2013 Volvo S80 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 27, 2012

The 2013 Volvo S80 is supremely comfortable, safe, and stylish sedan—and a great pick for fashion-conscious families—although those wanting a true performance edge should look elsewhere.

As the flagship of the Volvo line, the S80 showcases the curvier new side of Volvo, but in a somewhat more conservative—some might say prestige-oriented—way.

And that's true especially from the outside. And although the look is attractive from the side, with an dashing roofline, and a look that's unmistakeably Volvo from the front, the S80 looks dated from some angles—and definitely less daring than the smaller, flamboyant S60 sport sedan. The instrument-panel and cabin design of the 2013 Volvo S80 show no signs of looking dated or stodgy, though. In fact, the style mavens will still be very satisfied with the against-the-grain look inside, with contrasting materials and Volvo's 'floating' center stack—a thin panel that houses a high-end audio system, with extra storage behind.

The performance-oriented 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged six in the all-wheel-drive T6 is an impressive powertrain that can move the S80 quickly; but even with it the S80's just not that much fun to drive. Factor in a lack of steering feel, and the sense that you're carrying a lot of heft, and this is a car that definitely feels more agreeable on the highway. Go with the base straight-six and front-wheel drive, and you'll have a car that feels a little more nimble, if you don't need the all-weather ability. Again, highway trips are its forte; with the comfortable suspension settings and quiet interior, the S80 devours the miles.

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There's one front-page story for the 2013 Volvo S80 that can't bear enough emphasis: It has great seats. Whether you're tall or short, thin or thick, we can't imagine much better than these front perches. Those in back will be happy, too. Adults fit quite well, thanks to smart contouring—although don't expect limo-like space—and you can fit three across if your passengers are more petite. The leather upholstery doesn't let you down either; it's a good mid-point between plush and durable enough for family use. Also, with real wood finishes, metallic touches, and contrasting hues, the materials stray from the typical luxury-car convention, yet the interior will never strike you as ordinary or mass-market.

Ride quality on standard S80 models is perhaps firmer than some will expect; but out on the open road, it makes more sense as the S80's stoic ride character translates to excellent stability and none of the queasy, bouncy character that some other softer luxury cars possess.

All the usual luxury-sedan features are offered here, but it's safety—and especially active safety—that's central to the S80 package. Add the available Technology Package, and you get a suite of radar- and camera-related active-safety features including Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning system. This year that package also includes a Road Sign Information system as well. Rain-sensor wipers and headlight washers are now included in all 2013 Volvo S80s, and 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—has been made standard.

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2013 Volvo S80

Styling

The 2013 Volvo S80 is conservative on the outside, but inside its stark contrasts and rich details make it a showcase of modern Scandinavian design.

As the flagship of the Volvo line, the S80 showcases the curvier new side of Volvo, but in a somewhat more conservative—some might say prestige-oriented—way. And that's true especially from the outside.

Visually, the S80 has carried through for several model years now essentially unchanged. Several years ago it got a retouch, with a new grille and some more chrome accents, as well as a more visible exhaust outlet—all serving to sharpen the look. And although the look is attractive from the side, with an dashing roofline, and a look that's unmistakeably Volvo from the front, the S80 looks dated from some angles—and definitely less daring than the smaller, flamboyant S60 sport sedan.

The instrument-panel and cabin design of the 2013 Volvo S80 show no signs of looking dated or stodgy. In fact, the style mavens will still be very satisfied. Volvo's 'floating' center stack—a thin panel that houses a high-end audio system, with extra storage behind—remains unrivaled for functionality and style. Materials take a stark, Scandinavian tack, with light and dark tones providing contrast, along with silk-metal inlays and real wood veneers that fully look the part of a luxury-car cabin.

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2013 Volvo S80

Performance

The 2013 Volv S80 models are competent and confident, but not even the higher-performance T6 feels like a sport sedan.

The 2013 Volvo S80 can be equipped, in T6 versions, with the same 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine that's under the hood of the S60 T6 sport sedan. It definitely feels a little more under the reins in the S80; but at the same time, the S80 is a respectable performer up against luxury sedans its own size.

That said, the S80 can move quickly, and safely carve its way along canyon roads quite rapidly; but it's never all that much fun from behind the wheel. The S80's dull steering feel is part of the problem, but there's also the ever-present feeling that this is a big, heavy front-wheel-drive (or in T6 form, all-wheel-drive) sedan. With the T6, you also get an active suspension system with Comfort, Sport, and Advanced modes; it's a pretty sophisticated system and ties in with the variable-assist power steering, which varies its assist from quite light to very firm. Again, it all feels very artificial, though.

The all-wheel drive system that's offered in the S80 can send up to 50 percent to the rear wheels when needed, but it's more a system for inclement weather than it is one for high-performance driving.

On base models, you instead get a 240-hp straight-six and front-wheel drive. This is a combination we actually like for its straightforward presentation as a well-equipped luxury car; and as that, it's surprisingly nimble, maneuverable, and economical.

