Volvo redesigned its flagship model for 1999, trading rear-wheel drive for front-wheel drive and dropping the S90 moniker in favor of S80.
When the S80 luxury sedan was introduced, Sweden-based Volvo was an independent company. Now it is owned by Ford, though both the brand name and the S80 model will continue.
Volvo will unveil a new station wagon based on the S80's front-drive platform at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January, though the company has not released the name or other details.
The S80 looks dramatically different from its squared-off predecessor because it was designed only as a sedan. Previously, Volvo designed its box-like station wagons first and then changed the sheet metal at the rear to create the sedans.
The S80's grille is further forward and more compact than the S90's and accented by a prominent V shape carved into the hood, a Volvo styling signature. The sharply raked rear window has nearly the same angle as the windshield. Large taillights and crisp creases give the rear sharp contrasts to the trim, rounded front.
The S80's spacious interior makes some other luxury sedans look small by comparison. There is ample headroom for six footers even with the optional sunroof. Rear passengers enjoy generous legroom and space for their feet under the front seats. The trunk opening is not that large, despite a lid that opens more than 90 degrees, but the cargo floor is long, wide and flat. The split rear seatbacks release from inside the trunk and fold flat without removing the headrests.
Large windows provide an excellent view to the front and sides, and the rear headrests fold down with the push of a dashboard button for a clear view directly back.
Under the Hood
The S80 2.9 uses a 2.9-liter, inline six-cylinder engine with 197 horsepower, and the T-6 model has a 2.8-liter six with twin turbochargers and 268 horsepower. Both engines are mounted transversely and are hitched to a four-speed automatic transmission. On the T-6 the transmission is called Geartronic and allows manual gear changes by pushing the shift lever forward or back.
The S80 has an impressive list of safety features: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, three-point shoulder belts with pretensioners at all five seating positions and side-impact airbags for the front seats. The S80 also has Volvo's Inflatable Curtain sideguard airbags, which extend from the front roof pillar to the rear pillar and drop down from above the windows.
Also standard is the Whiplash Protection System, which moves the front seatbacks and headrests backward to minimize whiplash in a rear-end collision.