From Left To Right: The big Swede leans more toward the middle.
There’s one element of Volvo‘s image it doesn’t like to broadcast: The brand is a key icon of the stereotypical liberal–or, as University of California, Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg describes the demographic, the “latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show.” Volvo wants to sell the all-new 2007 S80 to conservatives, too.
While the new Volvo flagship’s design whispers its luxury in an egalitarian way, any devotee of modern Scandinavian elegance, conservative or liberal, will like the S80. An optional Yamaha V-8 will allow bourbon-drinking, red-meat eating, Wall Street Journal-reading, Marine haircut-wearing, Crawford, Texas-loving right-wing freaks to drive it stealthily and be admired for owning a safe, virtuous car even as fuel supplies tighten.
The S80 has lost the Swedish Buick look of the 1999-2006 model. The new design looks like a grownup S60, slightly stretched with more chrome. The C-pillar is faster, and its unity of design makes the old car look awkward. Only the rear view is a bit unresolved, where a thin horizontal chrome strip bridges the taillamps to keep the back end from looking too chunky. The new S80 is taller and you sit fairly high in the driver’s seat, yet there’s ample headroom, even with a sunroof. It has roughly the same overall length as the outgoing model, but with a longer wheelbase, wider stance, and aforementioned taller overall height. It also has a new, stiffer body structure and an L-shaped front suspension link attachment for more wheel movement. An active three-mode suspension (comfort, sport, and advanced) based on Volvo’s Four-C technology uses sensors to adjust the suspension to road conditions.
With that rakish C-pillar, the rear seat looks like it should be cramped. But the car has loads of rear leg- and headroom, courtesy in part to a fairly low seat cushion that’ll have a six-footer sitting with his knees bent upward. Colors, material, and fit and finish are all of high, harmonious quality. There’s optional perforated-leather heated and cooled front seats, a superb optional 130-watt Alpine digital amp with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround and 12 Dynaudio loudspeakers (40-watt amplifier and eight speakers standard). There’s the “2001: A Space Odyssey” monolith navigation screen, rising from the middle of the front-center Dynaudio speaker via a wireless remote control. Volvo has redesigned the radio controls so that the right knob changes radio stations, no longer serving as source control. There’s also an MP3 player input inside the console box.
Volvo’s optional Personal Car Communicator tells you whether you’ve locked the doors and whether they were locked when you come back to the car, and uses a heartbeat sensor inside the car to tell you if there’s a human you might not know hiding there. Has someone at Volvo has been renting slasher thrillers from Netflix? Trigger the pushbutton starter with the key in your pocket or slide the key into a handy slot next to the button. It’s one of the better pushbutton starters extant.
There are no iDrive-style contraptions or overengineered solutions to newly discovered problems. Volvo says engineers went out of their way to provide only user-friendly technology. Designers combined this with an interior that looks inviting, not ostentatious. It has the “flying bridge” center console first seen in the S40, supple leathers, and a choice of two shades of real wood trim or etched aluminum trim, which at presstime Volvo was deciding whether to import to the U.S. Tell ’em you want it.
Two new gee-whiz safety technologies get mixed reviews. The BLIS blind-spot warning system works much better than Audi‘s, which in the Q7 uses big, yellow light strips inside the sideview mirrors to warn you of a car in your left or right blind spot. The S80 has smaller amber lights under the A-pillars’ audio speakers for gentler notice. Volvo saves its alarmism for a big red light on the dash above the front cowl. Using the adaptive cruise control to determine if you’re approaching a solid object too quickly without decelerating, it buzzes and flashes abruptly (without taking control of throttle or brake). But like adaptive cruise, it has trouble distinguishing objects off-center or at a right angle, so a car that had pulled off the road at an S-turn in our Southwestern Swedish drive and a farm tractor that made a quick left turn into a driveway caused it to buzz. You can switch it off.
