Selling around 4,000 units a year, in a large saloon market more than 10 times the size, the S80 suffers an image problem. On the road, its lines mirror those of smaller sibling S60 – a car with a higher profile. A snapshot AM survey revealed most people thought the S80 was an S60 until seen up close; it’s a lack of awareness that generates unintended exclusivity.
The S80 is, of course, bigger than the S60 – in fact it’s one of the largest saloons in its sector. Launched in 1998, a subtle tweak in 2003 saw minor changes to interior and exterior, plus the addition of Volvo’s active Four-C chassis option, which switches from comfort to sport at the touch of a button. Quality-wise it’s more than a match for the sector leaders – trim materials look and feel plush and are well fitted.
Positives include the headrest (one of the few where drivers can actually rest their heads and still see the road), the 2.5-litre 210bhp engine, which performs well, and the precise ZF steering.
Letdowns include the auto gearbox – it’s smooth but slow to engage from standstill unless you stamp on the accelerator – and the seats, which can ache on long journeys. It’s also thirsty, noticeably more so that the claimed 28.2mpg combined figures. We struggled to stay above 25mpg.
Volvo says a third of S80 sales are to business owners – and most of them play golf. Parked next to the BMWs and Mercs at the 19th tee, the S80 will stand out, but not look out of place.
Strengths: Interior quality, space, head restraints, price
Weaknesses: Auto box from standstill, seats
Opportunity: Raise Volvo profile to rival BMW/Merc
Threat: Often mistaken for S60
The USP: Swedish alternative to 5-series and E-class
Price: £24,075 (S) – May 03 figures
Engine: 2.5-litre 210bhp, 320Nm
Transmission: 5sp auto (man available)
Performance: 0-62mph 7.7s, top speed 140mph
Efficiency: fuel comb 28.2mpg; CO2 239g/km
CAP RV: £9,575 (35%)
Rivals: BMW 5-series, Mercedes E-class and Audi A6.