You know the millineum is coming when Volvo starts thinking outside the box.
Their sedans, long known for appliance box-like styling, actually gets some some curves. Volvo has banished the box with the introduction of the S80, a replacement for the venerable S90/V90/760 series.
Unlike their predecessors, this all-new platform is front-wheel drive, making it stand out in a field of mostly rear-drive competitors.
But what it really does is stand apart from the Volvo sedans that came before it. The side front end features a protrusion with a traditional Volvo grille announcing its arrival. The sides bulge outward below the car’s beltline, the greenhouse’s backlight sloping gently into the trunk.
What’s really different is the back, which almost seems like Volvo’s take on the previous Honda Accord. But it’s still pretty distinctive, if daring for a Volvo. It looks elegant without being overstated or flashy.
This sexy(!) new body makes it the sleekest Volvo yet, with a coefficient of drag of only 0.28. This means the sedan slices through the wind easily. It also means little wind noise inside the car.
With an overall length of 189.8 inches and a 109.9-inch wheelbase, the car is roomier than many of its rivals, capable of seating five. All five passengers get head restraints and three-point seat belts, so safety is still a priority — that far out of the box, Volvo hasn’t moved.
The front bucket seats are comfortable, with the driver getting three memory presets. They will seem a little narrow for some. Heated seats and leather are optional. The leather was of good quality, while the heated seats warmed up just enough, without roasting the occupant. This is a problem with some heated seats.
Back seat room is good, but merely adequate with both front seats pushed all the way back.
The dash is sculpted in a very modern fashion, looking less stark than the S90 version. Instruments are placed directly in front of the driver and are easy to see through the steering wheel, which is adjustable for rake and reach. It also has controls for the audio system and cruise control. Unlike some GM cars where the buttons are easy to trip accidently, the Volvo’s buttons are unobtrusive. Also unlike the GM, they have a firm tactile feel.
In the instrument cluster is a trip computer which measures fuel economy, distance to empty and other such trivia. It can switched off.
The center dash houses a large panel with controls for audio system and climate control.
The AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system was deveoloped specifically for the S80 and has eight speakers. The premium system has nine speakers along with Dolby Surround and Pro Logic. The sound was excellent, with good imaging in the cabin.
The climate control is logical to use, with individual temperature settings available for each passenger.
All those passengers will be well protected. The cabin features Volvo’s Inflatible Curtain. Each curtain is made of ei ght columns woven together and stowed in the headliner above the doors. When deployed, they cover the side windows, to prevent occupants’ heads from hitting objects. Volvo also has a whiplash protection system which is designed to operate at low speeds, such as in city traffic, where most such accidents occur. When hit from behind, the car’s seatback is designed to move backwards with the passenger. Rather than hitting the seat and bouncing back, this design moves with the occupant to prevent the whiplash that occurs with the bouncing-back motion. The upper part of the seat moves up and forward to protect the head and neck.
Of course, the safest car is one that can steer or brake around an accident in the first place.
On this count, the Volvo excels as well as accelerates.
Standard on the S80 is a naturally aspirated 201-horsepower 2.9-liter and is a carry-over engine from the rear-drive S90. It’s mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
The test car was an S80 T6 ,which gets a twin-turbocharged 2.8-liter six-cylinder that’s very responsive and has no turbo-lag. Credit goes to Volvo’s use of two small turbos rather than one large one, with each turbo powering three cylinders. Both feed the engine through an intercooler. T6 Volvos get a “Geartronic” automatic transmission, an automatic transmission that can be shifted manually, like an increasing number of luxury-league automobiles. By sliding the lever to the manual side and tipping the lever forward (for upshift) and backwards (for downshift), the car obeys your commands. But the transmissions, jointly devloped with General Motors, have a smooth shifting quality and obedient nature that will make you forget about shifting it yourself.
The brakes were terrific, with short stops and little dive. But the peddle was incredibly oversensitive, requiring some time to get used to its touchy nature.
Ride quality is supple, yet firm, striking the right combination of absorbtion and sportiness. Body lean was minimal, as was wind noise. Yet road noise filtered in a bit more at times than was expected.
The speed-sensitive power steering was light at low speeds, firming up as the speed built. It returned enough road feel to keep things interesting. Handling overall was quick and steady, returning typically European luxury-car feel. That’s not unusual for a Volvo, especially a turbo-charged one, but its svelte new looks are. The winning combination of great looks and agile handling will win over many new luxury-car buyers to this brand.
Obviously, Ford, now owners of Volvo’s car line, are getting some slick new machines for their luxury car line that is now comprised of Aston Martin, Jaguar and Lincoln. This tasty sedan from Sweden will add a distinctly different feel.
So my question to you is this: Have you driven a Fjord lately?
1999 VOLVO S80 T6
Vehicle type: 4-door sedan Engines: Twin-turbo 2.8-liter six-cylinder Transmission: 4-speed automatic/manual Wheelbase: 109.9 inches Length: 189.8 inches Cargo volume: 14.2 cubic feet Tires: P225/55R16 Base price, S80:$32,878 Base price, S80 T6: $36,989 EPA rating: 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway Test mileage: 21 mpg Fuel type: Premium