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.
2002 Volvo S80
The S80 offers an appropriately plush freeway ride—reminiscent of XJ-series Jaguars—and doesn’t give up too much in the twisties, aside from some body roll—just what you’d expect from a European performance sedan. The steering feel is on the light side; more feel and more tire (V-rated Michelins on optional 17-inch wheels) would correct an understeering tendency when the car is pushed, even with the stability and traction control engaged.
The brake pedal takes some getting used to, having a lot of travel and a somewhat sudden response pattern at the bottom. But the adaptive four-speed automatic is a nice piece, allowing me to zoom out of corners with a lot more panache than I entered them.
Luxury touches in the interior have been improved by using higher-quality materials in the steering wheel and door panels. Volvo seats—infinitely adjustable—offer world-class comfort and support. Charging through curvy roads in the S80 is like playing video games seated in an easy chair.
The S80 2.9 impresses with overall value, but the performance improvements don’t take it to the level of its German counterparts. You’d have to call on the T-6 for that mission (as well as a 4WD offering later this year), but the price point starts to suffer, and the company doesn’t have the performance heritage for consumers to make an intuitive choice.
A similar issue arises for the buyer who wants all the bells and whistles. The “Elite” package gives rear-seat passengers two additional inches of legroom and greater door-opening angles, along with color-keyed bumpers and side moldings, a lower side valence and genuine burled walnut wood inlays. The “Executive” package, available only with the T-6 Elite, adds special leather, a pair of rear-seat captain’s chairs, along with a DVD player, 68-channel color television and small refrigerator. A nice baby limo, but it’s not serving an established luxury heritage—at least not yet.
Volvo is making a stronger statement in the crossover-wagon segment than it is with luxury sedans. As Volvo’s flagship, the S80 risks getting eclipsed by the Cross-Country. On its own merits, however, the S80 2.9 offers comfort, safety, a touch of sex appeal, and a whole lot of value.
2002 Volvo S80 2.9 Sedan
Base price: $38,450; as tested, $40,425
Engine: 2.9-liter, DOHC, transversely mounted in-line six
Drivetrain: Four-speed overdrive automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 189.8 x 72.1 x 57.2
Wheelbase: 109.9 in
Curb weight: 3583 lb
EPA city/hwy: 19/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Anti—smash-and-grab, laminated side windows; anti-submarine seats; dual-stage driver and passenger airbags; stability and traction control; emergency trunk release, inflatable side curtain, xenon gas-discharge headlamps, rear fog light, three-point inertial-reel seatbelts with pretensioners; side-impact airbags; side-impact protection system; whiplash-protection seating system
Major standard equipment: Power glass sunroof; power heated outside mirrors; PremAir®-treated radiator; auto-dim rearview mirror; leather, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls; eight-way, power adjustable front seats with lumbar adjustment; leather seating surfaces; power windows; B-pillar mounted rear ventilation controls; four reading lamps; trip computer; 100-watt, eight-speaker, AM/FM/cassette/single-CD audio system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
The Car Connection Consumer Review
in your area