Fleet News

Volvo S80

Volvo

Review

I’VE been trying to think of what constitutes ‘Scandinavian luxury’. Not living the multi-millionaire Eurochic jet-set lifestyle – my pair of sale-price Patrick Cox shoes aside – I’ve found it a struggle.

I have an idea of what constitutes French luxury, Italian luxury, British luxury, and even the German form. But a sauna is all I could come up with for Scandinavia – and sitting in a hot, wooden box with a load of sweaty men hardly seems very Cap d’Antibes to me.

So when, for the millionth time, a Volvo person or press release told me the new S80 represents the very epitome of Scandinavian affluence, I was still none the wiser.

The S80 – and the approach Volvo is taking with it – gives some clues though. The firm has been working on the UK leasing market for a number of months, making sure the car gets the residuals it believes it deserves, as it battles to take market share from other premium brands.

To compete anywhere near the Germans, it needs low monthly rentals – and that means this car has to have a significant improvement in predictions on what it will be worth in three or four years’ time over the last one.

So often, good cars are hamstrung before they start because the used market just will not pay what they will for a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, and the shortfall has to be taken up in higher monthly rentals or manufacturers giving big discounts, a downward spiral that impacts on residuals itself.

Volvo executives are quietly pleased about the early predictions from the leasing industry on this car, which suggest it may match the E-class for percentage retained RV, in the low 40%s.

It is one thing to be the value proposition in the sector, as the old S80 was, but standing toe-to-toe with the major players and competing on equal terms is a wholly different matter.

The XC90 has proved the Volvo brand has got what it takes to tackle the best in the premium market, but that was a great product launched at the perfect time.

Can the S80 continue this run of form? After all, persuading buyers to part with £42,000 for a top-end Volvo saloon is going to require a pretty convincing argument about the levels of quality it delivers over competition like the E-class or 5-series.

Volvo predicts the S80 will sell 2,300 this year, rising to 4,000 in 2008 (with 70-80% likely to be fleet business), which is some way off the 5-series and E-class that do 12-14,000 units, and just behind the Audi A6 at 6,000.

The firm is hoping that around 70% of sales will come from buyers not previously inhabiting an S80 and around 70% is likely to be diesel. The demographics point to a shortcoming of the old car Volvo hopes to have rectified with the new one.

With the old model, the top four reasons for buying it were comfort, equipment, space and safety – all worthy, but a bit dull, and none a byword for luxury. It resulted in the most conservative and oldest average buyer in the sector. Again, hardly Cap d’Antibes.

Compare that with the A6, 5-series, E-class and Jaguar S-type where buyers all rated style as the number one reason for purchase, and it’s clear where Volvo’s focus would have to be when designing this car, both from the market analysis and the way it has been penned.

So style aside, what else does it have to attract these well-heeled, discerning clientele? A choice of five engines should help – three petrol and two diesel – of which three are new.

On the diesel front, there is the new high performance D5 engine with 185bhp, while the old D5 is now called the 2.4D, with 163bhp.

In petrol terms, top-of-the-range is a new 315bhp 4.4-litre V8 from Yamaha, and a new straight-six 3.2, as well as the tried and trusted turbocharged 2.5-litre in-line five.

The S80 has been generously specced, not surprisingly with levels above that of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Prices start at £24,375 on-the-road for the 2.5T S and £24,400 for the 2.4D S.

And with service intervals extended to 18,000 miles/two years and servicing labour costs down by 30%, that should help rental rates.

The SE will be the most popular spec, so gets a rather confusing three levels within it – a standard SE, then SE Sport and SE Lux – while top of the range is the Executive.

If you compare like for like, Volvo reckons it has around a £1,000-plus price advantage over similar level SE 5-series and A6s.

Behind the wheel

WITH the new S80, Volvo believes it can attract those sexy cut-and-thrusters. Certainly the cabin will get them hot under their Prada collars.

The ambience and styling of the cabin is second to none. We’re back to this ‘Scandinavian luxury’ thing again, but the interior points to what exactly this might entail. Smooth, cool surfaces, pared-down elegance. A sense of dispassionate, simple style.

Or, according to the Volvo presentation, an upper dash like a ‘snow covered meadow on a winter’s day’. Crikey.

From the geometric, brushed aluminium detailing to the long, languid curves of the floating centre console the S80 has a cabin unlike anything else in the sector.

To use another of Volvo’s metaphors: it is like a living room (albeit a modernist one off Grand Designs) rather than an airport lounge (ie hard and corporate, like the German cars).

There are some fancy little touches on the S80, such as adjustable power steering, so the wheel has more or less resistance, depending on how you like it. Also, it has a collision warning system. Using the adaptive cruise control technology (a £1,000 option for the set), this system keeps a beady eye on the road ahead and if it detects an object looming too quickly in front will sound an alarm, flash a bank of red lights on to the windscreen and prepare the brakes for an emergency stop.

Just make sure the range is set properly. On the longest setting it goes into panic mode at the slightest hint of trouble.

The exterior looks to me like a revamped and slightly larger S60, and nothing more. It is certainly a Volvo, but while the interior takes Swedish design to its highest aesthetic form, the exterior is Volvo by Ikea: flat-packed, derivative and cautious.

I could go a very long way in the S80, though. It is one of those cars that just relaxes you with its thick leather seats, compliant ride and unstressed engines.

Not that it is a just a big old boat like the old one. It feels much more taught and able to handle a life away from the sedate cruise, although still not dynamically in the same class as the 5-series. But it’s a good mix of everything you could want from an executive saloon.

The engines are a mixed bunch. The V8 has some serious shove and somehow manages 0-62mph in about six seconds. I say somehow, because it never feels as though you are going that fast, such is the sense of calm in the Zen cabin.

The 3.2 is also good: revvier and vocal, although the new diesel is a little disappointing, especially as it is such a key engine. It is too noisy – at tickover the off-beat nature of the five cylinder seems to create vibration while under hard acceleration there’s a fairly harsh edge to the engine note. This is a very bloodthirsty market and the slightest weakness can be pounced upon.

Driving verdict

THAT the S80 will inhabit a more rarified position in the pantheon of executive saloons is not in doubt: it is altogether sexier than the old model. But the generous specification, likely stronger residuals and competitive pricing add some useful logic to the luxurious sales pitch.

Model: 2.5T 2.4D D5 3.2 V8
Max power (bhp/rpm): 200/4,900 163/4,000 185/4,000 238/6,200 315/5,950
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 221/1,500 250/1,750 295/2,000 235/3,200 325/3,950
Max speed (mph): 146 (143) 130 143 (140) 149 155
0-62mph (sec): 7.7 (8.0) 9.5 (10) 8.5 (9.0) 7.9 6.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 30.7 (28.5) 44.8 (39.2) 44.1 (38.7) 28.8 23.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 219 (236) 167 (189) 169 (193) 234 284
On sale: July
Prices (OTR): £23,350–£41,725

(Auto figures in brackets)

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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