Though it is far from the freshest face in the premium midsize sedan scene, the Volvo S80
remains as stoic as a Norse god.
And, as we learned during a jaunt through what might have become our favorite quiet mountain road, the S80 is something of a bargain in its often-overlooked segment.
Sized and mostly outfitted akin to cars like the BMW 5-Series
, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6
, the S80, as well as the Acura TL
and Cadillac CTS
, compete in an "in betweener" segment that ends about where the Germans take off.
You could spend more - lots more - for a German sedan, but are they worth it?
The middle ground
Volvo's flagship sedan is hardly its newest product, having hit the market for its second generation in 2007, but the Swedish automaker has seen fit to keep things relatively updated with the introduction of a new infotainment system for 2012 and a few mild updates for 2013. Making our test S80 feel a little more exclusive was a $2,300 Inscription Package that adds buttery soft full leather trim to the seats and dashboard, as well as overly glossy wood to the dashboard, doors and steering wheel. Like its smaller S60 brother, the S80 gains a new, manual-looking gear lever for 2013, as well as a few infotainment updates that make the so-called Sensus navigation and audio system easier to use.
A base front-drive model is powered by a 3.2-liter inline-six, but the all-wheel-drive 300-horsepower, turbocharged S80 T6 runs just $4,000 more. That difference is nearly negated when the T6's standard moonroof ($1,000 on the 3.2) and 18-inch wheels ($750 on the 3.2) are factored in.
What's now a $2,250 difference nets buyers all-wheel-drive, an extra 60 horsepower (for a total of 300 ponies) and, more importantly, an additional 89 lb-ft. of torque (to 325), which is spread across the rev range from 1,500 to 4,800 rpm thanks to the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder's turbocharger. This is the same engine we've enjoyed in various other Volvo products and it makes the most of the S80 T6's relatively lithe 4,000 lbs. curb weight. By comparison, the similarly powerful BMW 535i xDrive tips the scales at 4,233 lbs.
Stylistically, the S80 hasn't changed much since it helped redefine the Peter Horbury-penned "strong shoulder" look ushered into Volvo's portfolio more than a decade ago. The S80's 2007 redesign smoothed out and simplified the language, which is conservative but upmarket. Even with its chrome garnishes and attractive 18-inch alloy wheels, our S80 tester blended in without feeling mass-market anonymous. We think its design is aging gracefully, especially up against the more disheveled headlamp treatment seen in the S60.
Inside, the dashboard is almost a throwback to the boxy Volvo look of yore, though upgraded switchgear and good proportions keep things modern. The optional Inscription Package coats the interior in fragrant leather, especially on the chair-comfortable front seats. Rear seat riders don't get acres of leg room, but they do get their own butt warmers. A big trunk appears ready to swallow anything Ikea can offer. Materials and execution are generally pleasing throughout, with only hard plastic lining the very bottom portion of the center console.
Volvo's Sensus infotainment is easy to operate, if occasionally a little cumbersome thanks to its lack of a joystick-style lever or touch-sensitive screen. Still, in comparison to get-out-the-owners-manual systems seen in BMW and Audi rivals, Sensus is refreshing for its simplicity.
Standard on all S80s is the automaker's City Safety package, which uses a laser sensor to automatically trigger the brakes at low speeds if a pending impact is detected. We aren't proud to admit that we accidentally tested the system while looking for what was correctly advertised as the best bison burger joint in Utah (the No Name Saloon, which is definitely worth a visit). A Persol-sporting pedestrian attached to his iPhone darted out in front of the S80 while our eyes were looking for lunch. Since we were traveling at a low speed, the S80 quickly came to a complete stop before we knew what happened. Though the City Safety might be most useful in congested Europe, one Park City tourist should thank his lucky stars that we weren't in a different car.
Like the Audi A6 3.0T, the S80 is essentially a front-wheel-drive sedan that sends power to the rear wheels when needed, so it lacks the predictable rear-drive feel of the BMW or Cadillac. Still, we found the big sedan to be both a serene cruiser and an acceptably balanced handler.
With a suspension tuned more for ride comfort, the S80 won't thrill enthusiasts with its handling, but the steering is nicely weighted, sufficiently precise and generally natural-feeling. That's something we can't say about the BMW 5-Series' electronic setup.
We pushed our S80 hard through the winding switchbacks on desolate, closed-in-winter Highway 224 between Park City and Midway (see map below). With its Pirellis occasionally squealing in protest, the S80 proved safe and grippy, if ultimately short of entertaining.
But once the road straightened out and we drove the sedan like, well, most owners should
, we found a four-door with a refined and isolated ride quality that begged for a long-distance highway jaunt. Thrust from the inline-six is solid throughout the rev range with no perceptible turbo lag. The six-speed automatic transmission might be down a gear or two compared to some rivals, but it still fired off quick, smooth shifts when called upon. A sport mode holds gears for more aggressive driving, but the standard mode seemed a better match for the S80's demeanor.
We weren't able to measure our S80's fuel economy, but the EPA indicates that it's one measurable where the S80 might come up short compared to the BMW 535i xDrive. Rated at 18/26 mpg, S80 comes in well below the 535i xDrive's 21/30 mpg figure, although the S80 sips less costly regular fuel compared to the BMW's preference for premium.
Leftlane's bottom line
Luxuriously equipped at under $51,445 as tested, the S80 checks all the boxes most premium market buyers could ever want for less than the base price of just about any German rival.
Though the S80 ultimately gives up a little interior bravado and some driving finesse compared to Audi's A6 and BMW's 5-Series, it's such an all-around competent sedan that we couldn't help but wonder if the Teutonic rivals are really worth their hefty premium. More relaxed and conservative than most rivals, the S80 remains an often-overlooked, value-laden choice.
2013 Volvo S80 T6 AWD
base price, $42,950. As tested, $51,445.
Platinum Package, $3,850; Inscription Package, $2,300; Climate Package, $900; Metallic Paint, $550; Destination, $895.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.
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