Volvo’s flagship sedan was introduced for the 1999 model year and got a mildly freshened appearance for 2004. The front fascia was reworked, and the grille surround was re-profiled for a gentler transition to the bodyside cladding. Fog lamps were added, and the grille contained a square-mesh pattern.
More important to buyers in the Snow Belt, the 2004 lineup gained an available all-wheel-drive version. The system works automatically, transferring power to the rear wheels only when the front tires have lost traction.
Volvo’s Four-C active chassis became optional for front-wheel-drive sedans in 2005. A new Sport package for 2.5T models in 2005 included sport seats and 17-inch Interceptor alloy wheels.
For 2006, the T6 and T6 Premier editions are no longer offered, leaving only 2.5T and 2.5T AWD models with more standard equipment. Premium and Sport option packages have been dropped, but their contents — including leather seating surfaces, a power glass moonroof, genuine wood inlays, a wood-trimmed steering wheel, a power passenger seat, 17-inch wheels and watch dial instrumentation — are now standard.
Volvo says a new Instant Traction all-wheel-drive system for the 2006 2.5T AWD sedan “instantly delivers up to 50 percent more torque to the rear axle only when needed.”
Partly because it was designed specifically as a sedan, the S80 looks dramatically different than its squared-off predecessors. The compact grille extends forward and is accented by a prominent V shape molded into the hood. A sharply raked back window has nearly the same angle as the windshield. Crisp rear creases are in sharp contrast with the rounded front of the car. Built on a 109.9-inch wheelbase, the S80 measures 190.9 inches long overall.
Volvo’s largest sedan is categorized as a midsize passenger car, but its spacious interior makes some other luxury sedans look small by comparison. Even with a sunroof, headroom is ample for tall passengers. Rear-seat occupants enjoy generous legroom and foot space. Large side windows provide excellent views. Leather seating surfaces, power front seats and dual-zone electronic climate control are standard.
Even though the trunk lid opens more than 90 degrees, the opening isn’t particularly large. Still, the cargo floor is long, wide and flat. Trunks hold 14.4 cubic feet of cargo. Split rear seatbacks fold flat without the need to remove the head restraints. Each rear head restraint folds down with the push of a dashboard button. A navigation system with a pop-up video screen is available.
Both front- and all-wheel-drive 2.5T models hold a 208-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder that produces 236 pounds-feet of torque and works with a five-speed-automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes, traction control, side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain-type airbags are standard. A Whiplash Protection Seating System moves the front seatbacks rearward in a rear-end collision. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control is optional.
Understated and elegant, the S80 is spacious throughout and delivers a smooth, easy ride. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth yet noticeable. The easy-to-drive S80 promises excellent control and precise handling, but the available navigation system’s screen is difficult to read.