Volvo produced its first car, known as Jakob, in 1927. Seventy-five years later, the Swedish automaker, now owned by Ford Motor Co., is offering a special anniversary edition of its S80 luxury sedan that is positively loaded with high-tech gadgets.

The S80 made its debut in 1998, and while it remains essentially the same, the exterior has been given a modest face-lift for 2002 that includes body-color bumpers and side moldings along with new wheels. A three-step, pearl white paint process has been developed by Volvo in collaboration with Dupont, and the result was beautiful on the special edition.

The S80 is built on a 109.9-inch wheelbase and has an overall length of 189.8 inches. Five people can fit inside, and the trunk is generous. It is comparable in size to the Mercedes-Benz E320, Lexus GS300 and BMW 540I.

The 75th Anniversary Edition, priced at $45,995, is positively crammed with gadgets, including rear-seat video screens built into the back of the front seats like those in an executive aircraft. Befitting an executive vehicle, most of the attention has been lavished on the rear seat. Not only has the seat been moved slightly to create a little more legroom, but it is covered in special leather. Rear-seat heaters and an electric rear window blind are standard. Dual 12-volt sockets are provided for accessories, and a small cooler, large enough for a couple of water bottles, is built into the rear center armrest. Glassware storage space is built into the rear parcel shelf.

The biggest addition to the rear seat is the DVD-based video system and television tuner built into the center console. A 7-inch video screen is attached to the back of each front-seat headrest, and rear-seat passengers can listen via cordless headphones. The two screens operate independently of each other, so each rear-seat passenger can choose his or her own entertainment. Video games such as Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation can also be played through the system.

The test car was also equipped with Volvo's navigation system, an $1,895 option. An LCD screen glides up from the top of the instrument panel where it can be easily seen, and controls for operating the system are mounted on the back of the steering wheel. Like most navigation systems, this one is pretty complicated and in the end I found it to be more of a toy than a tool.

Another option, a four-CD audio system with surround sound, was spectacular but its operation takes some time to figure out because many of its controls work differently than other radios.

Not all of the attention has been paid to the interior for 2002. Volvo has reworked its 2.9-liter, six-cylinder engine that uses two light-pressure turbochargers to crank out 268 horsepower. Called the T6, this engine is smooth and strong. It uses two small turbochargers because they respond quicker than one large one, resulting in the throttle response of a larger, nonturbo power plant. Step into the throttle gently an d you're greeted with a pleasing surge of power. Stomp it, however, and you're rewarded with strong acceleration. Continuously variable valve timing also enables this engine to have a broad power band so that it drives bigger than it is.

A Geartronic automatic transmission accompanies the T6 engine. This unit enables the driver to slip the lever to one side and change gears manually for more control. Similar to Porsche's Tiptronic and Chrysler's AutoStick, Geartronic is an appealing feature for those who like the control of a manual in some occasions and the ease of an automatic in others.

Volvo has long been known for its emphasis on safety, and the S80 takes that to a new level. They say the stiffer body structure does a better job of protecting passengers in a crash. Front and side airbags are standard, but they are supplemented by two inflatable curtains, one on each side, that deploy from the ceiling and protect occupants' heads in a side impact. They remain inflate for three seconds, which, Volvo says, provides added protection from secondary impacts and helps keep occupants from being thrown from the vehicle.

An additional safety feature is a whiplash protection system built into the seats. In the event of a rear-end collision, this system helps cushion the impact while the upper part of the seat moves up and forward to provide extra support for the head and neck.

Anti-lock brakes as well as the Stability and Traction Control aid traction in poor weather conditions and contribute to safety as well.

With an interior that is as elegant as modern Swedish furniture, 268 horsepower and a complete rear-seat video system, the 75th Anniversary Edition of the S80 is quite a package. Only a limited number will be available.

Price
The base price of the test car was $45,995. Options included the pearl paint, navigation system and surround-sound audio. The sticker price was $50,115.

Warranty
Four years or 50,000 miles.

Point: The S80 is a handsome sedan with a solid chassis platform. It feels rock solid and the turbocharged six-cylinder engine is smooth and strong. The special anniversary edition has a rear-seat entertainment system and a cooler built into the center armrest.

Counterpoint: The navigation system is more of a toy than a tool, and the audio system uses unique controls that require some time to figure out.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Engine: 2.9-liter, 268-hp 6-cyl.
Transmission: automatic Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 109.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,682 lbs.
Base price: $45,995
As driven: $50.115
Mpg rating: 18 city, 25 hwy.
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