Volvo S80 a sensible choice

Peter Franzen says Volvo's S80 has the S factor - sensible, subtle, solid, safe and smart.German car giants Mercedes, BMW and Audi pretty much have a stranglehold on the executive car market.

Peter Franzen says Volvo's S80 has the S factor - sensible, subtle, solid, safe and smart.

German car giants Mercedes, BMW and Audi pretty much have a stranglehold on the executive car market. Their dominance is highlighted by the fact that world players like Ford and General Motors don't even bother any more following the demise of the Scorpio and Omega models.

Jaguar is still competing with the XF and new XJ, and so is a less obvious contender, Volvo, with its impressive big S80 saloon. Volvo had been in turmoil following Ford's decision to dispose of the Swedish manufacturer, but now a $1.8bn deal has been done with China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, representing a coup for the independent Chinese automaker which is aiming to expand in Europe.

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The purchase gives Geely a European luxury car brand with a reputation for safety and quality at a time when China, which last year surpassed America as the world's largest car market, is eager to improve its competitiveness by acquiring foreign automotive brands that might help it improve its technology and expand into overseas markets.

Geely says it aims to keep Volvo's existing manufacturing facilities in Sweden and Belgium, but that it also will explore manufacturing opportunities in China.

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With such an upheaval going on at the top of Volvo it seemed like a good time to look at the latest reincarnation of the S80 saloon, and be reminded of the qualities of the model that began life nearly 10 years ago.

Visually, Volvo has evolved the original shape with a body more tautly drawn, with lower bonnet, chunkier door sills and a convex rather than concave door design.

Already lower, wider and longer than the outgoing model, the refreshed S80 looks sleeker than the model it replaces and the new grille with larger iron mark badge follows the design lead of the well-received XC60 crossover model.

Other new details include additional chrome finishing, on the lower part of the doors and under the tail lamps. But you need to be a Volvo anorak to immediately tell this latest model from the last one.

Under the bonnet, Volvo offers an amazing contrast of petrol and diesel engines for the S80, with prices starting at �21,745. It hardly seems possible that such a big car should be offered with such a small engine as a four-cylinder 1.6 turbo diesel. But if you want great fuel economy from a big machine (and who doesn't with the price of fuel rocketing), then how about a combined figure of 62.8mpg. At the other end of the S80 scale is the eight-cylinder, 4.4-litre all-wheel-drive returning a meagre 23.7mpg but with top speed potential of 155mph.

I opted to drive neither of these, and chose the desirable D5 diesel, a turbocharged 2.4-litre engine that was three years in the making but delivers performance combined with reduced CO2 emissions and improved fuel economy. About half of all S80s sold are specified by customers with this engine.

Its get-up-and-go comes partly from a powertrain that produces 205bhp, 310lb/ft of pulling power and delivers a 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds.

But it is also down to two differently-sized turbochargers that operate in sequence to provide the appropriate response depending on the car's speed and revs. The smaller turbo supplies rapid acceleration in lower rev ranges while the larger one delivers greater pulling power in higher rev ranges.

This, claims Volvo, effectively removes turbo lag, and I certainly found this to be the case with the engine providing a prompt response during motorway cruising as well as on more demanding two-lane roads. The test car was fitted with a six-speed Geartronic transmission (a �1,400 option) and more than 600 miles of mixed motoring returned an impressive 43.4mpg.

That said, the diesel unit is not the most refined I have experienced, and under acceleration from lower speeds it sounds a bit 'agricultural'. But at cruising speeds it settles down to offer smooth and relatively silent progress.

The S80 drives through the front wheels and has plenty of grip and a predictable, safe manner, but I will admit that it is not an involving car to drive. The upside is comfort. The S80 dealt well with the rotten road surfaces we have 'enjoyed' since the harsh winter, and on dual roads and motorways it is a quiet cruiser that gobbles up the miles effortlessly.

The spacious cabin affords comfortable seating for five in a luxury environment, with a generous 422-litre boot.

The test car was the SE Lux Premium automatic model priced at �33,145. The SE Lux is already highly specified but the Premium model is the ultimate upgrade that includes leather-faced upholstery, satellite-navigation system (the best and easiest to operate I have ever used) and DAB radio.

Standard fit includes electronic climate control with air quality system, electrically-adjustable and heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, day running lights, power folding headrests, power parking brake, cruise control, information centre and Volvo's impressive safety and security systems including the whiplash protection system.

In this executive sector, the S80 equipment levels put it ahead of many competitors in the value-for-money stakes, but it does not have the 'pizzaz' of some rivals. But on the credit side the S80 is sensible, subtle, solid, safe, smart - and a good alternative if you do not want to buy a German premium marque.


Price: �33,145

Engine: 2,400cc, 205hp, five-cylinder, twin turbo diesel

Transmission: Six-speed Geartronic

Performance: 0-62mph 8.5 seconds, top speed 143mph

MPG: urban 31.4; extra urban 56.5; combined 42.2

Emissions: 178g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 26pc

Insurance Group: 16P

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles

Will it fit the garage? Length 4,851mm; width (with door mirrors extended) 2,106mm; height 1.493mm

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