Volvo S80 D3 SE

Big Swede faces tough fight against might of German big three– can it pull off a shock here?

It’s difficult for any executive saloon to really compete with Germany’s big three – but that hasn’t stopped Volvo from trying. Its latest S80 saloon aims to give the 5-Series, E-Class and A6 a run for their money, and on paper it does just that. Not only is it cheaper, but it promises similar performance and economy, too.

We’ve come to expect this from the brand, yet it’s hard to put a value on image and prestige. Both are crucial in the executive class, so can the S80 hold its own in the battle for car park kudos?

On first impressions, it still has to rate as an alternative choice, as Volvo’s trademark grille doesn’t make the same impact as BMW’s blue propeller or the three-pointed star of Mercedes.

The S80 doesn’t offer the visual clout of its competitors, either. It has a busier mix of creases and chrome trim, giving a more dated look. However, the handsome 18-inch Fortuna alloy wheels on our test car provide a much more purposeful and imposing stance.

There’s less to complain about inside, as the Volvo mixes quality materials with a simple and attractive dashboard. The trademark floating console design looks smart, but adds little in the way of practicality. However, the Volvo features some of the most comfortable seats in the business!

Cushions

In SE trim, you get electronic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and leather upholstery as standard. But the electrically adjustable driving seat is set too high, even in its lowest position, and its flat squabs provide limited lateral support in corners.

This makes sense once you drive the car, as it isn’t about getting from A to B as quickly as possible; arriving at your destination with a minimum of fuss is the S80’s forte. It cushions occupants from bumpy roads more effectively than the other cars and is in its element on the motorway, where it’s a quiet and comfortable companion.

The D3 five-cylinder diesel engine provides a welcome dose of personality, as it has a distinctive soundtrack. Its muscular performance is accompanied by a muted growl from under the bonnet. And while the unit runs out of puff earlier in the rev range than the other units on test, it still provides plenty of punch.

The car’s biggest flaws are revealed when you increase the pace, as the softer set-up means there’s more body roll in bends. It’s also easy to spin the front wheels as you power out of low-speed corners.

In addition, the steering is numb and the middle pedal was soft from the first stop in our brake tests.

So the Volvo leads the way for comfort but trails for dynamic polish – and it was also the thirstiest car here, returning 32.8mpg in our hands. How crucial will that be in the final analysis?

Details

Chart position: 4WHY: Can Volvo cross the divide from alternative to executive car establishment? The D3 has the performance to suggest it can.

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