These options are available whether you choose the brand-new 3.2-liter inline-six or the Yamaha 4.4-liter 60-degree V-8 from the XC90, offered for the first time in a Volvo sedan. The transmission with either engine is a smooth, new six-speed unit, with a gearshift-operated manumatic control (but no paddle shifters, we’re happy to say; no one should get into this car and pretend he’s Fernando Alonso). Manually shifting the six gears is satisfying, and the tranny won’t upshift for you until you exceed the redline. Europe gets an optional six-speed manual with any of three engines, which includes an updated version of Volvo’s 2.4-liter inline-five turbodiesel, with particulate trap, rated 185 horsepower and 295 pound-feet.
The V-8 comes with the XC90’s all-wheel-drive system standard. AWD isn’t available with the front-drive six, although Volvo may offer it with a different six in the future. With AWD, 95 percent of torque goes to the front wheels under normal conditions, but most of that torque is shifted to the rear wheels on demand. Under full-throttle standing starts, there’s enough rear squat and torque-shift lag to feel torque steer when going for the zip-to-60. Once it settles, the car clicks smoothly through the six gears and provides satisfying grunt, although the engine noise is high and whiny for a V-8. The six is less quick, of course, but most S80 buyers will be happy with this smooth, torquey new engine.
The S80 had excessive road noise for a luxury car. Volvo says it plans to work on the bushings to solve the problem up to its summer introduction in Europe (we have to wait until next February). Handling is predictable, and optional speed-sensitive steering, in which boost disappears at high speeds, has a light, precise touch with excellent feedback. It’s a great improvement over the old S80’s numb steering. You’ll have a good sense of the road conditions, and you’ll be able to find optimum safe speeds on wet, slippery surfaces. Most will prefer the “advanced” setting on the three-mode system, even when it gets firm on chattery roads with the V-8 sport package’s 18-inch wheels. Body roll is moderate in corners, but without much understeer. It’s not trying to be a BMW, but the S80 feels more tossable and light on its feet than a non-AMG Mercedes. More to the point of its direct competitors, the Volvo feels more involving than an Acura RL, but it doesn’t command the road as an Audi A6 does. It’s a ride-handling combo that seems right for the modern Scandinavian-furniture feel of the interior.
Coming from a brand with its stereotype, the S80 achieves a great deal of balance. It’s a sedan with a comfortable, elegant, but not ostentatious interior and a clean, almost plain exterior that belies its prestigious intentions. That kind of image should go over well with modern thinkers from the right and the left.
|2007 Volvo S80|
|Base price||$38,000-$49,000 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, FWD (I-6) or AWD (V-8), 5-pass, 4-door, sedan|
|Engines||3.2L/235-hp/236 lb-ft DOHC 24-valve I-6; 4.4L/311-hp/325 lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|Curb weight, F/R DIST||3500-3850 (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||191.0 x 73.0 x 59.0 in|
|0-62 mph||6-5-8.0 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|On Sale In The U.S.||February 2007|
S80 = MKS
Can Volvo do for Lincoln what Mercedes-Benz did for Chrysler? Just as the 300 and Dodge variants use the last-generation E-Class platform, the outgoing S80’s platform (which continues in the S60, V70, and XC90) has evolved into the D3 architecture underneath the Ford Five Hundred/Freestyle, Mercury Montego, and now, the 2008 Lincoln MKS.
But while Ford was eager to point out the Volvo connection to the Fords and Mercury, especially in issues of safety, it’s low-key about that connection in the 2008 Lincoln MKS, which replaces the outgoing LS. The Volvo platform is flexible–it serves the smaller S60, the V70, and XC90–and like the Fords and Mercury is stretched to 203.8 inches overall in the MKS, with a 114.4-inch wheelbase. As shown in concept, the Lincoln has 20-inch wheels, all-wheel drive, the Yamaha V-8, and six-speed automatic. A base front-drive model with the new Volvo 3.2-liter six would be a good way to amortize that powertrain.
For the 2010 model year, Lincoln will stretch the platform further for its new “modern flagship,” a front- or all-wheel-drive sedan codenamed E386. Lincoln is expected to sell it without dropping its venerable Town Car. Meanwhile, the new S80 platform will be the basis for a big 2008 wagon and possibly a hybrid-powered 2010 sedan.