Road test - Volvo S80 D4 SE Lux Geartronic

Volvo is building a strong presence in the executive chauffeur sector – and this is the car that’s doing the business – the S80. We’ve got to know it well over the past few years – this is the third time we’ve tested the current version, as it’s been refreshed twice since replacing the original S80 in 2007.

In recent times it’s clear that many chauffeur firms have turned to the S80 as a more budget-conscious alternative to German luxury brands - Volvo brand still has the right amount of prestige to be recognised as a luxury nameplate, while retaining an understated, everyman appeal. It was that versatile quality that saw the S80 win Professional Driver’s Car of the Year award in 2012 – it had truly established itself as the right car for tougher times.

PD Volvo S80 road test header

We know how much Tristar Worldwide loves the S80. But look at just how many other successful chauffeur fleets rely on it. In addition to Tristar, two other Gold Medallists at Professional Driver’s 2013 QSi Awards, Club Class Chauffeurs and Fylde Executive Cars, booth use the S80 as a mainstay of their fleets.

Success, it seems, breeds success, and Volvo has acknowledged this by offering a ground-breaking chauffeur programme based around S80 and its estate sister, the V70. This offers decent finance rates on much higher mileages, as well as including used vehicles from the high-turnover Tristar fleet, making the S80 a great entry-level car for a new-start chauffeur, or an affordable way to add another car to a growing fleet.

Volvo, if you didn’t realise it, is now under Chinese ownership after Ford sold it to Geely Holding in 2010. Geely has taken a sensible, hands-off approach, letting the still largely Swedish management of Volvo get on with things. As a result, there are new cars in the pipeline that could take Volvo into uncharted territory – impressive concept cars at recent motor shows have hinted at a large saloon that would take the company into competition with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-class and the BMW 7-series. And Chinese ownership will bring a lot of business in China, potentially doubling the global sales of the brand.

Exterior styling

The S80 does date from the time of Ford’s ownership, and much of the platform shares common parts with the likes of Mondeo and Galaxy. But it has been constantly freshened, with a major overhaul in 2010 – the last time we gave the car a full test. 

This did almost nothing to the exterior - the handsome lines of the 2007 original S80 didn’t really change at all – just details, such as redesigned headlamps and LED turn indicators in the door mirrors, while a lot of work was done to the interior of the car. 

This 2013 facelift, designed to see the S80 through to an all-new model some time in the next two years, addresses the exterior, adding a bigger, bolder grille and new LED lighting. The new front and rear bumpers are designed to make the car look wider and lower. The wider front grille and added details such as chrome exterior highlights, give the car an upmarket feel.

New rectangular Daytime Running Lights at the front give the S80 nose a more contemporary look, while the rounded-off classic Volvo lights at the rear visually pull the car down to the ground. 

Interior finish

Inside the cabin, the 2014 models have received an upgrade in materials, though most of the major interior works happened in 2010. The S80 gained softer seats with more padding and a far less brutal look to the interior. 

In particular, a new dashboard design saw the end of the old sat-nav system, with the screen that rose from the top of the dashboard. In its place was fitted an always-visible display mounted centrally in a cowl on the dash, at the same level as the primary dials. The old system was fiddly, with a lot of buttons, and the display was far from class-leading. The new one, called Volvo Sensus, is clearer to look at and easier to use.

PD Volvo S80 road test front seat

All information is now presented on the colour screen. And the fiddly buttons have largely gone, with most of the functions controlled via buttons built into the steering wheel. Everything feels softer and looks more rounded, with better detailing. The instruments panel is also refreshed with aluminium dials and a revised four-spoke steering wheel. It was a subtle but effective makeover, and detail changes for 2014, such as the addition of high-grade Bridge of Weir leather for the seats, have made it even better.

The instrument cluster has also been upgraded, with a three-part digital display replacing the old analogue gauges and dials. This Adaptive Digital Display, which debuted in the all-new V40, uses an active TFT crystal display to bring the driver personalised information.

