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2010 Volvo S80 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2010 Volvo S80

New Car Test Drive
© 2010

The Volvo S80 is fast, comfortable and roomy. Big and luxurious, it rides nice around town. Stand on the gas and it accelerates with authority and tracks straight as an arrow at high speeds. Volvo's flagship luxury sedan is a worthy competitor to comparably sized luxury sedans from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Acura, and Cadillac.

For 2010, Volvo S80 sports a bolder grille design and more bright jewelry inside and out. A new steering wheel features silk-matte metal accents on its four spokes, matching the new leather and silk-metal trim on the gear selector and around Volvo's signature ultra-slim floating center stack. It's all very tastefully done and enhances the appeal. Volvo engineers have modified the base-level suspension on the 2010 S80 for a greater emphasis on handling. The Dynamic Chassis option offers crisper response via shorter and firmer springs, modified shock damping, firmer anti-roll bars and stiffer subframe bushings.

The S80 offers a choice of engines, headlined by a 4.4-liter V8 built by Yamaha. The 311-horsepower V8 sounds like a Corvette engine when it first starts up then settles to a smooth idle. It's smooth and creamy when cruising and very responsive. At high speeds the S80 V8 is quiet and smooth. The V8 develops 311 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It can accelerate 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds, an impressive performance, with top speed electronically limited to 155 mph. All-wheel drive comes standard and where the V8 really shines is in foul weather.

Steering effort and chassis settings are adjustable, allowing the driver to set the chassis for smooth, soft sailing or taut control for more responsive handling. We found the S80 handles quite well for a large luxury car.

The S80 T6 comes with a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 and all-wheel drive. The six-cylinder turbo produces 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The base S80 comes with a 3.2-liter six-cylinder and front-wheel drive, and it can sprint to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds.

Inside is a sumptuous cabin with comfortable seats, sophisticated audio, and an available navigation system. Optional adaptive cruise control allows the driver to maintain set following distances with the cars ahead: the system will accelerate or slow the car as needed. The S80 is loaded with safety equipment, from its protective structure to its state-of-the-art active and passive safety features.

We think the S80 is the best car overall ever to come out of Sweden: slick, modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful. It's relatively sporty and there aren't any rough edges on this package anywhere.

Model Lineup

Volvo S80 3.2 ($39,200); T6 AWD ($42,950); V8 AWD ($50,950)

Walk Around

Volvo has dressed up the S80 for 2010 with sharper, bolder trim. Most noticeable is the Volvo trademark spear-and-shield logo in the center of the grille, which is now much larger than before, becoming the visual focus for the front end. A subtle bright strip now connects the foglights below the bumper, at about the same level as the now-standard bright trim piece on the lower doors. Around back, bright accents underscore the tail lamps and emphasize the dual exhausts.

The Volvo S80 may be the best looking sedan in the mid-range luxury class. It's arguably the most distinctive. Younger people may find that surprising, but folks with longer memories will not. From the late 1940s, well into the 1970s, Volvos ranged from functionally handsome (recall the 122 and 144 sedans) to quirky-sexy (the 1800 ES Sport wagon). For a while after that, as tighter budgets for new-model development forced Volvo to de-prioritize styling, the company cleverly promoted packing-crate ugliness as a self-righteous virtue. It was a successful strategy, and it bought the independent Swedish automaker another 20 years of survival. Thankfully, however, sometime in the 1990s Volvo rediscovered curves.

Americans got an eyeful of Volvo's slinky new style when the first-generation S80 debuted in 1998. It was low and sleek, and rounded at the nose; but with broad shoulders and slab sides suggesting the much-loved 122 of 1956. Strikingly distinctive taillights followed the tapered contours of its rear quarter panels. About all the S80 seemed to share with the Volvos of the previous two decades were its six-window greenhouse and the diagonal stripe across its grille. Visually, it had more in common with a Jaguar than with any Volvo in a generation. And it set the style for every Volvo that's come since.

The latest S80, which debuted for the 2007 model year, dispenses with even the six-window roofline, favoring the semi-fastback profile of the smaller Volvo S60. As a result, perhaps, the current S80 looks a bit like a bigger version of a little Volvo. But it's also even sleeker than previous S80's, and the new roof is said to work better in the wind tunnel. The current S80 is also rounder in the corners, and higher in the tail, where it retains a less massive rendition of those intriguingly three-dimensional tail lamps. Up front, a domed hood still flows into a rectangular grille transected by Volvo's trademark diagonal stripe. The bumpers are clear of arbitrary detail. Bright moldings highlight the lower doors.

The S80 is comparable in size to the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Cadillac CTS, and Lexus GS.

