The big estate is the omnipresent load carrier while the S80 is a more awkward rendition of the lines more successfully realised with the smaller S60. So, to give the car some more longevity, Volvo has given the S80 a going over with some exterior styling changes that barely even qualify for the word 'change', and a wash and brush up for the interior.
There's a bit more chrome on the side windows and the boot, the door handles are now rather gaudy chrome, while the grille is square mesh, which is more in keeping with other Volvo models.
But what the car does provide is ultra-relaxed motoring, almost to the point of being soporific.
The big, unstressed engine saunters along, the admittedly new and more direct steering only gives a vague indication that there is any interaction between road and tyres and the car washes over bumps with a sigh of its dampers.
All in all, the S80 is a first class long distance loper with little pretension to being anything else.
The five cylinder diesel engine is not the smoothest and its off-beat firing sends a soft shudder through the car at tickover and low speeds.
It is not too rough to have put off buyers though – of the nearly 4,000 S80s sold in the UK last year 56% of buyers opted for the D5 diesel, and where fleets are concerned no doubt that figure is even higher.
The diesel works well with the automatic gearbox once you get up to speed, where the decent amount of torque – 251lb-ft from 1,750rpm – and slushy gearbox perfectly suits its laid-back approach to motoring.
At no point does it ever feel like it is stressed, and at no point do you really feel like stressing it.
The car on test came with the optional Four-C chassis option, which gives a choice of Sport or Comfort options, which means soft and hard damper settings.
The distance between the two settings is not as disparate as in the high-performance S60R and V70R models where Comfort really is that, and Sport is rock hard, ready for a B-road blast.
Although there is a difference in the level of body roll going round tight corners with the system in its two modes, you have to be pushing quite hard to notice it, and it is really not the sort of car you would want to act like that in, anyway. As the Four-C system costs £1,100, the standard suspension will probably suit the average S80 driver better.
In this entry-level S version, you get climate control, cruise control and an upgraded stereo which is up to Volvo's usual standards. There are no leather seats though, and the chairs are rather spongy and covered in cheap-feeling cloth. Leather makes them not only more comfortable but harder wearing.
But what you get is the feeling of being in a big, hefty car with lots of space in the front and rear, a massive boot and one of the most mellow drives to be found anywhere, for a reasonable price.
The problem is, despite its many good points, it still suffers in the shadow of the V70 estate.
Volvo S80 2.4 D5 S auto
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £23,790
CO2 emissions (g/km): 207
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 26%
Graduated VED rate: £165
Insurance group: 13
Combined mpg: 36.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,375/35%
Depreciation (24.13 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,478
Maintenance (2.95 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,770
Fuel (10.69 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,414
Wholelife cost (37.77 pence per mile x 60,000): £22,662 Typical contract hire rate: £483
Three rivals to consider
With all four of the vehicles here, a driver will be getting a lot of car for his or her money, with the Superb, S80 and Vel Satis exceptional on space for all occupants. The Saab shows its age a little on that front. As for equipment, the Volvo trails the others. The Saab has part-leather seats, the Vel Satis trumps that with heated leather electric seats and a six-CD player, while the Superb unsurprisingly comes out on top with leather seats, electric sunroof and parking sensors as standard.
Renault £23,900 Skoda £24,315
Proven Volkswagen engineering and a value-for-money approach makes the Skoda the cheapest in servicing, maintenance and repair costs over three years/ 60,000 miles. Saab and Volvo both do okay, although the Vel Satis scores poorly here. Over 60,000 miles, it would cost nearly £400 more than the Superb, which comes in at about £1,500. Is this the price you pay for the free loan of a Laguna Sport Tourer while your Vel Satis is under the screwdriver?
For their size and weight, and the fact they are all automatics, none of these cars does particularly badly when it comes to fuel economy, ranging from an average of 33.6mpg at the lowest for the Renault Vel Satis to 38.2mpg at the highest for the Saab 9-5. In cash terms, returning those combined figures would mean a fuel cost of about £6,000 for the 9-5 after 60,000 miles compared to more than £6,900 for the Vel Satis.
The depreciation battle goes exactly as you would predict. CAP Monitor estimates the Volvo will retain 35% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles. The Saab comes next at 31% and the Vel Satis, despite a wobbly image, does fairly well at 30% which indicates its rarity and innovative touches are holding its values up. The Skoda fares poorly though, hitting only 26%, which suggests at this price point the marque is out of its depth. The Superb would lose nearly £3,000 more in depreciation than the Volvo over three years.
Good old steady Volvo. It wins the wholelife costs from the Saab by virtue of its better depreciation, but the Scandinavians have put clear ground between themselves and the pretenders in this semi-premium sector. The Skoda would have done much better had it not been for catastrophic residual values, while the Vel Satis does okay but not extremely well in any category. The choice between first and last place is a cost difference of about £2,500 over three years/60,000 miles.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
The Saab would prove to be the most tax-efficient for a company car driver as it has the lowest P11d value and the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. A 40% tax-payer would end up paying £205 a month for the privilege. The most expensive, the Vel Satis, would cost the same driver £255 a month. However, the subject of Euro IV emissions standards, which become law from 2005, mean these cars are likely to convert to the new standard, cutting 3% off their tax liability at a stroke.
DUE to prohibitive wholelife costs, the Superb and Vel Satis would not be first choices, although both offer excellent specification and plenty of interior space. Better residual values would make both strong contenders. The Volvo is a good car that may not set hearts a-flutter but delivers a solid proposition. But the Saab 9-5 has a mix of low tax and good running costs while being a well-specified car, making it the winner here.
At a glance