From £24,890
The Volvo S80 DrivE is a frugal but unexciting choice

Our Verdict

Volvo S80
The S80 has appeal for drivers who spend their days on the motorway

The Volvo S80 is a comfortable way to cover long distances, but it fails to excite in a way the class best can

13 November 2009
Volvo S80 1.6D DrivE

What is it?

It’s necessary to view the refreshed Volvo S80 with a sense of proportion. This car is never going to be an Autocar driver’s favourite. But it could make a case for business drivers who rarely leave the motorway because they need to get where they are going.

The DRIVe, despite its SE specification, retails at £22,245 (our test car’s leather trim and heated seats added £1450 to the price) making it just two or three thousand pounds more expensive than a Mondeo or Insignia.

However, it has rather less power on tap than typical rivals because of the downsized 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine. However, there are extremely competitive leasing rates currently being offered for DRIVe as well as the positive tax effect of a Co2 output of just 129g/km.

What’s it like?

This S80 is pretty pedestrian out of the traps, but once it’s rolling the 107bhp engine has a surprising amount of muscle. 80mph is a comfortable gait and the top (fifth) ratio is well judged enough to allow the car to range between 60mph and 80mph without cog swapping.

Other impressive aspects were the slick ‘box and smooth clutch action, engine and cabin refinement, impressive standard-issue stereo and climate control and the promise of a trans-continental range. Even with the trip computer showing 40.5mpg it predicted a range of 710 miles.

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Although on a good stretch of motorway, it can be impressively refined settled, the majority of the time (in the UK at least) the DRIVe is constantly reacting to the road surface.

It gently hops and skips and thumps over even reasonable surfaces. There’s a constant, if moderate, background of agitation and in the hammering motorway rain the car occasional felt as if it needed to be coaxed into running straight and true. Much of the time, these reactions are irritating rather than catastrophic, but they are fundamentally at odds with the S80’s executive demeanor.

However, it’s the steering response in more demanding conditions that undermines this S80. On the fast sweeper from the M3 to M25, the (lightish) steering lost a most of its feel as the lock went on.

On the usually fast M25 to M23 slip road, however, I had to back right off as the steering almost completely lost contact with reality and I ended with no sense of how the car was pulling itself around the sweeping bend.

Should I buy one?

At the beginning of the year, I drove a version of the revised S80 on sports suspension and found it a notable improvement. This particular model, however, remains adrift of the chassis standards set by most mass-market business class cars.

It’s a pity, considering its potential as executive car that’s within the grasp of business drivers.


Join the debate


21 November 2009

0-60 time is wrong

18 March 2009

[quote julianphillips]The fact that there is some confusion over where the S60/S80 sit versus the 3/5-series and C/E Class may actually add to Volvo's attractiveness for many 'downsizing' execs who want 'big car' appeal and some brand value and perceived quality/image[/quote]

I'm never sure whether this actually helps or not. The strange positioning of the S40 - S60 - S80 makes the Volvo difficult to place on company car listings that are for larger fleets usually benchmarked against a car like the 3 series, and even engines are slightly oddball - with the Jag XF getting criticism because its 2.7 wasn't quite up to the Job of handling a 530D, then where does that put Volvo's new D5?

The positioning of the S80 more against the 5 series also leaves big questions as to where the new S60 fits in when it arrives - will this be the main 3 series rival? and with the S40/V50 currently based on the Focus will that see these downgraded in price to be true 1 series / A3 competitors?

18 March 2009

I would love one, alas at most places I visit daily for work - I would probably have to climb out the sunroof, its a big car!!!. Still highly attractive in the metal, distinguished rather than flash or aggressive.

I would agree about the XC60 having seen 2 now on the road, it looks bang up to date in style but still looks chunky and tough. I bet a few Police forces are looking closely at these.

18 March 2009

This is actually a bigger problem than it first appears. One of Rover's numerous problems was that it ended up with a car range - 25/45/75 that didn't fit size and engine wise into any of the normal market boxes - and this confused buyers and managers drawing up company car choice lists.

18 March 2009

ok, so Volvo's model positioning is different, but why should we let BMW impose any standards here? When buying my s60 I compared it with the 3 series and noticed that for better price I get the so called "premium sedan" that isn't ostentatious, is bigger, has a stronger engine and is far better equipped (radio, leather etc). It was a quick decision.

If the new D5 engine and the sports suspension are so much better than the new generation s60 will certainly look good!

18 March 2009

BMW impose the standard because they have had the best selling car in that segment since Adam was a boy (although possible overtaken recently by the A4), as well as the one that testers almost universally agree is the best.

I don't much like Beemers but that puts me in a minority.

18 March 2009

In several other markets there is not such a perceived problem with the model range. For example, in the US and Canada the V50 (where admittedly it is only available with the T5 4wd version I think) is universally perceived, marketed and reviewed as a direct competitor to the A4 Avant or the 3-Series Tourer. In fact many of the reviews rate it higher than these competitors. Personally I think they should ditch the S40.

The comments someone made about fleet could be a non-issue as it is fleet sales that have put Volvo in the excellent position they are in in the UK today, mainly company car fleets. Moreover, neither of the two largest fleets in the Europe that I have been involved with benchmarked the 3-Series or in fact benchmarked any other car! Pricing is driven by a very specific set of economic factors collated by substantial teams of economatricians. Other less tangible elements (eg brand value, build quality, why is a Golf worth more than the same spec Megane or Focus, security of the Big 3, rising costs of particulate filters, changes to legislation, etc etc) are then separately produced by a small team of roadtesters and industry experts (my team!) and factored into the economic equation with great difficulty. All the resulting rates are sense checked and then UK and EU data relating to everything from downstream fuel pricing or supply issues to the inflation and GDP are factored in. Then everything is sense checked again and an 'elite' few sign the pricing off. The only benchmarking I have seen is where there are very small company car fleets and minor players who restrict choices, typically, to German brands like VW/MERC/AUDI/BMW.

18 March 2009

So the car is better now the D5 has increased it's power output. Can't wait to read the review when Volvo stick their 1.6D under the bonnet of the same car.

18 March 2009

[quote RobotBoogie]

BMW impose the standard because they have had the best selling car in that segment since Adam was a boy (although possible overtaken recently by the A4), as well as the one that testers almost universally agree is the best.

I don't much like Beemers but that puts me in a minority.

[/quote] BMW might think what they want but I see no reason for - say an s60 (same price range)- to be as cramped as the 3 series. Kudos to Volvo for being different.

18 March 2009

[quote julianphillips]The other thing with the XC60 is its the first time where, based on looks alone, I would be tempted to go choose a Volvo over any of its competition.

Agreed. Great looking motor!


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