2016 Volvo S80 T5 (USA)

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Whilst the car market has, in recent times, moved strongly in favour of Crossover type vehicles, there remain segments where the traditional saloon continues to sell strongly, and nowhere more so than in what the branding and marketing folk call the E Segment, which in ordinary speak means the Executive Saloon. It is dominated by three German models, the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E Class, whose combined global sales amount to hundreds of thousands a year. Higher prices mean decent profit margins, too (although a look at the discounts that are on offer makes you wonder, sometimes!), so it is a sector that plenty of other manufacturers want in their portfolio, too. It is pretty much a pre-requisite to have a badge with premium connotations, as the French marques have found out to their chagrin on more than one occasion, and as Lexus and Infiniti are still learning the hard way (in Europe, at least, it is a different story in America). Swedish marque Volvo should have no trouble in that regard, with the brand being perceived as an aspirational one as far back as the 1970s though most of that arose from the fact that they offered an estate version in their range at a time when its only real rival was the less capacious but more sporting Triumph 2000. And whilst a large estate model – the V70 – remains a core part of Volvo’s range, this Swedish marque has continued to offer a similarly sized saloon car as well. Since 1998 this has been called the S80, and sales have been steady though far from spectacular ever since. A second generation of the S80 was launched at the 2006 Geneva Show, building on the strengths of the first. This was based on the Ford EUCD platform, also used for vehicles including the Ford S-Max and Galaxy and the third generation Ford Mondeo, though you would never know from looking at the cars. In keeping with Volvo’s reputation and tradition, there were a number of advanced safety features included and the new S80 won many awards shortly after launch for its safety protection. The first cars had the choice of a new 3.2 litre straight-six engine or a five cylinder diesel, but to emphasise the model’s role at the top of the range, an interesting transversely installed 311 bhp 4.4-litre V8 engine, developed in conjunction with Yamaha and made in Japan, in combination with available four-wheel drive, was soon added to the range. Visually the S80 has changed little on what is now one of the longest production lives of a model on sale, though there were minor updates to the appearance in 2010 and again in 2014 but under the skin there have been a number of changes. Volvo kept altering the engines on offer. The V8 model did not sell very well and was dropped at the end of 2010, and with ever more punitive taxation on large petrol engined cars in many markets of the world, most of the focus was on the diesel powered cars, though a 1.6 litre Turbo 4 cylinder petrol model, using the Ford Group Ecoboost unit, was added to the range as part of the Drive-E concept in 2012. New trim versions and extra equipment arrived on an annual basis, as buyer expectations (or so we are told) are for ever more technology and features. Although there is the sort of complexity of different engines and trims that you get with almost any model these days, which means checking what you are looking at will become a minefield as the cars age, the essence of the S80 remained the same throughout its 10 year life: a roomy and comfortable luxury car that put safety and clean design ahead of sporting pretension. And the sales figures revealed that there is a market for such a concept, even if its dwarfed by the German trio.Despite the long model life, an S80 continued to elude me, and with the S90 replacement arriving in the showrooms during 2016, I assumed that it would remain one of those cars which I missed. But then, arriving at the Hertz LAX facility on the first morning of my November 2016 trip, I was quite surprised to spot one parked among the variety of other rental cars. It bore plates suggesting it had only recently been registered, so was, I suspected, perhaps part of a deal which would clear out remaining stocks in advance of the new model’s arrival. The car I spotted had not been allocated to anyone else, so I was able to secure it for an assessment. When I got in, I found that the odometer was showing over 19,000 miles, and a bit more research suggested that this car had started out in Utah some months earlier and only recently arrived in California, at which point it had been replated. This sort of thing does go on, and is all part of the complexities of the rental car business that is largely hidden from view of the end customer. Regardless of how it came to be there, I was pleased to get the chance to drive one of these cars before they became the sole province of the used car lot. I had it for just one day, but covered quite a significant mileage on roads most of which are familiar to me, and can now present my findings.

