But when your stated competitive group included the Acura 3.5 RL, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac Seville, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS300, Lincoln Continental and LS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Oldsmobile Aurora, and Saab 9-5—strong personalities all—it’s hard to make a distinctive impression. Volvo’s traditional values of safety and engineering have, with varying degrees of success, been appropriated by competitors. When entry price hovers at the $40,000 threshold, strong performance and/or luxury statements are mandatory, and the base S80 2.9 has had trouble finding a voice, losing recognition even to its testosterone-tweaked, twin-turbo twin, the S80 T-6.
But the 2.9 has made some serious progress for 2002. Three horsepower (the DOHC in-line six is now rated at 194 hp) have been sacrificed in the name of low-end torque. The improvement was achieved by increasing the control area of the variable camshaft for the intake valves and by fitting a new inlet manifold for more effective gas exchange. A new exhaust pipe, which is designed for high low-end torque, also makes a contribution. Torque at 3000 rpm has, for example, been increased by about seven percent, according to Volvo, resulting in a marked improvement in throttle response and acceleration. The traction control has also been improved by increasing the speed range of the system, up to 75 mph from 44 mph.