2011 Volvo S80 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 11, 2011

The 2011 Volvo S80 is safe and secure, fashion-forward, and just right for affluent families.

The 2011 Volvo S80 remains the flagship sedan of Volvo's lineup, a model that showcases the brand's priorities of comfort, safety, and technology, as well as a distinctly different notion of interior design.

Volvo might have a number of vehicles that are especially dynamic, design-wise, but the S80 isn't one of them; it's simply quite conservative-looking from the outside. The S80 feels more overtly stylish inside, where there's a version of Volvo's 'floating' center stack at its best; that's a thin center stack that resembles a high-end audio system, including extra storage just behind for smaller items. Materials are top-notch, and have been up to the caliber of traditional luxury cars in recent year, including chrome trims and real wood—with new silk-metal inlays and door-panel stitching added last year—and they bring a nice contrast to an interior design that's fundamentally a bit stark and Scandinavian.

The 2011 S80 has a some solid performance credentials—especially from the available 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged six in the all-wheel-drive T6—but while it has strong acceleration and a sense of responsiveness, its handling isn't quite up to snuff for a sport sedan.

Review continues below

Outside of safety and longevity, Volvos are probably best known for having excellent seats. And for that, the 2011 S80 is no exception. You can't do much better than the perches in the S80; they're better than those in some sport sedans costing much more, and perfect for those of a wide range of sizes, thanks to all their adjustability; and they have enough underlying firmness for long-distance comfort. The front seats also have optional heating and cooling with fan-driven ventilation. The nicely contoured backseat is large enough for three petite folks or two American-sized adults (with enough headroom and legroom), and the climate-control system has vents built into the B-pillars for better comfort in back. While materials go outside convention a little bit, along with the design, there's a lot to get comfortable with inside. Soft leather upholstery and trims are satisfying and luxurious, and there's little if any hard plastic up at eye level.

The 2011 Volvo S80 is first and foremost a comfortable, safe luxury car; but dive into the options list and you'll find enough to satisfy the most tech-savvy—or serious audiophiles. This year, Volvo has bolstered the S80's feature lists by adding a few standard features and expanding the available options. Sirius Satellite Radio and a six-month subscription is now standard, and dual xenon HID headlamps with Active Bending Light are now a standalone option. Other topo features include an excellent 650-watt Dynaudio surround sound system, and several packages including trim and appearance upgrades plus a (somewhat dated) DVD-based nav system. Still offered in the S80 is the Personal Car Communicator, a special keyfob system that can report the security status of your vehicle remotely—including the capability to detect an intruder in your vehicle.

8

2011 Volvo S80

Styling

The exterior of the 2011 Volvo S80 is a bit cold and conservative, but inside there's a lot to warm up to.

Volvo might have a number of vehicles that are especially dynamic, design-wise, but the S80 isn't one of them; it's simply quite conservative-looking from the outside. A new grille, some chrome accents, and a more visible dual exhaust helped sharpen the S80's appearance last year, but relative to other luxury sedans its profile and outside details are rather unremarkable.

The S80 feels more overtly stylish inside, where there's a version of Volvo's 'floating' center stack at its best; that's a thin center stack that resembles a high-end audio system, including extra storage just behind for smaller items. Materials are top-notch, and have been up to the caliber of traditional luxury cars in recent year, including chrome trims and real wood—with new silk-metal inlays and door-panel stitching added last year—and they bring a nice contrast to an interior design that's fundamentally a bit stark and Scandinavian.

For 2010, the S80 gets other minor changes inside, including silk-metal inlays and new door panel stitching.

7

2011 Volvo S80

Performance

The 2011 Volvo S80's powertrains feel strong and willing, but overall the driving experience, even in T6 form is one of competence, not excitement.

The 2011 S80 has a some solid performance credentials, and while they give this sedan strong acceleration and a sense of responsiveness, its handling isn't quite up to snuff for a sport sedan.

The standard S80 comes with a 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, with a six-speed automatic transmission, including Geartronic manual control. Overall, it's a sweet, refined engine, and brings an eager, responsive feel to the car, even though it's not downright quick. The 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged six that's in the T6 (in combination with all-wheel drive) won't give you the seat-of-your-pants kick that the now-discontinued V-8 did—nor does it have its delicious sound—but it will move the S80 very quickly. The all-wheel-drive system in the T6 can send nearly all torque to the front wheels during normal driving but can reapportion up to 50 percent to the rear wheels as needed.

