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MOTORNET: Close encounters – Volvo S80 3.2

MOTORNET: Close encounters – Volvo S80 3.2

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie - onlinefotos.com/neil


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There’s a reason that Volvos have a reputation for being safe cars. That’s because they are. Up until recently, I have never needed to know first hand just how safe – I have always taken them at their word and indeed the word of many of the finest new car crash performance testers from around the world.

All that changed recently thanks to a combination of a number of factors. These included: some challenging narrow roads in the otherwise perfectly pleasant Wellington suburb of Khandallah, one large bus equipped with an enthusiastic driver, and a dash of early morning sun strike.


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I knew the bus was going to hit me, just like you know in a nose-to-tail you’re going to hit the car in front of you even though every bone in your body is urging the car to stop. I had done everything possible of course to avoid the collision, shy of mounting the curb, but the bus kept coming and try as I might, I couldn’t make Volvo’s elegant S80 sedan any smaller. The impact, when it came, wasn’t especially dramatic – just a dull thud as the Volvo was seemingly gently pushed off its intended course.

That’s not how it looked though a few moments later when I was examining the damage. Where before a pristine right rear passenger door had been, what remained was a rather sorry looking affair with almost quite literally the impression of the front corner of a large bus in it. On the plus side, at least the ‘guy in the suit with the worried look and stoved-in ‘German’ car’ gave the early morning bus passengers something to titter about.


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Of course, the reason for me driving the Volvo that fateful morning was not to entice wary bus drivers into collisions like some siren from Homer’s Odyssey, but to try out the car I had found so delightful around twelve months earlier – though this time, with six cylinders where before there was a V8. Last time, I described Volvo’s Yamaha derived engine as both quirky and the life and soul of the S80. Fortuitously, the 3.2 litre six also has plenty going for it. It’s a bit down on power compared to its V8 sibling – 175kW vs 232kW – but it still makes the 0-100km/h dash in a respectable 7.9 seconds (the V8 is a bit quicker at 6.58 seconds for the same sprint). Floor the smaller engined S80, and you notice that it has to work harder than the V8 version, but it still has plenty of power in real world situations.

And it has other real world advantages. Although it comes standard with Volvo’s excellent AWD system, the 3.2 S80 is over 100kgs lighter than its sibling. The not inconsiderable weight saving and reduced mass over the front wheels makes the large front-driver feel a little more agile in the handling stakes – no bad thing as the big Volvo is quite happy to hustle along if the thought takes you and the opportunity arises. Neither will you need to stop quite so often for premium fuel. Volvo quote an average fuel figure of 10.3 litres/100km vs 11.9 for the V8. I found the V8 even thirstier in practice while the 3.2 is fairly frugal.


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Frugal though is not how you would describe the interior. Equipment levels are first rate, including electronically adaptive suspension as standard. Curtain airbags as you might expect, also abound (though luckily, I didn’t have a first hand experience with one of those!) while a side impact protection system is also standard. Top notch materials, including sumptuous leather, and outstanding build quality are all part of the desirable picture.

While, like the V8, I found the steering more than a little on the lifeless side, I really can’t fault the S80 for how it looks. 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 alloys, the S80 achieves a considerable amount of road presence. Some will bemoan that it’s still a sedan, but a damn fine looking one all the same in my eyes.

Given the price, one wonders why Government Minister’s aren’t being chauffeured around in these cars rather than the older, and heavier 7-Series BMWs. The retail price of $89,995 makes good dollar sense in these fiscally challenged times, representing a saving of around $20k over its more cylindered brethren (a diesel is $5k less again).

Ultimately, it might lack the character of the V8, but the cheaper, lighter, and less thirsty S80 3.2 makes a pretty compelling argument all the same. I have a particular fondness of the car too given how heroically it withstood the many tonned onslaught of one of Wellington’s public transports finest (impressively, there was no indication of the impact at all from the passenger compartment). I wonder how I will look in the endorsement adverts? You know the ones – me, undamaged, the Volvo, slightly damaged and the bus looking menacing in the background. Guess I better get in shape before the endorsement circuit beckons.

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