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If asked to guess how many cylinders were under the bonnet, I don’t think you’d suggest that there were just 4. Indeed, when my ears picked up the slight trace of what I thought was the distinctive thrum of a 5, I fell to wondering if in fact US market S80 T5 models might still have the fabled 5 cylinder engine. But they don’t, and have not done since 2014. 4 is all you get in any Volvo these days, so the fact that the engineers have done such a good job at concealing this fact from you is praise indeed. This is indeed a very smooth and refined engine indeed. It will pootle around in traffic quite happily, but flex your right foot a little, and the Volvo comes to life, showing that there are indeed 240 horses there waiting to be put to work, and with a quoted 0 – 60 acceleration time of under 7 seconds, this is a brisker car than you might think. Indeed, this 4 cylinder unit puts out the same power as the in-line 6 that it replaced. Whilst you would never describe the S80 as “fast”, it really is not that sort of car, but it was certainly “fast enough”, with acceleration available from more or less any speed, and the engine was smooth and refined at all times. Standard transmission is an 8 speed automatic, and it is also extremely smooth. You really could not tell when the ‘box was changing ratio most of the time. There is a manual mode if you pull the lever left when it is in Drive, which would then allow you to flick up and down the gears, but when it is this effective by itself, few will bother. Combine this with the standard Stop/Start system, and the result is far greater fuel economy than used to be thought possible for a car of this size and power. I covered 347 miles in my time with the S80 and at the end of the test needed to put 11.8 US-sized gallons in to fill it up, which computes to 29.4 mpg US, or 35.133 mpg Imperial, a creditable result indeed.

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Volvo have always aimed more at the luxury and comfort end of the market than the performance or sports sedan categories and that focus is obvious in the other driving characteristics of the S80. The steering is light and precise, but a little lacking in feel, and whilst the Volvo grips the road well, there is an amount of body roll evident on the corners. Understeer will become apparent if you get too enthusiastic, but drive this car more like the limousine it was conceived to be, and you will be impressed by the soft ride, which smooths out all but the worst imperfections of the road surfaces and the overall levels of comfort, calm and composure. Noise levels from any potential source are low, meaning that this would be an excellent long distance companion. The brake pedal had a slightly mushy feel as you applied the pressure, but there was no doubting the stopping potential of the system, just as you would expect from a brand where safety remains a high priority. There is an electronic handbrake, the button for which is on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel. The S80 comes standard with Volvo’s City Safety, a system that can help avoid low-speed collisions by automatically applying the brakes from speeds of up to 31 mph. Fortunately, I had no occasion to test that out.

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In recent years, Volvo have established a reputation for creating interiors of a quality that is second only to Audi. The S80 may go back 8 years, but it does nothing to challenge that reputation. Material choices are excellent, with nicely grained soft touched plastics embellished by a discrete strip of dark walnut inlay across the width of the dash, lashings of good quality leather covering the seats and those controls you touch lots, like the steering wheel and gearlever, all with a simplicity that makes the design appear elegant rather than complicated, even though there are lots of functions and features in the car. There is a raised hump in the centre of the dash moulding to clear the 7″ colour display screen, but otherwise what you get is a simple and unbulky looking dash moulding across the width of the car with a cowled binnacle in front of the driver to cover the instruments, and a slightly angled centre stack with the same sort of combination of “phone handset” style buttons surrounded by some more, and a stowage area behind the stack. Apart from a few buttons to the left of the wheel, there are no other clutterings. The dials are digital. There is a large central speedometer, and you can set it so that only the band corresponding to your speed, plus and minus some is lit up. To each side are a pair of vertically stacked displays. On the left is a bar chart for fuel level, with 8 bars from Empty to Full, and an Eco Indicator, which shows how economically or not you are driving, and to the right is a bar chart style rev counter and a schematic to show selected gear type. The centre of the speedo can display a range of data points from nothing to when the next service is due, and you select this from the button on the end of the left hand column stalk and a thumb wheel in that stalk. The two column stalks operate indicators (on the left) and wipers (on the right). Lights are operated from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. There are repeaters on the steering wheel spokes for some common audio settings and for the cruise control. Everything else operates from the centre stack. Four knobs around the perimeter and some of the central buttons are for the Climate Control, and the rest of the functions here are for the Audio system and Navigation as well as the other things you can see from the integrated 7″ colour display screen which controls Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, for which Sensus Connect with a six-month subscription is standard. The display screen is not touch sensitive, and many will think that its relative lack of functions betrays the age of the car, though there are plenty of menus and sub-menus to customise all sorts of things from audio selections to a 3G wifi hotspot, which was rather clunky to use, having to select letters one at a time from one of those knobs that also selects menu choices on the screen. In quest of an updated weather forecast, I gave up and used my phone. The screen does show things such as the time and a digital speed reading across the top half inch. There are no buttons at all in the centre console. Sound quality from the standard audio unit was excellent and it included the ever-welcome Satellite XM capability as well as HD radio. There is a human form pictogram for the climate control settings.

