Jun 01,2007 00:00
Early to bed and early to rise gets Jack and Jill to the two-car-per-green on-ramp every morning. Accelerate, merge, get in the flow and hope nobody screws up or everybody will be late for work.
Most days it seems a miracle when traffic flows. And on the days it doesn't, there is reassurance in driving a big Volvo.
Beneath its contemporary styling, the S80 is still Volvo's flagship of safety, including an optional camera system that warns of vehicles possibly in the driver's blind spot. And there's still plenty of Swedish common-sense function, including one of the most practical trunk features offered today.
The entry level S80, 3.2-liter six-cylinder has a starting price of $39,400. The V-8 starts at $48,045 and adds equipment such as an electric parking brake, dual exhaust, watch-dial instrumentation and interior air-quality sensor. Oddly, rain-sensing wipers, heated seats and front and rear park assist cost extra.
Later this year, Volvo will add an S80 T6 model with a turbocharged, 285-hp, 3.0-liter, in-line six-cylinder with all-wheel drive.
"The engine has been programmed to provide the highest possible performance with the lowest possible fuel consumption and exhaust emissions," Volvo says.
If you aren't interested in high performance, the standard six-cylinder model has all of the important luxury and convenience features included with the V-8 model. The test car was $43,985 with options and included a navigation system for $2,120, which is pricey for not including a backup camera.
Among the car's safety features are:
- Four grades of steel in the body for "predictable crash energy absorption."
- Four-wheel "Ready Alert Brakes." Large, 12.4-inch discs integrate anti-lock braking with hydraulic brake assist and fading brake support.
- Adaptive cruise control with collision warning, $1,495, uses a radar sensor in the grille to measure the distance to vehicles ahead. The computer adjusts throttle and brakes to keep a set distance.
The system proves itself when a vehicle cuts suddenly in front of your vehicle. Just hope the driver behind is as quick at the brake as Volvo's computerized responses.
And be ready, the collision-warning alerts can scare your hands off the wheel. When the system sees your car overtaking a slow-moving vehicle in your lane, a red light flashes in the head-up display of the windshield and is joined by a nuclear-alert tone. The system can be turned off and the sensitivity to alerts changed in the menu system.
- Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), $595. Cameras at the base of the outside mirrors detect vehicles that might be in a blind spot and flash a light to the driver.
The flash of orange light at the base of the mirrors helped remind me to keep checking my mirrors, a good prompt for all drivers. The cameras could be particularly useful to help stay alert for motorcycles - as long as the driver doesn't tune out the flashes and as long as the motorcyclist drives consistently.
The Volvo S80 is well-equipped to compete in this entry-luxury segment, but I found extreme driving differences between the six-cylinder and the V-8 models.
I enjoyed driving the V-8. I appreciated the six-cylinder car for its level of features and the safety cage. It is not a sport sedan, nor does it have to be - but it doesn't have to be dull, either.
There's plenty of power from the six-cylinder, but shifts from the six-speed Geartronic automatic were lumpy, not refined. And not so in the V-8, which also uses a six-speed Geartronic.
Throttle, steering and brake response are balanced, but ride quality is floaty - an engineering dilemma when a suspension is tuned for comfort and sportiness.
Road harshness is isolated from the cabin and there's plenty of soundproofing. But over-the-shoulder glances are slowed by the arc of the roof line. Front headroom is 37.8 inches with the standard power glass moonroof.
Curb appeal is enhanced by opting for the 18-inch tires and wheels, which are a $1,495 beauty treatment. But the standard 17-inch tires appear to be too small for the car's body.
Volvo is masterful at ergonomics and the packaging of controls and switches. The center of the instrument panel is not overwhelmed with tiers of buttons - ahem, Audi and Acura. There is a computerized menu for vehicle controls, but frequently used controls have a direct-access button or dial.
Standard features include soft leather, "real wood" trim and keyless starting, which uses a push-button ignition and unlocking/locking without having the remote in hand. The eight-speaker, six-CD audio system with digital audio input is strong and clear enough that most buyers could pass on the 650-watt, 12-speaker audio upgrade option for $1,550.
The back seat is accommodating for three passengers because of the low exhaust tunnel, which allows more foot room on either side. Even the center seat has a comfortable seat-back angle when many luxury-class sedans sacrifice that seat for more comfortable window seats.
The large trunk includes the nifty feature that allows the space to be walled off by raising the lid of the floor, which snaps into place. Hooks on the underside of the lid keep grocery bags in place. The shallow well corrals hold more bags, dirty sports gear or anything you'd rather not have trashing the attractively finished area.
The S80 is a tale of two cars. The six-cylinder makes a sensible, safe and functional choice for a family or business sedan. If you want verve and performance, try the V-8.
Copley News Service