This is my Mom’s Volvo S80, and it seems very boring. It is beige, one of a few selectable shades of beige, and it looks just like every other Volvo on the road. Volvos are known for very solid build quality as well as their huge emphasis on safety; they are great cars but they generally aren’t synonymous with the term “exciting”. Looking at this S80 you can see the design is very conservative, and while it does have clean lines it is still basically the same exact car Volvo has been making for years. It would seem then that this S80 is just a continuation of mundane motoring from Volvo, and hardly worth a second look. However, after 9 years with this car, I can tell you that is definitely worth a second look because this beige Volvo has some extra tricks up its sleeve.
We purchased this car on Volvo’s European delivery program, meaning we flew to Sweden to pick the car up at the factory, toured Scandinavia in it for a few weeks, and then shipped it to home in the US. That means that I have literally known this car since it was born, it was even the car I took my driving test in, so all in all there is a lot of sentimental value in it for me. This isn’t the reason I find it so interesting, there is much more to this car than that. This S80 has the full Executive package, and was the top of the line Volvo available back in 2004.
After entering the cabin you will find that the interior is far more substantial than the car’s rather “plain Jane” exterior, especially in 2004 terms. At the time we got the car I had not really seen interiors with this sort of fit and finish on anything other than the highest luxury cars such as Bentleys. The interior is beautifully crafted with soft leather seats that have contrasting piping, wood accents, quality metals and plastics throughout, and my favorite, a rear seat entertainment system. Nowadays most every car is offered with a DVD setup, but remember this was back in 2003. Back then it was really just ultra high-end cars like the Maybach that had rear seat entertainment systems, so at the time this option was a pretty big deal. We took the S80 on many long trips over the years, especially during my hockey days, so the TVs have been put to good use many times. There is a DVD player, a TV mode with just a few stations, and there are inputs that allow an Xbox or Playstation to be hooked up in the car with ease. Long drives can be a pain when you are sitting there bored, but they go by in a flash when you are playing Grand Theft Auto; I cannot tell you how nice this was to have in the car at the time. Currently it all still works, but we hardly ever use the TVs anymore because we are no longer traveling all over the eastern seaboard every weekend for hockey games. I do however have one gripe to voice, and that is how the car turns your music off while in Reverse. You could be jamming to a great song, then you go to back out of your parking spot and your fun is rudely cut off. I appreciate the emphasis on paying attention, but that is taking things a bit far in my opinion.
As a kid the backseat was a great place to be, but now I am more interested in how the car is from the driver’s seat. On the road the emphasis is really all about comfort, the seats feel like sofas, the ride quality is excellent, and the interior is very quiet. The steering is quick to respond, but lacks road feel and doesn’t really feel like you are connected to the front wheels. This makes the S80 very easy and relaxing to operate, and it serves the car’s purpose well; it isn’t really supposed to be a driver’s car. Having said that, the transmission responds quite well to throttle inputs, and is quick to kick down a gear when more speed is desired. It is all very smooth though; the S80 is a very relaxing place to be.
All of this comfort and quality is all nice and good, but where this car really has an ace in the hole is in the engine bay. Most Volvos are docile creatures with just enough power to function; this one on the other hand is a twin turbocharged stampede. It’s 2.9L T6 offers up 268hp and 280 ft/lbs of torque, around the same as the Mitsubishi Evolution of the time. The numbers really don’t do the car justice though because its glory lies in its execution. The transmission is a 4 speed auto with tall gearing, and in practice this means that all real world acceleration maneuvers can be done in 2nd gear, uninterrupted. The way this S80 pulls from 40-80mph is truly addictive, in typical Swedish style, and it is all useable in real world situations. The car feels turbocharged, but the transmission does a good job of getting to the right gear, so lag is negligible. The power band is also very large; basically from 3000rpm to redline it pulls like a bat out of hell. The best part of all this though, is how all of this performance comes seemingly out of nowhere. If I got in this car, not knowing what it was, I would be blown away because it is just so surprising how well it can move.
It is also very competent in corners, but it doesn’t feel like it would be at first. Driving around normally it feels loose and spongy, but when actually thrown into a turn the whole car becomes entirely sound. I would say this comes from Volvo’s emphasis on safety; the easiest accident to survive is one that you can avoid, and a good suspension allows for that sort of control. Again, this isn’t a driver’s car because everything feels removed and artificial in the controls, but the car will do what is asked of it should it need to. My only gripe with the way the S80 is set up is that it is front wheel drive. In my opinion a car this big needs to be all wheel drive or rear wheel drive because there is a lot of rear mass that cannot be controlled if the power goes just to the front. On a bright note the S80 doesn’t suffer from excessive torque steer, due to its taller gearing, and I have only really had issues with spinning the wheels in first gear, usually it is in the wet. This spinning has been a bit of a safety concern though, because there have been times when the car continues to go straight while I was trying to turn. Volvo has since corrected this issue on newer T6 S80s by offering all wheel drive, so it is only a problem on this generation. All in all, the S80 does fine with its front wheel drive, it just happens to be the one mechanical thing I would change about the car if I could.
This car had an interesting package when it was new. It cost around the same as a base Mercedes E320, but could rival the E500’s performance in the real world. It also employed turbocharging in its segment while BMW and Mercedes were still using bigger N/A engines. Fuel economy has been pretty good because of that, with an overall average of around 22mpg and high 20s possible on the highway.
The best way to sum up the S80 is to say that it is a proper Volvo with some nice extra bits added on. People who like Volvos will like it, and people who don’t usually like Volvos will be pleasantly surprised. It is unlike the S60 R I drove a while back in that it isn’t trying to be considered a serious performer. That was the biggest issue with the S60 R because by adding the “R” badge expectations get raised, and it fails to meet them. This S80 on the other hand is able to blow you away because it doesn’t arouse such expectations. In fact the S80 doesn’t really call any attention to itself whatsoever. It is very incognito, nobody notices you around town like when you’re in a Bimmer or a Benz. This adds to the car’s luxury appeal in my opinion because it is easier to relax when you feel like nobody is watching you. It also gives you something to smirk about because you know the car has some tricks up its sleeve and that nobody can tell. To sum it up, the S80 T6 is for those who want to speak softly and carry a big stick.
WoM Score: Volvo S80 T6 Executive
Primary Function: Luxury: 2
Secondary Functions: Performance(1), Practicality(2), MPG(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 8.5/10