I wasn’t surprised to read that Paul Yelland found our Volvo S80 long-termer underwhelming. I feel the same way. Let me explain.
Expectations high, I jumped on the bomber to Brisbane for the Australian launch of the new S80, keen to experience Volvo’s significant, all-new in-line six for the first time.
Disillusionment set in quickly; there were no six-cylinder cars. Instead, Volvo’s eight car test fleet was divided between the familiar V8 and five-pot turbodiesel-engined cars.
Rather than wait for the sixes to arrive six weeks later, Volvo choose to launch the car to the press without what was going to be the most popular variant. Why the delay? Seems the local management, having rejected front drive sixes for Australia, preferred to wait for the all-wheel drive versions which were later in the production schedule.
Still, I reasoned, the S80 is far more than just a new engine, but also the first model from any Ford subsidiary that is based on the new EUCD architecture, a set of automotive building blocks that will underpin a raft of upcoming cars. Knowing this only heightening my anticipation.
Yet, with every mile, my disappointment in the S80 V8 mounted. The ride was thumpy and skittish, the steering distracted and road noise intrusive. Where was the comfort and refinement demanded by most Volvo owners? I began to wonder how Richard Parry-Jones, the much respected engineer who signs off on the dynamics of all Ford (including the Australian Falcon and Territory) and PAG models, could let such a troubled car escape.
The following morning I heard rumours that the S80 press cars were not representative of the vehicles dealers would soon be selling. That sounded too absurd to be true, but did it reveal either a) that Volvo suspects most journalists would not pick up on the faults, or b) they don’t care what the motoring press says about their cars. In which case, why bother to hold a press launch?
When formally approached on the subject, Volvo Public Relations Manager (and former respected Autocar staffer) Todd Hallenbeck admitted that “very late in 2006, (the) Volvo chassis team made several online changes to the S80’s suspension tune (bushes, damper rates, steering gear). The upgraded suspension is slightly more compliant, greatly reduces tyre rumble, suspension thump and has significantly reduced rapid lateral toss. On centre steering feel has also been improved.”
Launching any new model is fraught with potential timing disasters, but this was plain foolish. Outside of the eight press cars, about a dozen “demonstrators” with the old chassis tune had gone to dealers. What’s that old cliché: “you only get one chance at first impressions?”
Ten days later, Todd rustled up a “new” S80, though the improvements were not as significant as I’d hoped. I understand the pressure from dealers to get cars and that the press hate not having driven any new model before it goes on sale, but this did not make sense. But after reading Paul’s experiences, I wonder if our car had the early chassis settings.