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With the introduction of the all-new S80 at the top of the range, Volvo makes one giant leap for Swedish automotive history with its first V8-powered luxury sedan.
Yes, it's the same, exact V8 engine that powers the much larger and heavier XC90 SUV, but with a thousand pounds of weight taken off its narrow little 60-degree shoulders, the transversely mounted 4.4-liter V8 becomes a real performer. To manage that much power, the V8 comes with the proven Volvo Haldex computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system.
The V8 engine installation is certainly the biggest single news item about this car, but there's also a completely new 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine for those customers who don't want or need monster torque. The new six-cylinder, the largest inline-6 Volvo has ever built, is rated at 236 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, great leaps above the old 2.9-liter engine. Unlike the V8, the I6 will be available with front-wheel drive as well as all-wheel drive.
The chassis, body and interior are brand new from stem to stern for the 2007 model year, blended into a careful evolution of what Volvo calls a Scandinavian luxury car, an evolution best understood and appreciated when the old car and the new car are parked side-by-side.
As you would expect, the S80 is absolutely packed with safety equipment, building on its worldwide reputation with more still safety systems, from the interesting and talented new key fob out to the structure and the chassis systems.
The all-new S80 is designed to compete directly against such market favorites as the Acura RL, the Infiniti M35 and M45, the Lexus GS, the Audi A6, the BMW 5 Series, and the Mercedes E-Class. The S80 has moved a bit more upscale and is priced higher than before, but the new car has more standard equipment and more powerful engines.
We were very impressed with the overall behavior of the V8 engine, which sounds quite a lot like a Corvette V8 when first fired up in the morning, then settles down to a nice, smooth idle. This engine is a Yamaha-designed 60-degree V8 with balance shafts, so it doesn't sound like a conventional 90-degree V-8. It's smooth and creamy all the way up the rev range to 6500 rpm, and for its relatively small displacement, it pulls very well and can easily sustain speeds of 135 mph on the open road. At high cruising speeds, the cabin is quiet, with a bit of wind noise off the tires and a bit of tire noise coming in.
The Volvo chassis system underneath the new S80 is an evolution of the 4C chassis, with adaptive shock absorbers changing second by second according to inputs from the road and the car itself. The system has been upgraded with three different settings instead of just two on the previous S80, Comfort, Sport, and Advanced.
Speaking of settings, we tried the new dashboard-adjustable steering effort control, and found the firmest setting to be ideal for our tastes. Hefty and solid, the way we like our steering. With the steering set this way and the Advanced settings plugged into the chassis system, the Volvo was a paragon of driving for the sheer fun of it, taut, quick to react, and flat in the corners, with the V8 engine always ready to play.
We experienced the adaptive cruise control system, which worked as advertised to maintain our preset distance to the car ahead in the fast lane, and we heard and saw the collision warning system mounted directly in front of the driver on the dashtop, a system which we quickly silenced on the crowded two-lane roads.
We also had the opportunity to test the ABS brakes a number of times from very high speeds, over 100 mph, and they were as powerful and quick and positive as you could want.
We think this is the best overall car ever to come out of Sweden, slick, modern, pretty but understated, quick and powerful. Its surefooted stance and solid performance, 0-60 in about 6.5 seconds, should please most buyers, especially when the weather turns bad and the all-wheel-drive V8 can shine. As part of the introduction program, Volvo did a live crash test, with an S80 slamming into an 800-ton steel barrier head-on at 45 mph. When the smoke cleared and the broken glass was swept up, all four doors opened normally, a very convincing performance for a car that's so much fun to drive. While we wouldn't go as far as to call the new S80 an out-and-out sports sedan, it's closer than a Volvo has ever been before, and there simply aren't any rough edges on this package anywhere.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw performed his test drive of the S80 in Sweden.