Volvo S80 D5 SE

18 Nov, 2006 (All day)

The Volvo's smooth and aerodynamic but the underdog in this group test

For: 
Price, generous equipment, mid-range punch, good seating position
Against: 
Unassuming styling, five-cylinder D5 too coarse, small boot, unsettled ride quality

Although Sweden wants to take the fight to the Ger­mans, it’s not being overly ambitious. Volvo aims to sell 5,000 S80s a year in the UK – that equates to around a third of the 14,200 examples of the 5-Series which found homes here in 2005.

Built at the Torslanda factory near Gothenburg, the new S80 is smoother and more aerodynamic than its predecessor. However, it’s also less imposing, and doesn’t have the heavy shoulder line that gave the original character and an air of solidity. It’s unmistakably a Volvo, but fails to stand out.

This is despite the fact the S80 is the highest and widest model on test (34mm taller and 27mm broader than before). It’s no longer overall than the previous car, though, and while the wheelbase has grown by 45mm, it’s still the shortest here.

Yet that doesn’t automatically mean its rivals are more spacious inside. The S80 offers generous accommodation for two in the rear, with sculpted backrests which split and fold to boost practicality.

It’s worth noting that the front passenger chair folds, too. However, the 422-litre load bay is the smallest in this test, and is blighted by a narrow opening. Drivers have a much better time of things than their luggage. The seats are plush and well padded – if not that supportive – while there is a wide range of adjustment on the steering wheel to enhance the superb driving position.

The focus of the interior is the floating centre console. It’s not such a design statement here as in the S40 compact executive in which it debuted, and you can’t really get to the space it frees up, but it’s well laid out and very simple to use.

Of course, this ability to make the person at the wheel feel instantly at ease is a Volvo hallmark. Unfortunately, so is the overwhelmingly grey colour scheme, which gives the interior a gloomy air.

The D5 engine was revised last year, and will be familiar to anyone who drives an XC90 or S60. Even though it’s smaller in capacity than either the BMW or Audi, and is also a cylinder down on both, it develops marginally more power. And as the S80 has the lightest kerb­weight, it delivered the fastest acceleration – albeit by fractions of a second. On the road, it offered the most muscular mid-range, but annoyingly, had an intrusive engine note.

Put simply, the five-cylinder is a touch coarse, and not as pleasant to listen to as rivals. There were also vibrations through the clutch pedal, and the six-speed manual gearbox is long-winded and ponderous compared to the BMW’s set-up.

But with dynamics tested and developed here in the UK, surely the driving experience measured up on our test route along the M4 and through the Brecon Beacons? Certainly, anyone coming from the old S80 will be instantly impressed. The new car has a far stiffer chassis, less steering kickback and rides more comfortably, especially on rough roads.

But it’s not as settled as we had hoped, and doesn’t smother bumps brilliantly. Nor is all well in terms of handling. The front-wheel-drive chassis doesn’t feel as sophisticated as the rear-drive BMW and Merc. And although it’s capable through corners, with good turn-in, grip and limited roll, the Volvo’s mature personality means it’s not that enjoyable to drive, and is less agile than rivals.

But it is excellent value. Our £28,050 SE is the cheapest car here, and while it’s only one rung up from the base S80, it gets electric leather seats – an option at around £2,000 on all its competitors.

Details

Price: £28,050
Model tested: Volvo S80 D5 SE
Chart position: 4
WHY: With a longer wheelbase, new engines and a chassis honed on UK roads, the S80 is fresh from the ground up. There are five trim levels and five power options, while prices range from £24,375-£41,725. We test the more potent of the two 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesels, with 185bhp.

Economy

Despite Volvo’s claims that owners should manage 44.1mpg on the combined cycle, we averaged 10mpg less than that – only 34.2mpg. Still, a 500-mile touring range is easily achievable.

Residuals

According to figures from HSBC Vehicle Finance, the S80 will be the cheapest car to run for three years, costing 61.6 pence per mile. It’s helped by the fact residual values are on a par with its competitors.

Servicing

Only £12 separates the quotes we had for the Volvo, Merc and Audi. None of them is cheap, with the S80’s initial three check-ups totalling £938. However, they are only required every 18,000 miles.

Tax

as it boasts the most powerful engine here, it’s a surprise the Volvo slots into the same 23 per cent tax bracket as the Merc. Factor in the low price, and the S80 is the cheapest company option.

Key specs

Unassuming styling means the Volvo is short on road presence, but the driving dynamics are a step forward from the old car’s, even if it can’t match German rivals. There are no complaints about rear space, either. father

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