When we took delivery of the 2008 Volvo S80, we immediately opened the boxes, pulled the various panels out, and tried to match up the bag of fasteners with the pictures in the assembly directions. Actually, new Volvos look nothing like flat-pack Ikea furniture, trading in their traditional boxy appearance for a modern, refined look. But safety remains paramount for Volvo, as evidenced by the large areas of glass around the cabin, affording an unobstructed view of the road.
Safety also makes its way into some innovative tech that we've been dying to test. Along with the BLIS blind-spot warning system we've seen before, Volvo includes lane-departure warning, collision warning, and a driver-alert system. We were also impressed by the comfortable cabin and the refined driving experience. With all-wheel drive and an adjustable suspension, the car is a sort of sporting dilettante.
Test the tech: Coffee cup search
Earlier this year, we heard about Volvo's new driver-alert system, which suggests a break with a little coffee cup icon if it thinks you are tired. Fortunately, our 2008 Volvo S80 came with the Collision Avoidance Package, which, with the driver-alert system, includes lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and collision warning. We really wanted to see the coffee cup icon appear on the tachometer display, so we tried to simulate the driving style that would lead to the warning.
We took the S80 onto some long back roads north of San Francisco, looking for places where we could maintain speeds over 37 mph, the minimum for the driver-alert system, that would have sparse traffic. As we drove, we let the car drift over the right and left lane lines. Each time it did, the lane-departure warning sounded off with three quick chimes. We found this system much more audible than that on the Infiniti M45x, partly because in the S80 it actually faded the music we had playing.
You can choose what is displayed on the tachometer by turning a dial on the turn signal stalk. We turned it to show the current status of the driver-alert system. This display shows five bars for good driving, decreasing the more erratic you get. At one bar it should show the coffee cup. After a few warnings about lane departure, the system was down to four bars.
We considered trying to compose a song from the lane-departure warnings, but the lack of different notes wouldn't make it very melodic. Simulating a tired driver was also difficult, as we didn't want to give the steering wheel too much input to cross the lane lines. After more time and more triple chimes, we worked the driver-alert system down to three bars, but we ran out of road. It seems it would take more than the 2 hours of drive time we had given the system to show the coffee cup, or a truly tired driver.
In the cabin
The general interior design of the 2008 Volvo S80 is one of the most refined we've seen. In good luxury style, it is muted, with nothing in particular calling attention to itself. We particularly like the wood trim, which uses a satin finish rather than the usual high gloss, making it easy to see that this is real wood. And we love Volvo's recent instrument panel, which floats down from dashboard to console. The instrument cluster and radio displays are also nicely done, eschewing color for simple monochrome.
Volvo makes a number of tech options available in the S80, such as a premium stereo with 12 Dynaudio speakers and 650 watts of amplification, and a navigation system with a screen that rises from the dashboard. Our test car didn't have either of these options, but we tested the premium stereo in the 2007 Volvo S80, where we found it was great in the front seats but lacking in the rear. The 2006 Volvo C70 used a similar navigation screen, which we found was subject to plenty of glare on sunny days.
Our Volvo had the stock stereo system, which is actually quite good. It uses eight speakers powered by four 80-watt amps. This setup reproduced our music well, but without any particular highlights. Along with a six-disc in-dash changer that can read MP3 CDs, we also had an auxiliary jack in the console. Unfortunately, the system doesn't let you easily navigate folders on an MP3 CD. Instead, you have to dial through one song at a time. What we are most impressed about with this audio system is that, beyond simple bass and treble adjustment, you can fine-tune the audio with separate five-band equalizers for the front and rear.