Volvo’s front-wheel-drive flagship sedan was introduced for the 1999 model year. The S80 received a mildly modified appearance for 2004. The front fascia has been reworked, and the soft-nose grille surround is reprofiled for a gentler transition to the bodysides. Fog lamps are new, and the grille contains a square mesh pattern that’s highlighted in dark silver metallic. The taillamps are smaller, and the license-plate panel has been reshaped. The mirrors have been redesigned to help reduce wind noise. The interior features new gauges, and a three-spoke wood steering wheel is newly optional.
The 2004 lineup gets a new S80 AWD model with an Active On-Demand all-wheel drive system borrowed from the smaller S60 AWD sedan. Installed in all S80s with the turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive works automatically, with no driver input needed. Power is transferred to the rear wheels only when the front tires have lost traction.
The S80 was the first model to mix traditional Volvo styling cues with rounded corners and sharp creases, in an attempt to establish a more modern image for the Swedish automaker. In addition to the S80 AWD, the series includes 2.9 and T6 sedans. The 2.9 model has a 2.9-liter inline-six-cylinder engine, and the T6 carries a 2.9-liter inline-six with twin turbochargers.
A new S80 Premier sedan features such extras as rear-seat entertainment, special leather upholstery and genuine walnut panel inserts. A newly optional Four-C active chassis that is adapted from the setup in the new high-performance S60R and V70R provides Comfort and Sport modes.
Partly because it was designed specifically as a sedan, the S80 looks dramatically different than its squared-off predecessors of the 1990s. In the past, Volvo designed its boxlike wagons first and then changed the rear sheet metal to create the sedan models. Modifications for 2004 are modest yet significant.
The S80’s compact grille reaches forward and is accented by a prominent V shape that is molded into the hood. A sharply raked back window has nearly the same steep angle as the windshield. Crisp creases give the rear end a sharp contrast to the trimly rounded front of the car. Measuring 189.9 inches long overall, the S80 rides a 109.9-inch wheelbase.
Volvo’s largest sedan is categorized as a midsize vehicle because of its interior volume, but spacious interiors make some other luxury sedans look small inside. Even with an optional sunroof, headroom is ample for tall passengers. Rear-seat occupants enjoy generous legroom and useful space for their feet under the front seats. Large side windows provide an excellent view.
Even though the trunk lid opens more than 90 degrees, the opening isn’t particularly large; but the cargo floor is long, wide and flat. The trunk holds 14.4 cubic feet of cargo. Split rear seatbacks release from inside the trunk and fold flat without removing the headrests. Each rear headrest folds down with the push of a dashboard button, so the driver has a clear view directly rearward.
Under the Hood
The 2.9 model holds a 194-horsepower, 2.9-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. The high-performance T6 model gets a 268-hp, 2.9-liter inline-six that breathes with the assistance of twin turbochargers. The new S80 AWD is equipped with a 208-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder engine. All of the engines are mounted transversely. The larger two team with a four-speed-automatic transmission, but the S80 AWD contains a five-speed automatic. The Geartronic transmission on the T6 permits manual gear changes by pushing the shift lever fore and aft.
Safety has long been a byword at Volvo. Antilock brakes, traction control and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard. All five seating positions have three-point shoulder belts with pretensioners. Curtain-type airbags drop down from above the side windows in a collision to protect the heads of passengers. A Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) moves the front seatbacks and headrests rearward in a rear-end collision to help minimize whiplash.
The S80 is understated and elegant. It is spacious throughout and delivers a smooth, easy ride. When equipped with the six-cylinder engine, responses are energetic for a big car. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth yet noticeable. The S80 is easy to drive, and it promises excellent control and precise handling. The available navigation system’s screen isn’t easy to read, and some controls are cryptic.