The new S80 is an interesting, likeable executive alternative; but this V8 model will be a rare sight.

What's new? If you know a little about cars, you may think you know what you’re going to get with the new Volvo S80. Comfortable seats, perhaps; tried and tested cabin ergonomics; much talk of safety, that’s for sure. You also won’t need to read Volvo’s blurb to guess that of all the main contenders in the BMW 5-series class, the old S80 had the highest average age of purchaser. It was just that sort of car. But the all-new S80 is different, they say. We’ll see.An immaculate line-up of metallic grey S80s stands in the shadow of the mighty Oresund bridge that links Sweden with Denmark. From a distance you’d presume they’re S60s, but get closer and you see the cars are too big – too long, too imposing.The details tell the rest of the story. A V8 badge on the grille lets slip that this car packs Volvo’s new 4.4-litre 311bhp V8, mounted transversely in front of the lead axle. That also means it has a four-wheel-drive system and a chassis with adaptive damping that’s switchable from the cockpit and developed on UK roads with the rubber stamp of the man behind the great Ford chassis of the past decade, Richard Parry-Jones. So it ought to be good.There are more gadgets, too: a key that fights (or feeds) your paranoia by using sensors to tell you whether someone’s hiding in your car from the other side of the street and, we’re told with a wry Scandinavian smile, a ‘very powerful audio system’ that was created with a little help from Alpine and Bang and Olufsen.In an era of large multi-brand car corporations, technology sharing means that many cars are essentially the same under their designer skins. Volvo is owned by Ford, but there’s no evidence of this in the cabin, which is a refreshing exception. It needs to be – the S80 is lining up against some mighty tough competition in the executive saloon market.It’s got the models to compete; alongside the four-wheel-drive V8 range-topper – mainly aimed at the American market where having a V8 in the range is vital – there is a spread of front-wheel-drive models, a new, extra-compact 3.2-litre in-line six that’s also destined to become a Jaguar motor and a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo, plus two diesels – a 182bhp D5 and 161bhp 2.4D.What's it like? Desperate to escape the icy wind, I leap into the S80’s cabin. At the price, this is one of the interiors of the moment. The centrepiece is the wafer-thin centre console – as first seen in the S40; this one has slightly pointless storage space behind, but is much less fiddly in operation – and the mixture of shapes and themes, detail design and choice of materials is first-class.There isn’t the space here to really do the interior justice, but the pictures tell the story – it’s easily as good as it looks. And Volvo clearly wasn’t lying about the stereo, either: it has such depth and power that you could well be sitting in your car to listen to music rather than your front room.We head north along miles of drab Swedish motorway. The S80 is in its element here. The V8 is practically inaudible at these crank speeds and throttle openings, wind noise is suitably suppressed and the seats cosset, as you knew they would. There’s a fair bit of road noise, but the motorway surface looks terribly grainy, so must take much of the blame. It doesn’t take long to realise that the variable dampers are best left in the ‘comfort’ setting on roads like these, as the elastic body control that makes for a comfortable primary ride is pegged back in the tauter ‘sport’ setting. The ‘advanced’ seems likely to be suitable only for super-smooth roads.As we turn off the main routes I adjust the steering weight in the settings menu (there are three levels of power steering resistance). Visibility is poor, the temperature is barely above freezing, the roads are covered in grit and it’s getting dark. Not ideal conditions, then, but there’s time enough to establish that the S80 isn’t a nose-heavy nightmare on twisty roads. In fact it has a pleasantly coherent feel. The steering is ideally weighted in medium-force mode for everyday driving, and reassuringly firm for sportier driving in heavy mode. Although the Servotronic system is hardly a mine of information, it’s consistent from lock to lock, allowing you to place the car accurately. You might expect to catch out the damping with the weight of the V8 in the nose, but even on wildly undulating roads there’s little drama.The S80 doesn’t feel like an entertaining drive like a 5-series or Jaguar S-type, but neither does it feel a wallowing mess, and you can’t fault the traction from the four-wheel-drive system. The V8 suddenly growls when you prod the throttle, the pitch rising as the revs increase until it whines around to the red line. It responds keenly to the throttle, and apart from a curious vibration in the mid-range that can be felt through the rim of the steering wheel, it’s a smooth engine – albeit neither as smooth nor as powerful as a 550i’s.Should I buy one? But then the Volvo isn’t as costly as the BMW. At between £38,975 and £41,725, the V8 undercuts its main opposition, although we’d expect it to remain a rare sight in the UK due to high running costs and likely poor residuals. The S80 range as a whole, however, is competitively priced and well equipped. It is also a temptingly different alternative to the norm.Adam Towler

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fast ed 13 September 2011

Re: Volvo S80 4.4 V8 SE

I had a spin in one of these a few years back when they first came out.

Very nice car, fairly quick, too pricey for me at the moment.

Would I buy one if I had the readies? Yep

theonlydt 13 September 2011

Re: Volvo S80 4.4 V8 SE

ronmcdonald wrote:
Geely bought Volvo from Ford for $1.5billion 12 months ago. Come on Autocar, keep up to date.
Look at the date of the original article - at that point Volvo was very much Ford owned. Even now, despite being Geely owned, a lot of the parts are originally Ford.

ronmcdonald 13 September 2011

Re: Volvo S80 4.4 V8 SE

Autocar wrote:

In an era of large multi-brand car corporations, technology sharing means that many cars are essentially the same under their designer skins. Volvo is owned by Ford, but there’s no evidence of this in the cabin...

Geely bought Volvo from Ford for $1.5billion 12 months ago. Come on Autocar, keep up to date.