Over the past decade, the cars coming from the once-staid Volvo brand have been curvier, sexier, and ever more luxurious than those boxy, utilitarian workhorses of the ’70s and ’80s. More importantly, the performance and interior appointments of Volvos have improved to the point where they can take on the best luxury cars.
Yet luxury still means something different to Volvo, and to understand what it is and why, it’s necessary to take a look at Swedish culture and heritage. The idea of Swedish luxury is quite the opposite of traditional luxury, according to Volvo, as it doesn’t aim to be exclusive. It’s less apparent than the gadgetry and driver-focused devices in top German cars, or the wool, leather, wood, and other fine materials in high-end British brands.
According to Steve Harper, Volvo’s British-born platform chief designer for the S80, the idea of Swedish luxury involves aesthetic contrasts and accessible technology. A Swedish luxury is always functional but never pretentious or exclusive. Technology for technology’s sake is to be avoided.
2007 Volvo S80
Saving time…with your right foot
2007 Volvo S80Enlarge Photo
And to keep all that torque from driving the front wheels crazy, Volvo’s latest Haldex-supplied all-wheel-drive system is standard on the V-8 model. It sends nearly all torque to the front wheels during normal driving, but can reapportion up to 50 percent to the rear wheels as needed, either preemptively for better stability under heavy throttle or with less than one-seventh of a wheel rotation if a front tire slips.
There’s also a turbocharged version of the six a year or two down the road, though there’s almost no chance of getting a manual transmission.
2007 Volvo S80
Both engines are paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission that has a separate manual shift mode (Geartronic). Most of the time, in Drive, shifts were smooth, but with the V-8 there was some lumpy shifting and indecision at moderate throttle — especially when you back off from full throttle to partial throttle. But the extraordinary V-8 especially makes up for it with its instant throttle response, ever-present torque, and sweet, raspy sound.
Even with the V-8, the S80 isn’t at all a gas-guzzler. On the trip computer, in a preview drive in Sweden, we saw an average of 12.2 liters per 100 km over a mix of rural and suburban driving that varied from relaxed to aggressive, a figure that equates to about 20 miles per gallon.
Both the V-8 and six-cylinder cars we drove were equipped with the optional Sport Package, which besides the tire and wheel upgrade also includes variable-assist Servotronic power steering with steering effort that can be adjusted, via an instrument-panel menu. With three levels of effort, it can range from quite heavy to fingertip-light, and assist actually completely disappears at high speed. It’s nicely weighted for a [mainly] front-driver, but don’t expect a lot of feedback from the road.
The Four-C active-damping system is also part of the Sport Package. Four-C now offers three settings: Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. ‘Sport’ offers more body control and sharper responses, and ‘Advanced’ minimizes suspension travel, with firmer settings, for enthusiastic driving on smooth roads. On the mostly smooth, coarsely surfaced Swedish roads on our test loop, with the optional Sport package and grippy Pirelli tires, we wished for an even tighter suspension setting to take advantage of the V-8’s power out of corners, but we’d guess that the Advanced setting will be plenty for rapid driving on pockmarked American roads.
2007 Volvo S80
In ordinary driving, both the V-8 and the six felt very similar in terms of ride and handling — the V-8 itself is only about 55 pounds heavier than the six — until you step down on the gas. Brakes, as would be expected, are tremendously able.
Back to appearances, on the outside, the new S80 is a distillation of the outgoing S80’s rather conservative lines with the current S60’s slightly more radical shape. Even though the platform is extensively different, taking on more Ford global underpinnings, exterior dimensions are more or less the same as those on the outgoing S80, but the net effect — perhaps of the more rounded greenhouse — is that it S80 looks a bit more compact, especially from a distance.
Inside, what counts
The changes are more dramatic inside, especially around the instrument panel, where the curves are smooth and graceful and the smoothly sloped, coarsely finished padded dash top (said by Volvo to resemble a snowy meadow) takes up quite a bit of real estate over a neatly designed instrument panel. Most striking inside is the ‘floating’ center-stack instrument panel design like that used in the style-setting S40. With a look that brings to mind flat-screen monitors and high-end audio systems, including buttons inspired by the popular Bang & Olufsen remote control, the S80’s center stack contains controls for audio and climate control, along with a very simple menu-system screen at the top. Most notable in the center stack is a new system that enables some customization of the car, including seat and mirror settings, audio and navigation settings, and steering effort.
The screen for the optional navigation system pops up from the top of the instrument panel, much higher and in the line of sight than in other cars, and hides away when not in use.
2007 Volvo S80
2007 Volvo S80Enlarge Photo
Volvo is staying with transverse engines, according to engineers, for their crash-safety advantages. The new six-cylinder is only three millimeters longer than the in-line five that the majority of Volvo models have used for the past decade.
While the platform remains similar to the outgoing S80, the crash structure has been extensively modified, with four different grades of steel used for more progressive deformation in a crash. The side airbag system also has more separate chambers, for better protection for a wider range of occupants, and the WHIPS whiplash protection system has been improved.
One of the best preventative safety features is optional, though. With the available adaptive cruise control, there’s a new Collision Warning with Brake Support, which primes the braking system for peak boost if a collision is expected. Before such a situation, there’s a red warning bar projected on the windshield, and a loud warning beep.
Another clever new feature is the camera-operated blind-spot detection system, termed with the acronym BLIS. Just in front of the rearview mirrors and inside the cabin, there’s a red light that illuminates if a vehicle is in the blind spot. Though not officially a safety system according to Volvo, BLIS is a useful driver’s aid.
2007 Volvo S80
There’s also a smart keyfob system, called the Personal Car Communicator and unlike that offered by any other automaker, that can tell you up to 100 meters away the status of the security system, with a system of color-coded lights, details such as whether or not the alarm has gone off, or even whether there is a heartbeat inside.
In addition to a high-end audio package including surround sound and twelve speakers by the Danish audiophile company Dynaudio, there will be two main options packages on the S80. The Sport Package will add the 4C chassis system, ventilated front seats, active headlamps, and speed-sensitive steering; the Climate Package brings heated seats, nozzles, and wipers, and headlamp cleaning. Standalone options include run-flat tires, a navigation system, adaptive cruise control, park assist, the blind-spot detection system, the Personal Car Communicator keyfob, and Bluetooth compatibility.
The new S80 will go on sale in February, as a 2007 model. A front-wheel-drive six will start under $40,000, while the V-8 will start at under $50,000.
We see the S80 as being a very formidable competitor for the Acura RL and Audi A6, with a good blend of comfort, sophistication, and, of course safety. While its outside styling definitely plays it safe, it’s matched with some very clever design inside…and, of course, that time-saving V-8. That may be exactly the luxury to attract new buyers to the brand.
Base price: est. $39,000
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Engine: 3.2-liter in-line six, 235 hp/236 lb-ft; 4.4-liter V-8, 311 hp/325 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic; front- or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.0 x 73.2 x 58.7 in
Wheelbase: 111.6 in
Curb weight: 3490 lb (six)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20 mpg average (est.)
Safety equipment: Inflatable-curtain side airbags, stability control system, Whiplash Control System (WHIPS), Brake Assist, Ready Alert Brakes, Fading Brake Support
Major standard equipment: Dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows/locks/mirrors, power driver’s seat, tilt/telescope steering wheel, wood trim, cruise control, electric foldable rear headrests, AM/FM/CD sound system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles