Unlike the not-so-distant past, it is hard to identify in the present exactly who Volvo is trying to appeal to. For years their reputation was built on virtually unparalleled safety and utilitarian features that gave birth to both tank-like boxy cars and a passionate following of Volvo-ites who (let’s be honest) most likely had elbow patches on at least one blazer in their closet. Driving a Volvo was like a badge of honor that said, “I could afford a Mercedes, but I’m not that shallow.” We all know where things have gone from there. The competition got up to speed with most if not all of Volvo’s safety measures, and while under the guidance of Ford, quality and reliability that had been a mainstay of the brand fell off a cliff.
Which makes the 2009 Volvo S80 and the forthcoming revision in 2010 even more important. This is not some flash in the pan “crossover,” SUV or two-door hatchback. With the exception of perhaps the wagon, nothing is as important to the Swedish automaker than reestablishing the S80 as the most logical, economical and reliable luxury sedan on the market.
The 2009 S80 is available in three trim levels: 3.2, T6 and V8. Each corresponds to a different engine, though with available options, all can be considered sufficiently luxurious.
Typically when talking “performance,” engine size, torque, horsepower and 0-60 mph numbers are spewed out as an indication of a cars guts (or lack thereof). But it is fitting with the S80 to begin with one of their historically strongest points: safety. A relief for Volvo-lovers is the S80’s reclaiming for 2009 of class-leading safety appointments. The list of safety technologies goes way beyond the typical airbags and ABS that we are all accustomed to on even the cheapest of vehicles. High-end features include a blind-spot warning system, an optional adaptive cruise control system to avoid rear-end collisions along with an “Auto Brake” mode that reduces brake reaction time, lane-departure warning and a security system that contains a heartbeat sensor to detect unwanted visitors possibly crouching in the backseat. Other standard equipment includes antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags featuring separate chambers for chest and hip protection, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front head restraints and seatbelt pre-tensioners in all five positions. In total, you can be assured that almost every possible safety feature available on the market is contained within the 2009 Volvo S80.
As impressive as it is in safety, it is no where near the segment leader in a traditional performance sense. This is particularly true with the base 3.2-liter inline-six cylinder engine that makes 235 horses, whose front-wheel-drive is outmatched by the heft of the S80. The top two engines, the turbocharged3.0-liter T6 and the 4.4-liter V8 that produces 311 horses are both sufficiently strong, but despite the AWD on the upper-trimmed models, nothing about any of the S80’s handling abilities leads drivers to suggest or care to put this car on a track somewhere. But isn’t that ok? It was Volvo’s straying into the sport sedan realm of the Bavarian automakers that contributed to their slide into mediocrity to begin with. Even so the S80 V8 is capable of reaching 60 mph in 5.9 seconds while the T6 comes in at 6.6 seconds. All versions of the S80 use a six-speed automatic transmission with consensus among testers that the T6 is the best choice of the bunch.
EPA estimates for the S80 vary wildly from the 16 and 25 mpg in city and highway driving with the 3.2-liter engine, to the rather thirsty 15 and 23 mpg for the T6. The V8 model achieves a slightly worse 15 and 22 mpg in the same conditions.
Gone are the days of the design-by-ruler look, but in comparison to other luxury sedans, the S80 is still uniquely conservative in comparison to other luxury cars. Ironically, many diehard Volvo fans may think that despite the un-sporty design of the current model, that the S80 has not held on to its stylistic lineage. Beyond the traditional blocked-out grille and badging, the most striking design element are the terraced “shoulders” that extend above the wheels that at least give the S80 an identity lacking in certain brands like Lexus.
Interior and Amenities
The front-wheel-drive S80 3.2 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, active bi-xenon headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a sunroof, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, eight-way power front seats with driver memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and an eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD changer and an auxiliary input jack. The midlevel all-wheel-drive S80 T6 adds an electronic parking brake and upgraded instrumentation. The S80 V8 adopts 18-inch wheels, headlight washers, front and rear park assist, satellite radio, massaging ventilated front seats, heated seats front and rear, an analog clock, an interior air quality system and the keyless ignition with heartbeat-sensing security system.
All trim levels are eligible for the Sport Package, which provides 18-inch wheels, Volvo’s Four-C adaptive suspension (with three driver-selectable modes), speed-sensitive power steering (with driver-adjustable assist levels) and ventilated front seats. The new Convenience Package adds a 12-speaker Dynaudio sound system and satellite radio to 3.2 and T6 models, while the Climate Package provides heated front and rear seats and headlight washers. The new Executive Package for the T6 tacks on special 17-inch alloy wheels, wood cabin accents, massaging ventilated front seats, upgraded leather and an analog clock. Other options to consider include various 18-inch alloy wheels, a navigation system, a dual-screen rear entertainment system, the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and a rear-seat refrigerator for V8 models. The S80’s interior is generally a unique clean arrangement, but certain light colored interiors tend to look cheap and overall build quality is not yet back to pre-Ford days. A bright spot is the comfortable seats, which are some of the best around. Also a bit of a downer is the S80’s smallish trunk of 14.9 cubic feet of storage. Not helping things is the shouldered design of the body which leaves a small trunk opening.
Pricing for the base model begins at $39,200, with the T6 and V8 models each demanding $42,950 and $50,950 respectively. It would hard to imagine anyone that places a great deal of value on performance setting their sights on the S80, when numerous other options are available. That being said, there are good reasons to give it a look. Namely if you value safety features or desire a highly comfortable commuter option.