Volvo has enjoyed a great deal of success with its S80 executive saloon among the chauffeur market, and you can’t take a trip round the M25 without seeing at least one ferrying a Virgin upper class passenger to Heathrow ready for the red-eye flight to New York.
For these kind of business travellers, arriving for a meeting feeling fresh and ready to clinch the deal is paramount, which is why Virgin likes Volvo’s cars.
They’re remarkably comfortable to be a passenger in with huge, cossetting armchairs in place of the firmer seats you tend to find in Germanic models.
This leaves the chauffeur to worry about the driving experience which, to be honest, is probably the best way of doing things.
The S80 is a big, heavy car and it feels it, lacking the deftness that a BMW 5 Series can offer. Neither does it possess that “hewn from solid” feel that Audi’s A6 offers.
The ride quality isn’t bad, with the S80 veering towards a softer setting to ensure maximum comfort inside, but this results in wallowy handling.
The steering doesn’t contribute much to the party either, being massively over-assisted which means you have little idea what the front wheels are up to.
The vast majority of S80s sold are diesels, and the higher-powered D5 version takes the lion’s share of sales.
With 185bhp compared with 163 for the lesser 2.4 D model, it offers a smooth spread of power from right at the bottom of the rev range.
However, there is a fair degree of noise intrusion into the cabin, and the Geartronic automatic gearbox doesn’t really suit the engine – always being too eager to kick down even when the throttle is only slightly depressed.
However, with a chauffeur’s gentle right foot this shouldn’t worry rear-seat passengers too much.
Which is where the new version of the S80 comes in.
Badged Executive, it is the most luxuriously-specified Volvo ever launched, with deep pile carpets, luxurious soft leather seats with contrasting piping, walnut wood inlays and even a fridge in the back with two crystal tumblers.
If ever a car was designed for back-seat passengers, the Executive is it.
To differentiate it from the other S80s in the range – and justify the hefty £8,000 price premium over the SE Lux model – the Executive also offers bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels and badging, upgraded stereo system and the Personal Car Communicator with keyless drive.
Add in active bi-Xenon headlights, remote control satellite navigation, heated seats, rear headphones and parking sensors, and there’s not much left to tick on the options list.
However, at this price point the Volvo faces some stiff competition.
P11D value: £38,300
CO2 emissions (g/km): 193
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £205
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 38.7
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £14,350/37%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £764
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Volvo is pretty much a full-house specification, with the standard equipment list even reaching to a refrigerator in the back along with a pair of crystal tumblers to quench the busy executive’s thirst.
The Audi offers four-wheel drive with S line trim and looks good value here.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
Despite having the highest front-end price the BMW offers the cheapest tax bills thanks to its low emissions.
The 535d will cost a 40% taxpayer £336 a month in benefit-in-kind tax, compared with £357 for the Volvo, £375 for the E-Class and £409 for the Audi.
The BMW has the cheapest service rates thanks to the Service Inclusive package, but its high tyre replacement cost means it finishes second to the Volvo. The Mercedes-Benz has the most expensive garage rates and is the second most expensive on tyre replacement costs.
ppm 60k total S80: 5.23 (pence per mile) £3,138
A6: 5.73 £3,438
535d: 5.99 £3,594
E320: 6.54 £3,924
Thanks to the use of EfficientDynamics technology to boost fuel economy, the BMW leads here.
The 535d is claimed to return 41.5mpg on the combined cycle, equating to a diesel bill of £6,400 over 60,000 miles. The E320 and S80 both return 38.7mpg and the Audi 34.0.
535d: 10.69 (pence per mile) £6,414 (60,000 miles total)
E320: 11.46 £6,876
S80: 11.46 £6,876
A6: 13.64 £8,184
The Audi and BMW have the joint highest residual value forecast, with CAP estimating they will retain 40% of cost new after three years/60,000 miles.
However, the A6’s lower front-end price sees it undercut the 535d. The E320 and S80 are both predicted to retain 37%.
A6: 36.72 (pence per mile) £22,032
535d: 39.62 £23,772
E320: 39.94 £23,964 S80: 40.58 £24,348
Despite having the highest fuel costs thanks to its four-wheel drive system, the Audi performs well in SMR and depreciation terms, helping it record a narrow victory over the BMW.
The Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are closely matched in third and fourth.
A6: 55.49 (pence per mile) £33,294 (60,000 miles total)
535d: 56.30 £33,780
S80: 57.27 £34,362
E320: 57.94 £34,764
Volvo has thrown everything bar the kitchen sink at the S80 Executive’s specification sheet, making it an ideal car for chauffeur fleets wanting the ultimate in Swedish luxury.
But for user-chooser drivers it simply doesn’t have the brand cache of the German trio.
The Mercedes-Benz is the most expensive to run, which leaves the Audi and BMW.
Both are fine cars, but the BMW’s greater driver appeal and lower benefit-in-kind tax bills seal the win.