November 20, 2006
Las Vegas, Nevada – It certainly perked up our attention and interest level when a stop at a drag strip for an evaluation exercise was announced during the early morning test drive route briefing. Not that a Volvo can’t go fast, it’s just not an instant association.
On arriving at the track, “What the..!” was the universally surprised reaction to what looked like two giant punch-bags on outrigger systems attached to lead vehicles circling the track. The object of the exercise was to prove the effectiveness of Volvo’s new collision warning system – and the punch-bags took the place of another vehicle’s rear-end.
The Collision Warning System constantly monitors your speed and distance from the vehicle you’re traveling behind. A visual (projected on the windshield) signal and audible warning alerts you to the emergency if an impact is imminent (unless the driver takes immediate action) and primes the braking system for an emergency stop.
The brake lights will also flash to warn the driver behind and the hazard warning lights are activated when the speed is reduced to less than 30 km/h. In addition, there are three sensitivity settings for the system in the car set-up computer menu, to adapt to different conditions and individual driving styles.
It’s one of a horde of new safety technologies available on and built into the all-new Volvo S80, arguably the safest car in the world!
This is the second generation of Volvo’s flagship luxury sedan, which was originally introduced in 1998. It’s a full-sized sedan with elegant styling, a luxurious interior with top-line audio options and two new engine choices.
Overall length is the same as its predecessor (4850 mm) but the new S80 is both slightly wider (27 mm) and taller (34 mm). The wheelbase is also longer (by 45 mm) and the track is wider (front by 6 mm, rear by 25 mm).
Although not a radical change from the previous design the corners and side panels are now more rounded, the hood is taller (part of the new pedestrian protection changes) and the headlamps are positioned lower than on the previous S80.
The side-glass is now framed by a narrow chrome trim and the increase in height and width is more noticeable from the rear. The manifestly Volvo curvy taillights are now a mix of LED and conventional incandescent lights.
“Scandinavian luxury” is how Volvo will describe the S80 and its supremely comfortable interior, in its marketing campaign. That extra distance between axles also allows more interior space, giving extended legroom in both front and rear seats. Perforated leather upholstery in the test vehicles had both heat and cool air ventilation.
A super-slim centre console, similar to the Volvo S40 and V50 models, is a new feature that extends to the rear seat. It houses a cooled storage box and other accessories, including an iPod connection.
An optional digital amplifier from Alpine comes with Bang & Olufsen ICE Power technology, Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound and loudspeakers from Dynaudio of Denmark. It’s an audio experience that apparently even the acoustically pure will appreciate.
In Canada, the new S80 will be sold with two available engines, an in-line six and a V8; both come with all-wheel-drive. The U.S. will also get a front-wheel drive version with an inline-six cylinder engine, and in Europe there’s also a I5 diesel engine version.
In ’05, Volvo dropped the 2.9-litre I6 engine in favour of an I5 turbo engine (208 hp) in the S80. Larger in displacement, yet more compact and more powerful, the new 3.2-litre I6 is rated at 235 maximum horsepower and is the base engine for ’07.
This new I6 engine features a direct-drive alternator (no belt), variable-opening valve technology and is transversely mounted in the engine bay, for safety reasons. Very smooth and quiet, this engine is a capable performer and should offer sufficient power for most buyers.
The V8, on the other hand, makes you aware of its presence right from start-up with some lusty exhaust tones. First introduced in the Volvo XC90, this is the first Volvo sedan to be powered by a V8 engine.
It’s a slim-design, all-aluminum 60-degree 4.4-litre V8 that features a counter-rotating balance shaft plus variable camshaft timing. Although decidedly more powerful (311 hp, torque 325 lb.-ft.), fuel economy is still fairly close to the I6. And four catalytic converters also help make it a clean running engine that satisfies ULEV II requirements.
Both of these engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic sequential shifting. All S80’s sold in Canada also come with the electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system with “Instant Traction” first seen on the XC90.
The Collision Warning System is part of an optional ($3,800 and $3,300 with V8) Safety and Security package. This package also includes some other advanced features like the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Adaptive Cruise Control and a Personal car Communicator with Keyless Drive.
The BLIS system uses tiny built-in cameras in the side-view mirrors to detect any vehicles that might be missed by the driver and a warning light by the mirror signals the driver. It appeared to work well, although I would expect that a similar system introduced by Audi on the Q7, which uses radar instead of cameras, probably works better in poor visibility conditions.
Adaptive cruise control allows you to set a distance behind the vehicle in front, in addition to speed. If you’re driving within the set cruise control speed it will brake and accelerate the S80, in order to maintain a set distance behind the car in front.
The “Personal Car Communicator” is probably the coolest new electronic safety feature of them all. And you get to use it even before you get in an S80. The key fob doubles as a communicator that can not only tell you if someone has tampered with the security system, it can also detect if someone is in the vehicle (from a distance of over 91-metres/300-ft) – via a heartbeat monitor.
The first generation S80 pioneered passive safety innovations such as the side-curtain air bag and the whiplash protection (WHIPS) head restraints. This time around Volvo improves on both of these features with dual chamber side air bags that offer enhanced hip and chest protection and next generation WHIPS, which uses the entire seatback to provide better rear impact protection.
Structurally the S80 design uses four different grades of steel for more predictable crash energy absorption. There are also new structural safety features that also lessen the S80’s impact on pedestrians or cyclists.
Despite all the absorption features built into the design, the S80 still has an extremely rigid chassis structure. And the Four C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) active suspension and adjustable power steering system allows you to take full advantage of it. Buttons on the centre console allow you to select three levels of suspension firmness and steering resistance.
A driver set-up menu will also let you fix the amount of resistance (firm-feel) of the steering and/or automatically retract the side mirrors every time you park an S80. And just in case the plethora of technology and information becomes excessive, the S80 also has a new sub-system called IDIS, which is designed to minimize driver distractions in high activity situations and allow the driver to focus on driving.
Not a cheap car by any means, the S80 is still expected to be highly competitive in a market category that includes the likes of Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series. Volvo Canada hopes to sell about a thousand S80’s next year and they should be in dealerships by the end of January.
2007 Volvo S80 pricing:
Volvo S80 3.2 I6 AWD mid-$50,000’s
Volvo S80 4.4 V8 AWD mid-$60,000’s
2007 Volvo S80 fuel economy:
Volvo S80 3.2 I6 AWD 13.3/8.2 L/100km (city/highway)
Volvo S80 4.4 V8 AWD 13.8/8.8 L/100km (city/highway)
Manufacturer’s web site