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Seat trim is all leather, and it is of a nice quality, which means that not only does the interior look good, but you will not mind sitting there for long periods of time. Getting comfortable was not hard, with electric motors for the 8-way adjustable front seats. The telescoping steering wheel did seem still to stick out more than I would have wanted when I adjusted it to the customary position of as high as possible and as far in as possible, but in fact the resulting driving position was absolutely spot on. Those who worry about the potential loss of head room from the glass sunroof should have no fears here, as there was plenty of clearance between my head and the roof of the car. Heating elements for the seats are part of the standard spec, and you can optionally have ventilation for them as well.

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Occupants in the rear should be happy, too. Space for two is plentiful, with ample legroom even when the front seats are set well back, though the centre console unit does come quite a way back and there is a noticeable transmission tunnel hump, so whilst the S80 is wide enough for that three adults would fit comfortably across the car and there is no shortage of headroom, the middle occupant would not be quite as comfortable as those in the outer seats. A drop down central armrest is provided.

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There is a capacious boot, too. It is long, wide and regular in shape with no intrusions from the wheel arches and would easily accommodate a lot of luggage. Should more space be needed, the rear seat backrests, asymmetrically split, fold down to give a much longer load platform. There is a space saver spare wheel under the boot floor, though there is precious little room to stow odds and ends around it. Inside the cabin, oddments are well taken care of, with a modestly sized glovebox, bins on all four doors, a cubby under the central armrest, and useful if slightly awkward to reach stowage area behind the centre stack and those in the back get map pockets on the back of the front seats as well as a cubby area in the upper surface of the drop down armrest, where you will also find the rear cupholders.

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As the production life of the S80 neared its end, so the model range got ever simpler. For the final 2016 model year for US market cars, there were just two available, both with the T5 engine, the more powerful T6 having ended production with the end of the 2015 model year, the T5 and the T5 Platinum. The Volvo S80 T5 has a 7-inch display screen, a navigation system, a Wi-Fi hot spot, USB and aux ports, satellite radio, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, leather seats, heated front seats, remote keyless entry, cruise control, parking sensors, City Safety collision warning, and alloy wheels. The S80 T5 Platinum trim adds a Harman Kardon sound system, a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, and the Technology package, which includes a large suite of active safety features. Options include a Climate package (heated rear seats) and an Inscription package which comprises ventilated front seats and a leather-wrapped dashboard.

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Like all recent Volvo models, this S80 proved very pleasant indeed, Accept the fact that you are prioritising comfort, safety and stylish Swedish design over sporting ambition, and you would doubtless be very happy with this car,  Even – to my slight surprise – when equipped with a 4 cylinder engine, though “excited” would probably never be the word you would choose to describe it. For sure, the critics will point out in 2016 that the dash looks a bit old-fashioned, though given the amount of superfluous stuff that is finding its way into most of the latest models, that could be more of a blessing than a problem! Other than that, though, and the fact that the design has been with us since 2006 so is familiar, there is little to castigate this car for. Everything I have read said does say that the S90 is even better, though, so with luck Hertz will get some of those on fleet, and hopefully well before the final months of production.

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