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Our car didn't have the navigation system, which was probably just as well, because on the C70 we found the screen placement, which would be similar on the S80, subject to very bad glare. Surprisingly for a European car, especially a luxury sedan, Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't available, which might be an aspect of Volvo's safety theme.
Our car came with an optional keyless drive system. Unlike a smart key, you need to push this key into a slot in the dashboard. To start the engine, you need to push the engine start button next to it. This keyless system includes a heartbeat monitor that can inform you if a human or an animal is inside the car. Volvo offers an example of its use: if you get out and lock the door, but have left a sleeping child in the car, the key fob will alert you.
Under the hood
Driving the S80 is generally a very good experience, although its handling leaves something to be desired. We were very impressed with Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which we think should be installed on every car on the road. BLIS uses sensors to detect if there is a car on either of your rear quarters, and turns on a light on the appropriate side's A pillar to let you know if something is there. Although we saw something similar on the Audi Q7,Audi Q7, BLIS works at all speeds, even if you are crawling through traffic. The Audi system only works at speeds above 35mph. In practice, we found BLIS extremely useful.
Adaptive cruise control is another gadget that works while the car is in motion. This system lets you set the speed, but will slow down the car if its radar detects a car in the lane ahead. We used this type of system previously on the Lexus IS 350. We took the S80 on to Interstate 280, a freeway that winds through the hills south of San Francisco, and set our speed to 75mph, a typical speed for this road. As we caught up to another car doing 70mph in our lane, the S80 slowed down and paced the car for as long as it was in front of us. We drove quite a while without touching the brake or accelerator, which is an eerie feeling. The system impressed us in that it successfully tracked cars around turns, and even used the brakes when someone cut in front of us.
Collision warning is a part of the adaptive cruise control. We got a test of this system when a car going particularly slowly cut in front of us. For this situation, we felt compelled to override the adaptive cruise control and hit the brakes. As we got close to the car in front, the S80 projected a red light on the windshield, which definitely would have been attention-getting if we weren't already aware of the situation.
Beyond the interesting electronics, the S80 uses some pretty able mechanicals. Its engine is a 4.4-liter V-8, an engine size almost unheard of for a Volvo sedan. This iron puts out 311 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. While driving the S80, we never felt like it was wanting for power. The six-speed automatic showed the usual amount of acceleration lag we've come to expect in drive mode, but it was reduced when we moved it over to sport mode. The transmission also has a manual selection mode, which we didn't find particularly useful.
Our S80 also came with all-wheel drive, which suggested we should throw it hard around corners and drive it on narrow mountain roads. Although the all-wheel drive probably helps in low traction conditions, we weren't impressed by the car's cornering abilities. We noticed a floaty feeling in a hard turn, as if the car was disconnected from its wheels. This feeling didn't give us confidence to really push the car. Our S80 came with the Sport package, which includes three settings for the suspension activated by buttons in front of the shifter. These settings are Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. While the ride became more rigid in Sport mode, the cornering didn't feel any better.
The EPA rates the S80 at 17mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway. In our mixed freeway and city driving, we achieved 19.1mpg. Emissions ratings for this car haven't been posted yet, although the Department of Energy (DOE) says it puts out 9.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, right in the middle of the DOE's worst to best scale. The S80 is available with a smaller 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine, but it only improves on mileage somewhat, getting 18mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway.
The base price for our 2007 Volvo S80, with the V-8 engine and all-wheel drive, was $47,350. We had it pretty well loaded with the Climate package ($725), the Sport package ($2,495), and the Audio package ($1,550). We also had some a la carte options, including the keyless drive ($495), the Blind Spot Information System ($595), adaptive cruise control ($1,495), park distance warning ($495), satellite radio ($95), and metallic paint ($625). With the $695 destination fee, the total comes out to $56,615.
There is a lot we liked about the S80, especially the driving safety gadgets. It is also a very comfortable car with a nice luxury feeling. We could shave off the price by dropping both the Sport and Audio packages--it's not a sports car and the premium audio system is only good for the front seats. For a real sports sedan, we would lean toward the less expensive Infiniti M35 Sport. Or, for a higher tech ride, the Lexus GS 450h makes good sense.