VOLVO is a brand in the middle of a transformation. The old virtues of sense, comfort and safety are being supplemented by, the firm hopes, style, desirability and youthfulness.
The XC90 SUV started the trend when it was launched in 2002. Its appeal took Volvo by surprise – the level of enquiries and orders was huge and demonstrated to the firm that it could offer a model priced upwards of £30,000 and compete on a level with the big German three.
Which brings us on to the S80, a car which still delivers on Volvo’s virtues but also brings some aspirational appeal.
Priced to compete with executive sector favourites such as the Audi A6, BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-class, the S80 benefits from not only a welcome dose of style but also the financial standing to make it an option for fleet managers in this market.
It’s also a much better car to drive than its predecessor. This, you may say, might not be too difficult and you’ll struggle to find someone who referred to the old S80 without muttering the phrase ‘big old bus’ in the same sentence.
Not so with the new car, which has a far more sporting feel to it. The speed-variable power steering does a great job of weighting-up at speed to provide decent feel and turn-in, while the ride is more oriented towards a sporting feel than the wallowy chassis of old.
The D5 turbodiesel engine is a familiar Volvo unit and sees service in the XC90, V70 and S60. With 185bhp it’s right on the money when it comes to output and provides strong mid-range performance.
Combined with the six-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox it makes for an effortless drive, and also feels far better than the same combination in the V70.
In the S80 the engine is far quieter and, unlike in the V70, the gearbox is happy to ride the torque without changing down every time the accelerator is pressed.
But the engine note does get coarse when kickdown is used and it makes quite a song and dance about reaching the redline before changing up.
Despite the more sporty feel the S80 remains a very comfortable car. The seats are excellent (but aren’t they in all big Volvos?) and the general air is of relaxed performance.
The interior is also a nice place to soak up the miles in. The S80 is a big car and the interior feels very light and airy, with bags of legroom front and rear.
The dashboard’s simplicity complements this feeling with a broad swathe of aluminium trim dominating, although the centre console – the same ‘floaty’ one as found on the S40 – is over-fussy thanks to the myriad of buttons. You have to take your eye off the road for a few seconds to locate whichever button it is you want.
However, the level of standard equipment is excellent – the S80 is the only car in this test to come with leather seats as standard.
P11D value: £29,202
CO2 emissions (g/km): 193
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £195
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 38.7
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £11,175/38%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £571
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
£30,000 buys a lot of car in this sector and the Volvo looks the best value. Despite a highish price the S80 has the most powerful engine with 185bhp and also comes with leather seats as standard. The rest make do with cloth seats and power ranging from 170 to 178bhp.
Emissions and tax rates
WITH the lowest emissions and a competitive front-end price, the E220 offers the lowest BIK tax bills. It will cost a 40% taxpayer £239 a month, which is nearly £90 a month less than the fourth-placed BMW. The Audi will cost the same taxpayer £264 a month and the Volvo £272.
TYRES are the items which make the difference here, with the front-wheel drive Audi and Volvo heavy on tyres, while the rear-wheel drive BMW and Mercedes will cost less – having the front wheels steering and delivering power takes more life out of the front rubber.
525d: 4.33 (ppm) £2,598 (60,000 miles total)
E220: 4.68 £2,808
S80: 4.97 £2,982
A6: 5.04 £3,024
WITH its smaller engine the E220 is the most fuel efficient, with Mercedes-Benz claiming it will return an average of 42.2mpg, resulting in a fuel bill of just under £6,500 over 60,000 miles. The Audi returns 39.2mpg, the Volvo 38.7 and the BMW 35.8mpg combined.
E220: 10.76 (ppm) £6,456 (60,000 miles total)
A6: 11.58 £6,948
S80: 11.73 £7,038
525d: 12.68 £7,608
ALTHOUGH the Audi and BMW are both predicted by CAP to retain 40% of their cost new after three years/ 60,000 miles, the A6 wins here because of its lower front-end price which means less cash lost. The E220 will retain 39% and the Volvo 38% – almost on a par with the German trio.
A6: 27.64 (ppm) £16,584 (60,000 miles total)
E220: 28.17 £16,902
S80: 29.29 £17,574
525d: 29.93 £17,958
DESPITE only topping one section – fuel – the E220 wins because of a solid all-round performance, costing a fleet nearly £400 less to run over three years/60,000 miles than the Audi in second place. The BMW is last and will cost £2,000 more than the Mercedes-Benz to run.
E220: 43.61 (ppm) £26,166 (60,000 miles total)
A6: 44.26 £26,556
S80: 45.99 £27,594
525d: 46.94 £28,164
For the first time Volvo’s S80 can be taken seriously in the executive sector thanks to a much improved drive. However, it doesn’t win here because the financial case just doesn’t quite add up – the S80 has the highest benefit-in-kind tax bills of this quartet and its running costs are adrift of the Mercedes-Benz and Audi. In this comparison, the E-class is the winner thanks to offering a decent drive allied to low running costs (£2,000 less than the BMW 525d) and the cheapest BIK tax bills.