Among luxury sedans, the Volvo S80 has always been something of an alternative choice. Through two generations, Volvo's largest sedan has spurned outright luxury and serious performance in favor of cutting-edge safety features and in-cabin technology. And, in a class dominated by rear-drive sedans, Volvo continues to tout the virtues of front-wheel drive, while offering all-wheel drive as an option.
There are plenty of premium-brand sedans that feel more upscale than the S80. There are just as many that surpass its balance and grip on a winding back road. Yet the Volvo S80 is certainly one of the safest cars money can buy. It also boasts some of the industry's most supportive seats.
For luxury sedan buyers whose tastes diverge from the mainstream, the Volvo S80 is an interesting car to consider. And with a price tag that undercuts many European and Japanese-brand competitors, it can be a sensible option as well.
Current Volvo S80
Despite its appearance, the Volvo S80 is only midsize in dimensions, which means it can seat four adults comfortably but doesn't have yards of legroom to spare. It's about the same size as the Acura RL, the competitor it most closely resembles in personality and performance.
There are two versions of the S80. The entry-level S80 3.2 is front-wheel drive and is adequately motivated by a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder with 240 horsepower. Buyers seeking performance more befitting a luxury car will undoubtedly prefer the S80 T6, which uses a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp. It uses the same six-speed transmission as the base S80, but power goes to all four wheels via a standard all-wheel-drive system.
Both Volvo S80s come standard with the usual luxury amenities, including leather upholstery, wood trim, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, power-adjustable seats and dual-zone automatic climate control. Major options include front/rear park assist, heated front and rear seats, an excellent 12-speaker sound system, a navigation system, a rearview camera, a dual-screen rear entertainment system and (T6 only) a sport-tuned suspension.
On the safety front, the blind spot warning system and collision warning system (bundled with adaptive cruise control) are worthwhile options for long-distance commuters to consider. The City Safety system -- which can detect an impending low-speed collision and then automatically apply the brakes to avoid or minimize it -- is standard. Although the Personal Car Communicator (PCC) is basically a glorified security system, its transponder has a heartbeat sensor to let you know if someone is still in your Volvo after the alarm has been activated.
Useful features like these are the main reasons someone might want to buy a Volvo S80. The utter comfort of the front seats and a reasonable price tag are additional points in the car's favor. In other respects, though, the Volvo S80 comes across as tepid compared to its luxury sedan rivals. It rides comfortably, handles predictably and stops short, but otherwise does little to engage its driver. And although its cabin has all the expected amenities, it lacks the unrestrained elegance and exacting quality of competitors' interiors.
Used Volvo S80 Models
The current S80 represents the second-generation Volvo S80 that debuted for the 2007 model year. Although it didn't change drastically in size or appearance compared to the first-generation model, this newer S80 moved to an all-new platform and adopted a new pair of engines -- the base inline-6 and the V8 -- not to mention an impressive array of safety technology. At the time, the available 4.4-liter V8 produced 311 hp.
The following year saw the addition of the turbocharged inline-6, then rated at 281 hp. Strangely for a luxury sedan, the S80 didn't offer standard Bluetooth or xenon headlamps prior to '09. A mild face-lift with a revised grille (sporting a much larger Volvo logo) and chrome accents took place for '10, which would also be the last year for the V8 model. For 2011, the remaining two versions got slight power increases (the base version from 235 to 240 hp and the T6 from 281 to 300 hp). Not much has changed since, apart from those earlier S80s lacking the current version's newly standard Bluetooth audio, multifunction color monitor and City Safety system.
Driving enthusiasts should also know that the S80 V8 could originally be equipped with a Sport package, which provided 18-inch wheels, Volvo's sport-tuned "Four-C" adaptive suspension, speed-sensitive power steering and ventilated front seats. These items became stand-alone options on the V8 for 2010, while the sport suspension could be had on the T6 via a new Dynamic package.
Prior to this, Volvo sold the first-generation S80 from 1999-2006. This car was similar in dimensions and focus to today's S80. It heralded a new styling direction for Volvo's sedans, as its curvy body lines were a dramatic break from the company's boxy designs of the '80s and '90s. Even today, the original S80 has a Scandinavian coolness that keeps it from looking dated. However, significant concerns about reliability have driven down its resale value -- good for bargain hunters, but not so much for owners.
Volvo offered the S80 with three different engines, two of them turbocharged. The most interesting of these was the T6, a twin-turbo inline six-cylinder rated for 268 horsepower. (Initially, the T6 displaced 2.8 liters; in 2002, Volvo enlarged it to 2.9 liters with no change in output.) Volvo claimed a 6.8-second 0-60 time for the S80 T6, but even with a standard four-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels, the car felt quicker than that. Serious torque steer was the major knock against the T6 model. Volvo discontinued it after 2005.
From 1999-2004, a naturally aspirated 2.9-liter inline six-cylinder good for 197 hp motivated the base Volvo S80. It, too, was available only with a four-speed automatic and only with front-wheel drive. In 2004, a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder known as the 2.5T joined the lineup. Rated for 208 hp, it offered significantly more torque than the 2.9-liter, while engaging the services of a more sophisticated five-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5T was the only engine that could be had with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. And in '06, it was the only engine you could get on the S80.
Acceleration was modest with either of the lesser engines, but otherwise the driving experience was agreeable in the S80, with a comfortable ride and sure-footed handling. Those seeking added control should look for an S80 with the Four-C adaptive suspension, which was offered as an option on 2004 and later models. Dual-zone automatic climate control, a CD audio system and a telescoping steering wheel were standard throughout the run. Options ran the gamut in the first-gen Volvo S80. In addition to expected items like a navigation system (DVD-based from '02 onward), a high-quality Dolby sound system and xenon headlamps ('02 and up), Volvo offered a rear-seat refrigerator, a dual-screen entertainment system and even a fax machine ('01 only) in certain high-line T6 models, which were called Executive, Elite or Premier depending on the model year.
Still, the best reason to consider buying a used Volvo S80 is its high level of safety. It earned five stars in all government-administered front- and side-impact crash tests, as well as a "Good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Additionally, a full menu of side airbags and dynamic front head restraints were standard throughout its eight-year run. The one feature to pay attention to is stability control: It was standard on T6 models but optional on all other S80s.