It’s a hard road for Volvo. It may be known more for its buses and trucks but those in the know place Volvo in closer proximity to the holy trinity of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But the Swedish brand still finds it hard to match Germans’ appeal. So Volvo has to do it the hard way – let word of mouth and its hard-won reputation drive sales.
Volvo’s key strengths are safety, comfort and reliability, just what you really need in India. And the car maker is big on these. But modern Volvos are also fast and nice to look at. The S80 was the first non-cubist Volvo you could actually stare at and go ‘wow’. And it still looks great, especially since it’s been given a nip here and a tuck there. The design is a happy amalgam of simple but very attractive lines, and the S80 still looks fresh from the front and downright gorgeous from the rear. The easiest way is to spot the larger Volvo badge on the grille, but you can also tell the new car by its twin exhausts and the subtle chrome detailing.
The most important upgrade, however, comes in the form of the new five-cylinder diesel. This now Euro V-compliant powerplant makes 205bhp and 42.82kgm of torque from its 2.4 litres, and that’s impressive. Volvo has also added twin turbos to optimise power delivery and improve fuel economy.
With the engine running, you’ll notice that the idle isn’t Mercedes-smooth and noise levels are slightly higher than you’d expect. It does smoothen out on the move, but you are always aware that there is a diesel engine banging away under the hood. Performance, though, is quite decent and once on the move, progress is relatively quick. The large powerband means that there is a constant slug of torque till about 4000rpm, after which power tapers off. Zero-100kph comes up in 8.20 seconds and that’s only 0.57sec slower than the more powerful and considerably more expensive E350 CDI.
But what spoils the party is the slow-witted gearbox which doesn’t react as quickly as you’d like. This can take some getting used to especially when overtaking, when you need instant power and the gearbox takes its own time to downshift. But if you are not in too much of a hurry, the six-speed works just fine.
The S80’s suspension has always been pliant and comfortable. As a result, the car rides quite well at city speeds in general. But it’s been stiffened a bit on this version and the odd thud over sharp bumps does filter into the cabin. The upshot is that high-speed stability is quite good and ride is decent too. The S80 occasionally bobs over large undulations and though the steering is accurate, it feels a touch light at highway speeds. The S80 doesn’t have the poise of the 5-series or the new E-class through corners, and we’d be very surprised if it did. But if you don’t hustle it too much, it will follow your inputs gamely.
Except for a few plastics, build quality on the insides is top-notch and there isn’t much to complain about apart from the clutter of buttons on the centre console. You’ll absolutely love the extremely supportive and XXL-size seats and you’ll emerge fresh even after long stints in the car.
As with any Volvo, safety comes first. The S80 comes loaded to the gills with safety equipment that includes ABS, eight airbags, emergency brake assist, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, whiplash protection system, emergency brake-light flashing and even a built-in childseat in the centre armrest at the rear. It’s even the cleanest in terms of emissions, and comes with a particulate filter (which actually could get clogged up if you don’t rev the car enough) and a Euro V rating.
The S80 may not have the panache of its German rivals, but when you consider its brilliant introductory pricing, the S80 makes a strong case for itself. Very understated due to its low profile, very competent in its own right and now fantastic value at the introductory price of Rs 47.15 lakh (on-road Mumbai), the new Volvo S80 should appeal to a number of new customers.
It makes for a great chauffeur-driven car, the particulate filter makes it the cleanest diesel sold in India, and this car is just as solidly engineered as the Germans. If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd but get noticed at the same time, if you’re looking for E-class levels of comfort at only 80 percent of the price, if you’re not looking for boy-racer thrills in your luxury motor, then this is the car for you.