There are three switchable themes to choose from: Elegance, Eco and Performance. The default mode is Elegance, which has a classic look and layout, with central speedometer and rev counter on one of the side gauges. Eco mode has a green colour theme and is designed to encourage and reward a fuel-efficient driving style. An eco-meter on the left replaces the rev counter, and displays current and accumulated fuel consumption – and optimal eco-driving is rewarded with a green E light. 

Performance features red illumination, and a rev counter scale replaces the central speedometer of the Elegance and Eco versions, while the vehicle speed is shown digitally. On the right, a power meter shows how much engine power is available, which is a very useful tool for overtaking.

PD Volvo S80 road test dashboard

Inside, an all-new ambient light enhances driving at night. It illuminates key features such as cup holders, door releases, seat controls, and luggage and storage areas. Cars equipped with the automatic gearbox also feature a new gearshift knob with piano-black inlay.

Powertrain and performance

The most significant change is under the bonnet, where a new four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine has been added as part of Volvo’s new Drive-E engine family. This creates a new D4 model that slots between the D3 and D5, both of which retain the older five-cylinder 2.0-litre engines.

The new D4 is impressive, developing 181PS and 400Nm of torque, and it’s Euro 6 compliant, which means it’ll replace the five-pot motor as Volvo’s prime large-car diesel by the end of 2015. Indeed, with manual transmission, the D4 engine in the S80 is actually cleaner in terms of CO2 emissions than the entry-level D2 model, which uses a smaller 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel.

With six-speed manual, Volvo S80 D4 offers an astonishing 70.6mpg combined and just 104g/km of CO2 emissions – that’s lower than Mercedes-Benz’s E300 BlueTEC Hybrid. Even with eight-speed auto transmission, as tested here, the D4 offers a highly acceptable 114g/km and combined fuel economy of 65.7mpg.

Inevitably, our real-world test didn’t come close, but 42.5mpg over a week-long, 400-mile test at an average 36mph (we did a couple of longer runs) is a pretty acceptable figure. And it’s a significant improvement on our 2011 road test, when we achieved 38.6mpg over 285 miles at an average speed of 34mph. Driven gently we’re sure you could get the new S80 D4 close to 50mpg – an excellent return for a large executive saloon.

On the road

The S80 remains a very comfortable car to drive. Ignoring the sport chassis settings, with lowered ride, we kept in the softer, more forgiving comfort mode, with softer springs and less damping. As an option, Volvo offers an automatic self-regulating chassis system that uses a number of sensors to monitor the car’s behaviour. The dampers are adjusted to suit the current driving conditions in fractions of a second.

It’s very good and leads to excellent flat, smooth cornering with minimum body roll, as well as excellent ability to cope with bumpy road surfaces. But it does add well over £1,000 to the price, and we can’t help thinking that the enhanced comfort of the standard ride is what you really need.

The eight-speed auto means revs very rarely climb above 1,500 – and even under heavy acceleration, swift changes occur around 2,000rpm. It’s very smooth and quiet, adding to the S80’s “big car” feel.

PD Volvo S80 road test rear seat

S80’s powered front seats can be optionally specified with upholstery in perforated and ventilated leather. Fans in the seat cushion quickly reduce cushion temperature to a pleasant level. The rear seat splits and folds, and sun blinds for the rear doors are available as an option.

Boot space isn’t enormous, but it has been improved since we last tested the S80, from 442 litres of space to 480 litres. Capacity is still short of, say, the Audi A6, with 530 litres. However, the boot still has piston-operated hinges rather than the current vogue for large ‘hoop’ hinges, so what space there is not impeded.

PD Volvo S80 road test boot

Safety and technology

A number of technological tweaks have been added – for example, the Bluetooth connection has been upgraded to support multiple users. Meanwhile the LED headlamps now have Active High Beam Control, which offers automatic switching between high and low beam at the right moment. Other optional extras include a heated front windscreen for rapid de-icing on cold winter days, as well as an electrically heated steering wheel. 

