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MOTORNET: Cardigan Wearers Need Not Apply

Volvo S80 – Cardigan Wearers Need Not Apply

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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People who wear cardigans do not drive V8s. Well, I suppose there are a few ancient Rovers V8s around and their drivers might well wear cardigans on occasion I grant you, but as a general rule, they don’t. Given this, what could Volvo be thinking with its all new flagship sedan, the S80? Not only does it sport a seriously grunty V8, but all-wheel-drive as well.

After all, for Volvo drivers, cardigan wearing is mandatory. As is pipe smoking and jackets with leather elbow patches. At least, you could be forgiven for thinking this if you have ever watched any films set in the 70s where apparently every American family with even a hint of intellectual aspiration drives a Volvo 240 Estate.

But if that’s still your view of Volvo, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Lately, they are good looking, quick(ish), and dare I say it, quite sporty. Which is why it isn’t that much of a surprise that Volvo’s latest effort for once doesn’t offer a quirky five cylinder turbo motor, but instead, an equally quirky V8.

Quirky, you say? For a start, it’s mounted transversely. What that means in real-terms is that unlike pretty much every V8 anywhere in the world (barring a few US spec Ford Taurus’ manufactured when Robbie Williams was still a member of a boy-band) it sits cross ways in the engine bay, rather than length ways. The main advantage of this is that unlike longitudinally mounted V8s, it will fit in a relatively compact space – just luckily for Volvo. It’s also unusual in that this particular V8 was developed jointly by Ford and Yamaha. Not something that happens every day of the week.

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The really good news is that it works. In fact, it’s the heart and soul of this new Volvo. At idle, it has a delightfully muted timbre, quite in keeping with the S80’s dignified and refined presence. But tickle the throttle and a degree of menace creeps into the V8’s throat, which in turn becomes a fully fledged snarl when the revs begin to soar past 5000rpm. Okay, it doesn’t have quite the sonorous quality of a Maserati for example, but for a Volvo it sounds pretty darn good.

It’s also really quite quick, and this time, not just for a Volvo. The 0-100km/h comes up in an impressive 6.58 seconds, which is only fractionally slower than a 300C HEMI and an Audi A6 4.2 litre V8 quattro. Not bad for a car that weighs close on 1900kg. When you nail the throttle, it doesn’t so much throw you back in your seat, but what does impress is its relentless gathering of speed. You feel like you could keep your foot flat and it would continue to get faster long after you’ve passed the legal open-road speed limit and beyond.

It will also go around corners quite convincingly thanks in no small part to the sensible inclusion of all-wheel-drive developed previously for Volvo’s successful SUV, the XC90. This ensures that power – up to 50 percent – is transferred from the front to the rear ensuring that the front wheels in particular are not overwhelmed by the torque of the engine. The suspension has several settings, but while some might prefer the ‘comfort’ setting, ‘advanced’ did it for me, achieving a good balance of bump-absorbing ride and balance and poise in the twisty stuff.

Perhaps the S80’s biggest Achilles heel is its steering. Sure, it’s a luxury limousine, but that doesn’t preclude it from having a decent tiller does it? Feedback from the driving wheels is minimal, with the only hint that the limits of the Volvo’s impressive grip have been reached coming from the variable pitch of the tyre shriek as you gun the S80 through the corners. The steering is also peculiar in that it feels quite heavy at low speeds and inexcusably light at faster speeds – madness when combined with a monstrous turning circle of 12m. It needs to be quicker and much more intuitive.

Sitting at the top of the heap of New Zealand’s Volvo line-up, you would expect the S80 to be large and executive like. And it is, but it’s also a very sharply styled number as well. Where the previous S80 seemed a little flabby, this one is by contrast quite chiseled – more Hugo Boss than Hallensteins. With its sleek styling, short front and rear overhangs, and classy 18” alloys, the S80 achieves a considerable amount of road presence. In fact, it drew some very favourable – and unsolicited I might add – comments from a couple of pretty blonde by-passers, a sure sign that Volvo is finding favour with a younger generation.

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As you might expect, it comes fully loaded. All the usual gear is on-board like multi-disk CD stacker, climate air-conditioning, leather upholstery, electrically adjustable seats, park distance control, rain-sensing wipers – the standard equipment list is endless. Niceties include individual air vents for backseat passengers and a built in child’s seat in the rear armrest. Cool. Not so the elevated driving position, fiddly lumbar support and electronic park-brake. Safety equipment is, as you might expect, extensive. At this point, Volvo tends to ruin things with acres of not especially attractive faux wood, but the test vehicle came equipped with handsome brushed aluminium trim and cool-to-the-touch alloy knobs and the like. The Germans have been doing this well for years, but the Swedes know a thing or two about interior design and it shows.

Driven irresponsibly, the big Volvo likes to drink high octane at alarming rates, but ‘normal’ usage will return reasonable fuel figures. Officially, the combined cycle is 11.8 litres per 100km, but I think real world, 14-15 litres is more on the money unless you do a lot of highway motoring where it is especially frugal. Most V8 manufacturers would give their right arm for these figures so consider yourself lucky. And while we are patting ourselves on the back, the S80 complies with some extremely stringent emissions laws, so you don’t have to chastise yourself during environmentally conscious cocktail party conversation.

The S80 may not be quite the ‘Q-car’ it could have been – it’s size, weight and a weakness in the steering department puts paid to that. But it does have one last Ace to play, its price tag. At a smidgen under $110k, this V8 is a relative bargain compared with many of its European brethren. It has another advantage too. As well as being a veritable ‘wolf in sheep’s’ clothing in the power department, it’s rare I am reliably informed, to be called a w*nk*r when driving a Volvo…

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