Having established itself in the big boys' league with the 2.9-litre and twin-turbocharged T6 six-cylinder models at launch, the new 140bhp and 170bhp 2.4-litre 20-valve petrols and 140bhp 2.5-litre TD - all five-pots - should help Volvo counter the accelerating push towards downsizing in the company car market as fleets endeavour to take advantage of the escalating forecourt fuel prices imposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and future plans to base company car tax regimes on carbon dioxide emissions with a phasing-out of free fuel for private motoring. In this light, any executive diesel, especially one as attractively priced and well-packaged as the S80, carries a clear advantage in this sector.
Alistair Murray, Volvo's Corporate Sales Manager says: 'We are the first to admit that by launching the six-cylinder S80s first we entered a very narrow segment of the market and to be honest we really wanted the five-cylinders out first, then the sixes. 'However, in just six months we have received an excellent response to the car, particularly from the fleet sector which now accounts for more than 70% of total S80 sales. Our core fleet business is driven by the S/V40 ranges and the V70 is still the most successful model in our range outselling the S70 saloon by more than three to one. With the introduction of the new engines in the S80 we hope to boost our executive saloon sales in this class to back up the S70. This expansion of the range is even more important now the sector has opened up with the demise of the Ford Scorpio and Rover 800 which alone accounted for more than 6,000 units and we obviously aim to entice as many of these customers into Volvos.'
Until now, the cheapest route to S80 motoring came via the 2.9-litre at £27,630 - the popular plush SE derivative took the price over £30,000 which, when you think about it, puts Volvo right into BMW and Mercedes heartland - a place where very few manufacturers, irrespective of the quality of their product, are going to turn the tables. But, with a £5,000 price difference between the 2.9 and the entry-level 140bhp 2.4, the new 'base' S80 could be the car to do just that.
Even after only a few miles, this S80 displays a distinct split personality: it, like other S80s, is supremely comfortable, eerily quiet at cruising speeds, agile and craftily designed which, for most journeys, is good enough. But as a swift, B-road blaster it disappoints. It all stems from the S80's power to weight ratio. Although it's not nearly as heavy as it looks, hit the throttle hard in anything other higher than second gear and the engine responds with a lethargic, wheezy nature.
By comparison, just 30bhp extra gives the £24,505 170bhp 2.4 a useful advantage and the higher torque output (its smaller sibling has 162lb ft) provides improved low-speed flexibility. While such stats are unlikely to send your friends racing to the nearest Volvo showroom, the performance figures should: a 0-60mph time of just 9.0secs and a maximum speed of 136mph is quick for a car of this size; even its less powerful twin manages 11secs and 127mph respectively. However, the steering is over-sensitive and the ride is soft to the point of being floaty, placing driver involvement second to ultimate cruising comfort.
Which leaves the diesel. This Audi-sourced, 2.5-litre direct-injection diesel boasts 140bhp and 214lb ft or torque and Volvo's application is a commendable one. Yes, there's a noticeable diesel-like din at idle, but on the move this rarely becomes intrusive to the point of intolerable. There's a discernable surge of power from as low as 1,800rpm and unlike most diesel engines, the power doesn't tail off prematurely and the charismatic five-pot warble of the petrols remains throughout. Although it matches the 140bhp 2.4 for top speed and acceleration, it feels much faster than this. On-the-road prices start at £25,405 - a £,1000 premium over the 170bhp 2.4. Admittedly, the S80 falls some way short of the BMW 5-series, Mercedes E-class and Audi A6 in badge recognition, but the imposing Volvo is a surprisingly rewarding and cost-effective car to own.
It's competitively priced, economical at 44.1mpg combined for the 2.5TD (both 2.4s better 30mpg), safe with ABS, traction control, side airbags, whiplash protection and an inflatible side curtain as standard, well-screwed together, and CAP Future Residual Values quotes a healthy £11,757 value, or 43% of cost new, after three years/60,000 miles for the170 SE.