The Volvo S80 DrivE is a frugal but unexciting choice

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.

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.


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J400uk 21 November 2009

Re: Volvo S80 1.6D DrivE

0-60 time is wrong

roadtester 16 November 2009

Re: Volvo S80 D5 SE Lux

The 1.6 diesel is perfectly fine for most people under most conditions - hardly anyone would guess the engine was so small if they just got in and drove the S80 DRIVe without looking at the badging.

The Skoda Superb Greenline is probably about the closest comparison in terms of space, quality and performance - although the Skoda is a fair bit cheaper. In both cases performance is more than good enough for UK driving conditions, with unremarkable on-paper 0-60 acceleration more than compensated for in the real world by decent torque. In practice, the 1.9 PD in the Superb Greenline and the 1.6 in the Volvo are fairly evenly matched, given that the 1.9 is older tech while the 1.6 delivers over a wider range of revs. My guess is that the 1.9 PD in the Greenline will be replaced by the new 1.6 VW CR engine at some stage making the cars more directly comparable on paper as well.

Lee23404 16 November 2009

Re: Volvo S80 D5 SE Lux

cimardinius wrote:

androo wrote:
Nobody with executive pretensions wants a 1.6 litre engine that's no more econimical than a 2.0.

I know this might be hard to accept, but this engine should not be dismissed until tried. It does a really manful job of getting the Citroen C5 around and, if one was not told it was a 1.6, one would think it was at least a 2 litre.

Cimardinius I agree with you about the 1.6 engine; I have one in my C5 Tourer and have no problems with the performance. I took it down to Italy in the summer, fully loaded up with family and luggage and got it up to 120mph (sat nav indicated) on the autobahns, so not bad at all.

Where I agree with Androo is on the mpg. Most of my time is spent on motorways and A- roads so I usually get close to the official combined mpg (about 50mpg) for my C5. However I struggle to get more than 45mpg. With my old 2.0 tdci Mondeo I could get 48mpg easily and mid 50's if I tried. I think that the extra work the 1.6 has to do along with the lack of a 6th gear seriosly harms real world economy. The Volvo, being an "economy car" has got longer gearing so maybe that does better. While the 1.6 is just fine I'll be getting (at least) a 2.0 next time.