particular, the Blindspot Information System is a unique and useful feature that flashes a warning light on the appropriate A pillar as a passing vehicle moves into your blind spot.

The $1,300 DynAudio package combines 12 DynAudio speakers, an Alpine amplifier producing 650-Watts and a 6-disc CD changer.

New engine, revised line-up for 2009 Volvo S80

The S80 will get an additional powertrain choice for 2009 with the addition of an optional 281-hp T6 engine, and gains a front-wheel drive version.

Replacing the 2008 3.2 AWD we tested, the 2009 line-up will start with an S80 with the same six-cylinder engine but driving only the front wheels, with a manufacturer's suggested retail price that is $5,000 less -- $49,995. The all-wheel drive now comes with the new 281-horsepower, turbocharged in-line six-cylinder T6 engine with a price of $56,495. At the top of the range is the 311-hp S80 V8 Executive Edition for $64,995, replacing the 2008 S80 V8. The transmission remains the same as in the 2008 models.

While based on the 235-hp six-cylinder engine, the new T6 engine is slightly smaller but includes an advanced turbocharger for the increase of 46 horsepower. Displacing 3.0 litres, the T6 delivers 295 ft-lb of torque from 1,500 to 4,800 rpm.

The smaller engine displacement of the T6 is the result of a slightly narrower cylinder bore and shorter stroke. The turbocharger accepts exhaust gases in two stages as the inflow is divided into two lots of three cylinders each, a system known as twin-scroll technology. Twin-scroll technology permits the use of a more compact and less complicated turbocharger and provides swift response on-par with traditional twin turbochargers found in some six-cylinder engines.

All S80 models will also be equipped with Bluetooth wireless mobile phone connectivity for the 2009 model year. The T6 will be equipped with a sunroof, a 160-watt 8-speaker audio system and Sirius Satellite Radio as standard equipment.

From the options list, the optional Navigation System ($2,500) has been enhanced with Real Time Traffic updates. In Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa (Vancouver will be added in late 2008), Volvo vehicles equipped with a Navigation System will be better able to avoid traffic by customizing their drive route around known obstructions that have been digitally transmitted to the system's receiver.

The optional $2,250 Dual Screen Rear Entertainment System (RSE) has also been updated for 2009. The screen has been enlarged by 43% and offers increased resolution, contrast and a brighter display for better visibility during daylight. The wireless headphones can now be folded for easier storage.

The new 2009 S80 Executive is said to deliver a level of Scandinavian luxury unmatched by any vehicle wearing the Iron Mark logo in the company's history. Prices start at $64,995, representing no change from the 2008 S80 V8 model despite adding a significant level of standard equipment. The exterior changes are subtle, with standard 18-in. alloy wheels and an Executive emblem on the C-Pillar.

The interior, however, is where the owner will experience the extent of the Executive edition upgrades. The seats, in addition to being heated and ventilated, now offer a massage function through five inflatable pockets built into the cushions. The massaging seats focus on the lower back releasing muscle fatigue and stiffness, using a wavelike motion and two hardness levels. Further, all seats are sheathed in exclusive 'Executive' soft leather.

"Our surveys show that customers attach particular importance to seating comfort and the quality of the leather," explains Lennart Stegland, managing director of Volvo Special Vehicles. "This is the reason why we are now updating the Volvo S80 Executive with a massage function and ventilation in the front seats, along with exceptionally soft hide on all the seats." Rear seat passengers get electrically adjustable seats.

The S80 Executive includes the Volvo Premium Sound System. With 12 speakers from Danish manufacturer DynAudio, Dolby Pro Logic II Surround processing and a digital amplifier from Alpine, the audio system is capable of delivering 650 watts of sound. A rain sensor is also standard. As well, the sedan is equipped with the Personal Car Communicator (PCC). More than just a keyless entry and drive fob, within 100 metres of the S80 Executive the driver is able to use the PCC to check if the doors are locked, unlocked, if the alarm has been triggered and -- through the use of a sensor -- if a human heartbeat has been detected. Beyond 100 meters, the driver can check if the lock button was pressed when the sedan was left.

In conclusion, whether you choose a 2008 model or wait for the 2009s, you're certain to be wanting to take long road trips with your family or friends when you have an S80 in the driveway. It's the comfortable kind of car that just beckons you to do so.

Bill Roebuck is the editor of CarTest.ca

File updated with 2009 data July 18, 2008

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