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.
The big tech story in our S80 centered around the safety equipment. First off, Volvo's BLIS, or Blind Spot Information System, works incredibly well to let you know when cars are in your blind spot. Using cameras on the side mirror mounts, it detects cars to the rear sides of the S80 and alerts the driver with a red light on the A-pillar. We wish every car on the road had this system, as every time we looked in a side mirror, that light would be the first thing we noticed. It is also smart enough to know the difference between a parked car and one receding behind the car as the S80 passes.
Not exactly a safety feature, but reliant on the same technologies is the adaptive cruise control. This system uses forward-looking radar to measure the speed of the car in front of you, and match that speed if your cruise control is set higher. The system worked well most of the time, although we did notice instances where, when a car cut into the lane in front of us, the radar would lose its lock and the car would start to speed up. This behavior only lasted for a fraction of a second before our speed was down to that of the interceding car. With this system, you can also choose from five following distances, very long to very short.
The forward-looking radar is also used for a new system from Volvo: collision warning. This system projects a red warning light low on the windshield to alert the driver of cars in front. If you get too close, the light lengthens, flashes, and a warning sounds. And if you really are about to hit the car or object in front, the S80 applies the brakes, which should at least mitigate a collision. We didn't test it up to the point of braking, but we did find the light was a little over-reactive. Driving along in normal traffic, at what we considered a safe distance, the light stayed on. It's one of those things you would have to get used to, or turn off.
We also covered the lane-departure warning and driver-alert system above. Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration was one safety feature that was sadly lacking.
Under the hood
The 2008 Volvo S80 is available with three engines, a 4.4-liter V-8, a 3.2-liter inline six cylinder, and a turbocharged 3-liter inline six, which we had in our test car. The latter choice, dubbed T6, works as a great compromise between power and economy. Putting its 281 horsepower to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic, the whole power train moves the S80 along without drama. It gives you enough power to pass, but it won't throw you back in the seat. We noticed an occasional odd bump from the transmission when it shifted at low speeds, as if it became confused about when it should shift, but otherwise the power delivery is smooth. The 295 pound-feet of torque and the twin scroll intercooled turbocharger eliminated turbo lag, as far as we could tell.
Volvo includes three performance settings, selectable at the push of a button on the instrument panel, labeled Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. Each setting changes the steering response, suspension tightness, and gearbox shift points. We didn't find dramatic differences between the settings--the car generally behaves well however they are set, and while sway is reduced in Sport and Advanced, it remains a little floaty in all. The shift points are the most obvious difference, unless you put the transmission in manual selection mode.
We ran the car along some winding roads, pushing it into the corners, and didn't feel any wheel slip. The all-wheel drive helps it maintain grip well. But the S80 isn't really a sports car--the comfortable cabin makes it a nice cruiser and daily commuter.
The EPA mileage, at 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, doesn't sound great, but in our combined city and highway driving, we came in with an average of 20.4 mpg. We don't often see a six-cylinder engine, especially one with a turbocharger, get better than 20 mpg. Even better, the car rates as a ULEV II under California emissions laws.
Volvos don't come cheap, a point made by the 2008 Volvo S80 T6 AWD's base price of $42,045. Our notable options were the Sport/Zubra package, which brings in the three performance settings, for $2,495, BLIS for $695, and the Collision Avoidance package for $1,695. A few other options and the $745 destination charge brought our car's total to $49,025. The premium Dynaudio stereo package would have cost another $1,650, while the navigation system adds $2,120.
Although our car didn't come with the premium stereo or the navigation system, we give it credit for having those options in our cabin tech rating. It really gets a big boost for the safety systems, as some of those technologies are not available from other automakers and BLIS works so well. We give it a good rating for performance tech, noting the good compromise between power and economy, but also the somewhat wallowing feel of the handling. The Volvo represents a good choice for its quiet refinement, but a BMW 535i is a sportier choice with better cabin tech.