But its new R-concept cars – the four-wheel drive, 300bhp S60R and the V70R – are taking on the might of high performance German engineering head on.
Another key rival for the car is Audi's S4/S6 saloon and estate and while Volvo executives admit that the range's engine size and bhp doesn't quite match those of others in the high-performance range, they stress it does have another important story to tell. And that is its active performance chassis which Fleet News put to the test at the Prodrive test track in Warwickshire. Volvo engineers say the chassis has been designed to offer significant advantages in cornering speeds.
Product manager Dean Shaw said while the cars may be slower on the straight than the competition, they are quicker through corners.
Volvo expects full year sales next year to reach 350 units for each model. Half of those sales will be from customers driving existing R models, 15% will have upgraded and 35% will be conquest sales. Describing the market in which the S60R and V70R currently sit, Shaw added: 'It's a tiny segment but there is a huge amount of interest in it. These cars provide a good halo effect for manufacturers.
'We admit that these are not the quickest cars in the segment but that doesn't tell the whole story. Their advantage is in cornering.'
Although fleets won't account for many of the R-concept sales, Shaw said they make ideal user-chooser cars for directors wanting that extra performance.
All the cars in the range fall into the 35% benefit-in-kind tax bracket and a 40% tax-payer choosing a V70R, which emits 261g/km of CO2, will pay £5,247 a year, increasing to £5,422 a year for the V70R Geartronic, which has emissions of 270g/km.
The S60R emits 256 g/km of CO2 resulting in a £4,755 tax bill for a 40% tax-payer, and the Geartronic version, which emits 270g/km, will cost the same driver £4,930.
Behind the wheel
At first glance, the R cars look very much like their lesser- powered siblings but take a closer look and you'll start to notice the R models unique design cues.
They have unique front ends which are more rounded than their standard counterparts. The front of the S60R has been extended forward by 30mm to make room for a larger cooling unit, not needed in the V70R as the front is already longer.
Other differences include a lower and smaller grille, clear glass headlamps and bi-xenon gas bulbs. There's also the right number of R logos spread around the car without them being in your face.
And it's behind the wheel where you get to feel the real 'R experience' courtesy of its aforementioned active performance chassis which is a fabulous piece of high-tech kit.
Offering three unique characters to the car's performance, the Four C technology (continuously controlled chassis concept) is a joy to experience.
Drivers have a choice of three options:
Comfort – which optimises ride comfort using 'sky hook' control technology to reduce the roll of the car when cornering by softening and stiffening individual dampers.
Sport – which uses the same 'sky hook' control system as comfort but offers a much firmer ride.
Advanced Sport – this promises uncompromising sports car handling, prioritising maximum driving pleasure using direct 'road contact' control technology for the first time on a road car.
And the difference between them, particularly if you switch from comfort to advanced or vice versa, is immediate.
This was particularly evident using a bumpy section of the Prodrive track. Use advanced and its hard ride is almost unbearable, but switch to comfort and the ride instantly becomes soft and floaty.
So it may not be the fastest car in the high-performance pack but it still offers a certain amount of fun, and playing with the chassis controls shows what a very clever piece of kit it really is. In summary it is what it says on the tin – the perfect sports car for a Volvo driver.
Driving verdict Both models offered a fun driving experience and the clever chassis system needs to be experienced to be believed. It is the V70R though that offered the most fun and looks the better car – fast, safe and practical are the keywords here.
|S60/V70 fact file|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||300/5,000||300/5,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||295/1,950 (258 auto)||295/1,950 (258 auto)|
|Max speed (mph):||155 (limited)||155 (limited)|
|0-60mph (secs):||5.7 (7.5)||5.9 (7.7)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||26.4 (25.4)||25.9 (25.0)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||256 (266)||261 (270)|
|Transmission:||6-sp man (5-sp auto option)|
|Prices (OTR):||£34,150 (£35,400)||£37,665 (£38,915)|
Subtle changes make S80 the understated executive choice
IT'S a telling story that 35% of Volvo S80 drivers own their own business. They work hard to earn a living and when they've achieved a certain financial status and age they want a car to match their lifestyle and one that oozes class and comfort.
The S80 is stylish rather than flash, it comes from a manufacturer whose safety record is legendary and you can easily fit several sets of golf clubs in the boot. It is almost tailor-made for its typical mature and traditional customer base, most of which will be male and probably aged about 55 years old.
First launched in 1998, the S80 has now been revised and is fresher and more modern, although interior and exterior changes between the new model and the outgoing one are best described as subtle.
These include a dark silver square mesh grille, chrome door handles, chrome highlights under the side windows, smaller rear light clusters, smoother front section around the grille and more aerodynamic door mirrors.
Technically, the new model gains Volvo's Four-C chassis option mentioned above, offering a choice of comfort and sport settings at the touch of a button.
Its fresh and modern appearance is complemented by a spacious and attractive cabin. It is extremely comfortable so sports mode isn't exactly a hard ride and if you choose comfort you feel like you're gliding along.
I took to the wheel of the T6 SE with a powerful 2.9-litre engine. Its smooth and quick acceleration and quiet engine make this car a joy to drive.
The range is offered in S, SE and Executive trim levels, although the SE is expected to account for up to a third of sales.
Diesel will account for 60% of sales, petrol 36% and bi-fuel 4%. Only 5% will opt for the Four-C chassis system, which costs an extra £1,100.
Standard specification on the car includes electronic climate control with Volvo's air quality system that ensures the air inside is always cleaner than outside, pollen filter, alloy wheels, cruise control and a CD player.
Although the least popular in the range, those lucky enough to be able to choose the Executive model get a fridge in the rear armrest and DVD player with twin rear TV screens.
Specialist fleets can request armoured protection if required but other more common upgrades for this class of car includes sun curtains and an integrated SMS telephone.
With a price range between £21,110 and £40,221, petrol engines that produce between 140bhp and 272bhp and a diesel engine with 163bhp, there is a wide choice of S80s available to suit many pockets.
Model: Volvo S80 T6 SE auto
Engine (cc): 2,922
Max power (bhp/rpm): 268/5,200
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 280/1,800
Max speed (mph): 155
0-62mph (sec): 7.2
Fuel consumption (mpg): 25.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 272
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £30,905