Wheels on the S80 3.2 are a 17-inch design Volvo calls Cassini, with a bright-finish, nine-spoke pattern. The T6 moves up to 18-inch wheels, and a pattern called Odysseus, which looks a bit like a five-bladed fan. The V8 comes with 18-inch Balius wheels, with a turbine-rotor look, that are included as part of the Executive Package on the six-cylinder cars. The 18-inch Fortuna Diamond Cut, optional for the S80 3.2 and T6, has seven spokes with machined surfaces at the tips.

The Personal Car Communicator is an electronic key fob that can lock or unlock the S80 from distances up to 110 yards, and can tell you what state the locks are in. It can activate the alarm, and can sense the presence of a human heartbeat inside the car.


For 2010, Volvo has added more jewelry to the S80 interior. Silk metal trim, a metallic surface with a softened gloss, outlines the center console and highlights the steering wheel spokes, resulting in a more expensive, up-market appearance.

The instruments in the S80 are mounted in the traditional Volvo trapezoidal binnacle, and Volvo's watch dial instrument faces are standard on all S80 models. The freestanding center stack that connects the dashboard to the console is a key design element, adding a Bang & Olufsen kind of elegance to the interior. An analog clock at the center of the panel is available on some models.

The switches, controls and instruments follow traditional Volvo themes, but everything is contemporary, including the tachometer and speedometer, more classic and less industrial than in previous designs.

The navigation system, when ordered, pops up out of the dashtop, either by using the steering-wheel-mounted controls on the right rear of the wheel or the provided remote control, which stores in the console. We found the steering wheel controls fussy and hard to use, but owners will figure them out quickly. Revisions for 2010 include a new start-up screen with more user-friendly icons and more distinctive menus.

A menu system also tailors the seats, rearview mirrors, climate control, audio, navigation, and, the amount of steering wheel feel in the V8's speed-dependent power steering system.

The sumptuous surroundings in the S80 are amplified by the wonderfully comfortable seats and the generous front and rear legroom that helps to put the S80 squarely in the luxury class. The seats are available plain, heated, or heated and cooled.

The 160-watt, eight-speaker sound system will play MP3 files and has an auxiliary input for iPods and other players. A USB port has been added for 2010. Also available is a five-channel, 12-speaker Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound system developed with Dynaudio.

Driving Impressions

The Volvo S80 is a rock-solid sedan, a wonderful steed for covering large swaths of highway quickly and comfortably.

We were impressed with the V8 engine, which sounds like a Corvette when first fired up in the morning then settles down to a nice, smooth idle. This engine is a Yamaha-designed 60-degree V8 with balance shafts, so it doesn't sound like a conventional 90-degree V8. It's smooth and creamy all the way up the rev range to 6500 rpm, and for its relatively small displacement, it pulls very well and can easily sustain speeds of 135 mph on the open road. (Maximum speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.) The V8 gets an EPA-rated 15/22 mpg City/Highway.

The base six-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive now rates an improved 18/27 mpg. The turbocharged T6 is also rated better than last year at 16/24 miles per gallon. Maximum torque with the turbo is on tap from just 1500 rpm and remains available all the way up the rev range.

In some areas a PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) version of the base model is available, which trades 10 horsepower (down to 225) for lower emissions and better fuel economy. On these vehicles the six-speed automatic transmission is also recalibrated for maximum efficiency with the PZEV engine.

At high cruising speeds, we found the cabin of our V8 test car quiet, with a bit of wind noise and a bit of tire noise coming in.

The Volvo chassis system underneath the S80 is an evolution of the 4C chassis, with adaptive shock absorbers changing second by second according to inputs from the road and the car itself. The system offers three different settings: Comfort, Sport, and Advanced.

Steering effort is adjustable, and we found the firmest setting to be ideal for our tastes: hefty and solid, the way we like our steering. With the steering set this way and the Advanced settings plugged into the chassis system, the Volvo was a paragon of driving for the sheer fun of it, taut, quick to react, and flat in the corners, with the V8 engine always ready to play.

The Dynamic chassis promises crisper response via shorter and firmer springs, modified shock damping, firmer anti-roll bars and stiffer subframe bushings. It also includes Nivomat automatic leveling.

We experienced the adaptive cruise control system, which worked as advertised to maintain our preset distance to the car ahead in the fast lane, and we heard and saw the collision warning system mounted directly in front of the driver on the dashtop, a system which we quickly silenced on the crowded two-lane roads.

We found the brakes powerful and quick and positive when used hard from high speeds (100 mph).

Modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful, the Volvo S80 is a good choice among luxury sedans. It's surefooted in its stance and solid on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system that comes on the performance models adds to an impressive safety package. correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Sweden, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia, and John F. Katz reporting from south-central Pennsylvania.

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