In T6 trim, the Volvo S80 offers an active suspension system that continually adjusts the S80's shocks from Comfort, Sport, and Advanced to fit varied types of driving; it can also tie in with the variable-assist power steering, which ranges from light to firm. While the S80 drives well, it's not the sort of sport sedan to get excited about, even in T6 guise; its handling, although safe, is just too disconnected for a sport sedan.

9

2011 Volvo S80

Comfort & Quality

Not everyone will love the interior of the 2010 Volvo S80 because of some of the finer design points, but its comfort, spaciousness, and refinement are undeniable.

Outside of safety and longevity, Volvos are probably best known for having excellent seats. And for that, the 2011 S80 is no exception. You can't do much better than the perches in the S80; they're better than those in some sport sedans costing much more, and perfect for those of a wide range of sizes, thanks to all their adjustability; and they have enough underlying firmness for long-distance comfort. The front seats also have optional heating and cooling with fan-driven ventilation. The nicely contoured backseat is large enough for three petite folks or two American-sized adults (with enough headroom and legroom), and the climate-control system has vents built into the B-pillars for better comfort in back.

The trunk is one of the smallest in this class, at just under 15 cubic feet, but it can be expanded by flipping forward the 60/40-split seatbacks.

Throughout the line, ride comfort is great; it's not as stiff and highly controlled as a sport sedan, but it's never bouncy or wallowy either.

While materials go outside convention a little bit, along with the design, there's a lot to get comfortable with inside. Soft leather upholstery and trims are satisfying and luxurious, and there's little if any hard plastic up at eye level.

10

2011 Volvo S80

Safety

The 2011 Volvo S80 has an excellent combination of traditional occupant protection, along with modern tech, and it's one of the safest sedans at any price.

Volvo has a very strong safety heritage, and the S80 in particular has an excellent safety record going many years back. For 2011, the S80 continues to look like one of the safety full-size sedan choices.

The 2011 S80 gets top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal, side, and rear impact, and a 'good' rating in the new roof strength test, which gauges protection in the even of a rollover. It hasn't, though, been rated by the federal government.

Front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes and stability control, are standard. In addition to all the usual accident avoidance and occupant safety items such as front, side, and side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control, a new system primes the brakes before an accident; blind-spot detectors send audible alerts. There's also Volvo's Personal Car Communicator, a keyfob-connected in-car sensor that tells you if your security system has detected a break-in—or even a heartbeat.

Additionally, the optional Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) includes warning lights mounted on the front pillars, to alert the driver if there's another vehicle in the blind spot.

9

2011 Volvo S80

Features

If you're willing to pay a little extra, there are a lot of tech features on tap, to add to this sedan's already rich traditional luxury feature set.

The 2011 Volvo S80 is first and foremost a comfortable, safe luxury car; but dive into the options list and you'll find enough to satisfy the most tech-savvy—or serious audiophiles.

For 2011, Volvo has bolstered the S80's feature lists by adding a few standard features and expanding the available options. Sirius Satellite Radio and a six-month subscription is now standard, and dual xenon HID headlamps with Active Bending Light are now a standalone option.

A Multimedia Package adds a magnificent 650-watt premium surround sound system, a navigation system with real-time traffic, and a rear camera system. With the T6, we recommend the Dynamic Package, which includes a lowered sport chassis, the bi-xenon headlamps, and headlamp washers, plus flashy Fortuna diamond-cut alloys. Other major options include a Climate Package, and a new Inscription Package, which brings Sovereign Hide soft leather upholstery, a walnut wood steering wheel, walnut inlays, ventilated front seats, and other soft leather trim. It's offered in several new two-tone interior combinations.

Volvo's DVD-driven nav system still feels a bit outdated, and isn't the easiest to use. Some might find the cabin interface in general a little confusing at first; there's a somewhat confusing panel of small buttons on the dash, but most minor changes can be made through the menu system and a steering-wheel toggle.

Still offered in the S80 is the Personal Car Communicator, a special keyfob system that can report the security status of your vehicle remotely—including the capability to detect an intruder in your vehicle.

6

2011 Volvo S80

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Volvo S80 isn't anything close to a guzzler, but as an everyday commuting vehicle it's not very green.

Across the board, the S80's powertrains are very thirsty, and this is one of the S80's chief failings—though Volvo has dropped the thirstiest, the V-8, for 2011. The base six-cylinder version gets 19 mpg city, 27 highway, and even the turbo T6 version, with all-wheel drive, only gets one mile per gallon lower.

However in drives of the S80 we've seen numbers toward the lower end of that scale in mixed driving—mostly because of this sedan's 4,000-pound-plus heft, we suspect.

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8.6
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 10.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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