S80s with power front seats they can be optionally specified with upholstery in perforated and ventilated leather. Fans in the seat cushion quickly reduce cushion temperature to a pleasant level and contribute to high seating comfort. The rear seat splits and folds. The front passenger seat backrest can also be folded. Sun blinds for the rear doors are available as an option.

And as you might expect from Volvo, the S80 is bristling with safety features, a lot of which are Volvo’s own innovations. Second-generation WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System) is fitted. In the event of a rear-end collision the front seat backrest accompanies the occupant’s initial body movement and dampens the incoming force rather like a hand catching a ball. Second-generation of WHIPS has a gentler damping motion that provides good contact between the head and head restraint throughout the impact.

And the car is fitted with Volvo’s City Safety system as standard. This advanced collision avoidance system now works at speeds of up to 30mph – previously it only worked up to 18mph. City Safety watches vehicles in front via a laser sensor built into the windscreen at the height of the rear-view mirror. The car brakes automatically if the driver does not respond in time when the car in front slows down or stops - or if the driver is driving too fast towards a stationary object. If the relative speed difference between the two vehicles is less than about 8mph, the collision can be entirely avoided.

Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake is also available. The technology uses radar and a camera to monitor pedestrians in front of the car. The system initially provides a warning to alert the driver to brake or steer clear of the pedestrian. If the driver does not respond, the car automatically brakes with full force moments before the collision becomes unavoidable.

Also fitted is a Driver Alert warning that informs the driver via sound and message if the system estimates that the vehicle is being driven erratically. And a Lane Departure Warning system can is activated via a button in the centre stack This alerts the driver with a gentle warning sound if the car crosses one of the road markings without use of the turn indicator.

Adaptive Cruise Control is also optional. This continuously monitors the gap to the vehicles in front and automatically adjusts the car's speed to ensure that this gap does not shrink too much. The latest version operates all the way down to standstill. The car accelerates automatically once the traffic starts moving again. 

Verdict

This second facelift looks less radical than the 2010 remodelling – but in fact it’s every bit as significant. The new engine feels excellent – and as it’s less complex than the five-cylinder engine it’ll serve Volvo well for years to come. It’s designed to be used as part of a hybrid powertrain too – expect a hybrid S80 when the full model changes within the next two years.

The 2010 facelift got rid of the clunky, old-fashioned sat-nav, and now a vogueish digital dash has been added, though Volvo isn’t going for a high-tech feel. Instead the cabin refinements are pushing the S80 further up-market, into the sector it needs to inhabit alongside key rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-series.

It drives well – the D4 engine is quieter and smoother than the 2.4-litre  D5 engine we tested before – and described as “growly”. We really liked the smooth 8-speed auto, though if you’re pitching this as an eco-car, the manual version offers significantly lower CO2 emissions.

We’re sticking to our verdict on the S80. It’s certainly good enough to do a job as an executive chauffeuring car. The Volvo brand hasn’t quite the prestige of its German rivals, but it’s not far off, say, Audi – and safety is a strong virtue to promote. It’s priced pretty much bang on the money against the MercedesE220 CDI SE, for example, and if you factor in Volvo’s excellent and comprehensive chauffeur programme, which offers keen rates and higher mileages than most, the S80 remains the car for all reasons.


 

DATA

Volvo S80 D4 SE Lux Geartronic

Price  £35,270 
   
Specification  
Engine  2,969cc 4-cylinder turbodiesel 
Transmission 8-speed Geartronic automatic, front-wheel drive
Power 181PS at 4,250rpm
Torque 400Nm at 1,750-3,000rpm
Fuel economy 65.7mpg combined
0-62mph 8.4sec
CO2 emissions 113g/km
Length 4,854mm
Width 1,861mm
Height 1,493mm
Wheelbase 2,835mm
Luggage capacity 480 litres
Fuel tank capacity 70 litres
VED Band C
Service Interval 18,000 miles
Warranty 3 years/ 60,000 miles

 

 

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