In any of its forms, what the S80 really does well—even against recently updated models like the BMW 5-Series or Audi A6—is on the open road. With a ride that's firm yet comfortable, a very quiet interior, superb seats, and a combination of confident tracking and strong passing power, and the S80 is the way to do long road trips in style.

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2013 Volvo S80

Comfort & Quality

The S80 is a near-perfect long-distance hauler, considering its seating comfort, spaciousness, and refined ride.

There's one front-page story for the 2013 Volvo S80 that can't bear enough emphasis: It has great seats. Whether you're tall or short, thin or thick, we can't imagine much better than these front perches. With their wide range of adjustability, and available fan-driven heating and cooling, they're well suited to long-distance hauls.

Those in back will be happy, too. Adults fit quite well, thanks to smart contouring—although don't expect limo-like space—and you can fit three across if your passengers are more petite. Rear passengers get climate-control vents built into the B-pillars for better comfort.

Trunk space is surprisingly small, at just under 15 cubic feet, but the rear seatbacks (split 60/40) do flip forward.

The leather upholstery doesn't let you down either; it's a good mid-point between plush and durable enough for family use. Also, with real wood finishes, metallic touches, and contrasting hues, the materials stray from the typical luxury-car convention, yet the interior will never strike you as ordinary or mass-market.

Ride quality on standard S80 models is perhaps firmer than some will expect; but out on the open road, it makes more sense as the S80's stoic ride character translates to excellent stability and none of the queasy, bouncy character that some other softer luxury cars possess.

Review continues below
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2013 Volvo S80

Safety

Even though the S80 is one of the older models in Volvo's lineup, the brand has kept it stocked with the latest active-safety features.

For safety, Volvo is legendary. The Swedish brand has not only pioneered and championed some of the common-sense safety items we use today—like three-point seatbelts—but it's also in recent years introduced some downright innovative solutions for actively achieving reductions in injuries to those inside and outside the vehicle.

Volvo's City Safety system, which helps brake (even to a stop at lower speeds) to avoid a collision with vehicles ahead, comes standard. And with an available Technology Package, you can step up to a suite of radar- and camera-related active-safety features including Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning system. This year that package also includes a Road Sign Information system as well. Separately, there's a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) that places warning lights mounted on the front pillars, to alert the driver if there's another vehicle in the blind spot.

There are a couple of newly standard safety features for 2013, too. Rain-sensor wipers and headlight washers are now included in all Volvo S80s, and 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—has been made standard. And there's a new Tunnel Detection feature for the headlamps.

All that aside, the S80 hasn't been crash-tested by the federal government in recent years. But we do feel confident enough to give it a top score of 10, as with all those features, Volvo's longstanding reputation, and its repeat status as an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick; it's quite simply one of the safest cars on the market.

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2013 Volvo S80

Features

Plenty of high-tech option possibilities complement the S80's rich interior appointments.

The 2013 Volvo S80 is an aging design, but you wouldn't know it in looking at its feature set. The S80 includes a rich set of traditional luxury features, leading-edge safety features, and simple but effective infotainment.

Last year Volvo reconfigured its S80 model line into three trims: base, Premier Plus, and Platinum. For 2013 it continues with that strategy, although each trim gets even more feature content, without prices rising appreciably.

Fog lamps, heated outside mirrors, cruise, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, Bluetooth, and Sirius Satellite Radio are all included even in the base model. And for 2013, it adds Keyless Drive, the Personal Car Communicator, headlight washers, rain-sensor wipers, Tunnel Detection, and a new shift knob.

Premier Plus models add just a few more extras, like a garage-door opener, while it's Platinum models that pile on the luxury and tech, with premium sound (650-watt), iPod/USB inputs, HD Radio, navigation with real-time traffic, rear park assist, dual xenon HID headlamps with Active Bending Light are now a standalone option. A new Volvo Sensus screen-based system is newly standard, too, across the model line. For 2013 Volvo has improved the functionality of the steering-wheel scroll controller, for this system that can be controlled with either that or the touch screen.

Heated rear seats, dual active xenon headlamps, and a dynamic suspension system are among the features offered in other major packages--Climate (heated front and rear seats, heated headlamp washers, rain-sensor wipers), Inscription (leather, ventilated seats, walnut trim), and Technology (adaptive cruise, collision warning with Full Auto Brake, Distance Alert, Driver Alert Control, and Lane Departure Warning).

A power sunroof, the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), and upgraded wheels are among the few standalone options.

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2013 Volvo S80

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Volvo S80 is reasonably efficient in front-wheel-drive form, if you make good use of all the passenger space.

Considering the mission of the 2013 Volvo S80—to carry four adults (or maybe five) in absolute comfort and safety, swaddled with conveniences—it's a reasonably green pick, provided you go with the front-wheel-drive model.

Last year Volvo managed to eke a little more mileage out of its six-cylinder engine; front-wheel-drive S80 models now get 20 mpg city, 29 highway, which isn't bad for such a large sedan.

You give up a lot for the all-wheel-drive model—2 mpg in the city, and 3 mpg on the highway—and we're not sure it's worth it unless you truly need the snow-driving security.

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8.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 10
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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