Car Test   R0347
  See also R0242 
July 2003
First Drive Volvo S80
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MPV, SUV, MAC, call it what you will, the people carrier is inexorably eating into the large saloon market that’s in gradual decline. It’s vital, therefore, for the makers of big, stylish motors to keep their cars looking and feeling fresh and up to date. Volvo got the message, but considered that its S80 needed only a facelift and minor detailed interior and technical refinements to do the trick.
   Externally the changes are subtle, so only the eagle-eyed will spot the square mesh grille in the smoother nose, some extra chrome detailing and the more aerodynamic mirrors. There’s also a reprofiled bootlid and the rear lights are slightly smaller.
   But under the skin is where the more interesting development has taken place, with the introduction of the £1100-extra Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) chassis. With this system, a computer checks the steering and body movements about 500 times a second and constantly adjusts the suspension settings to suit the road conditions. It also enables the driver, at the touch of a button, to choose between Comfort and Sport suspension settings.
   In the normal Comfort mode the ride is a little more supple than the firmish conventional set-up, but in Sport the dampers become stiffer and the ride harder and harsher. Admittedly, the Sport setting sharpens up the new ZF steering and gives impressively roll-resistant cornering, but who really needs a firmer, sportier S80? It’s a big, comfortable cruiser, not the sort of car that wants to be door-handled.
   Powering the S80 is a familiar set of excellent engines, except that a new, smooth and eager 2.5 litre/210bhp turbo petrol unit replaces the previous 2.4/200bhp version. It boasts more power, torque and performance than the outgoing engine without, apparently, fuel economy and emissions suffering. We also reacquainted ourselves on the launch with the 2.4-litre D5 turbo-diesel. Although mutedly growly on acceleration, it continues to impress with its spirited performance, relaxed motorway cruising and about 42mpg overall. Later this year Volvo’s smaller 2.0T engine will join the current line-up.
   Elsewhere, the S80 remains very much as described in our earlier report. Twin cushion height and lumbar support adjustments ensure that most drivers sit comfortably at the reach-and-rake adjustable wheel, but the fixed head restraints and wide pillars can gang up to make manoeuvring tricky in a confined area. The controls, however (including wheel-mounted cruise control and hi-fi buttons), are conveniently placed.
   As ever, the roomy, functional cabin (which can be tailor-made with all manner of options) retains an individualistic style and oozes careful craftsmanship. The latest revisions to the interior are as understated as those to the bodywork. There are now restyled door panels and grab handles, an upgraded audio system and redesigned instruments – chronograph style on the six-cylinder cars.
  considering size, price and rivals
Safety Euro NCAP
Security, theft of
theft from
  • ability to mix and match trim, equipment and options
  • excellent interior/courtesy lighting throughout car
  • seatbelts comfortable and convenient
  • wipers with six-jet washer system
  • immovable head restraints block view
  • warning light in Four-C button too small
  • windscreen shade-band oppressive
  • dial dimmer and headlamp trimmer confusingly close
It may not enjoy quite the same acclaim as its Teutonic trio of rivals, but we still have a lot of time for the S80. It continues to feel like a car built without compromise, and so subtle are these latest changes that Volvo is obviously working on the principle, if it ain’t broke… As for the Four-C suspension, we would think twice before opting for it – it makes a lot more sense in the racier new R version of the S60.

body large (premium-priced) four-door saloon   trim levels S, SE plus five option packs
engines petrol: 5 cylinder/ 2.0 litre/180bhp, 5/2.4/140, 5/2.4/170, 5/2.5/210, 6/2.9/196, 6/2.9/272
diesel: 5/2.4/163
bi-fuel (LPG and CNG): 5/2.4/140
  drive front-wheel drive, 5-speed manual (5-speed stepped automatic optional); 5-speed automatic standard on 2.9; 4-speed Geartronic standard on T6, optional on 2.9
notable features available Four-C switchable suspension, lowered sports chassis, air vents in B-pillar, chronograph-style instrument surrounds, rear armrest fridge, DVD with twin rear screens, integrated GSM telephone, approach/home-safe lighting, armour protection

  in centimetres (4-door saloon)
  length 482
  width - including mirrors 212
    - mirrors folded 190
  height 143
  load sill height (inside/outside) 11/66
  turns lock-to-lock 3.1
  turning circle (metres) 11.8
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 89-111
    - headroom 92-96§
  rear - typical legroom 105
    - typical kneeroom 82
    - headroom 95
    - hiproom 138
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 106-200#
  load length to facia 287
  load width 114-130
  load height (to shelf) 45
# rear seat folded  § with sunroof
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