Volvo's S80 sedan was the company's first car to break out of the box, design-wise, but eight years on it's looking pretty dowdy. A redo for 2007 pushes the Scandinavian design thing even harder, adds the latest safety technology (big surprise there), and ups the speed quotient with an optional V-8 and a new standard in-line six.
Overall length is the same, but the S60-like greenhouse makes the new S80 look smaller. Unlike the S60, the S80 retains adequate headroom in back (with help from a low seat cushion) and even manages to eke out a bit more legroom than before. The real news inside, though, is that Volvo has taken the modernist aesthetic even further than in the widely acclaimed S40. That car's floating center-stack panel appears here, joined by artful detailing and logically grouped controls that create a clean look without gimmicky hideaway panels or annoying iDrive-style controllers. Typical of Volvo, the seats are supremely comfortable; don't be surprised if your passengers nod off.
You could wake them up by gunning the Yamaha-built, 311-hp, 4.4-liter V-8, a sweet engine that deserved wider play than in just the XC90. Volvo has paired it with all-wheel drive to keep torque steer in check, but unfortunately, the six-speed automatic can be lazy on the downshifts. The base engine is a new, 3.2-liter straight six, and it's a lot livelier than the current car's turbo five. The six drives the front wheels only.
The S80 rides on a new version of Volvo's P2 platform. Highlights include a power steering system that lets the driver choose from three levels of assist plus three settings for the optional Four-C (adaptive damping) chassis instead of two. To the current S80's Comfort and Sport suspension modes, the new car, like the V70R and S60R, adds Advanced as the firmest spec. In those cars, the Advanced setting is a kidney crusher, but the S80's felt perfectly reasonable-at least on mellow Swedish roads. As to the steering, we preferred the high-effort option, but all three reduce boost as speed climbs.
On the safety front, there's a new collision warning system that flashes an alert at the driver (and, if you choose, beeps also) when the S80 is closing too fast on a car ahead. It's packaged with adaptive cruise control. Volvo's blind-spot warning system, introduced on the XC90, also is an option.
The added safety gear keeps Volvo (necessarily) at the front of the pack, while the nod to a more dynamic driving character does little to disturb the S80's inherent comfort. Really, the biggest change for the new S80 is its sleek, mod interior. With cell phones, TV, and life in general getting more complicated, stressed-out luxosedan buyers probably could use a little Zen behind the wheel.