Volvo's big diesel saloon has its flaws, but its excellent interior and fine cruising ability mean it does stack up as an admittedly quirky alternative to its German rivals.

What is it?

This is our first chance to drive Volvo's new S80 with the D5 five-cylinder turbodiesel engine under the bonnet. The 2.4-litre unit produces a reasonable 182bhp and 295lb ft of torque. In addition, the test car was fitted with Volvo's BLIS system, giving us a chance to see how well the Swede's blind spot monitor works on British motorways.

What is it like?

Once you get up to speed, the S80 D5 is an accomplished cruiser. There's a little road noise but the engine is refined at motorway speeds and wind noise is kept to a minimum. Comfortable ride and an excellent interior improve the experience further.

On A- and B-roads, meanwhile, the Volvo is well damped and its body control is assured - it doesn't feel that big in the lanes. There has to be a snag, though, and it comes in the shape of the optional Geartronic six-speed automatic transmission. It's slow and noisy, and also has a tendancy to rev the diesel lump more than necessary when pulling away from a standstill. We suggest you test a manual version before deciding if the auto is worth £1350.

The BLIS system is more successful. It comprises two warning lights (one in each A-pillar) which illuminate when a nearby car comes into range but goes out of view. It seems like a distracting gimmick for the first few miles but after a decent motorway run, it seems like second nature.

Should I buy one?

At a whisker over 28 grand, Volvo faces stiff competition from prestige brands like BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The S80's fine interior and sublime cruising capability make it a genuine alternative to any of its German rivals - but it still comes from the quirky side of the tracks.

John McIlroy

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