Volvo S80 2.0 SE (2008) review

Published:18 August 2008

Volvo S80 2.0 SE (2008) review
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The Volvo S80. There’s a name to conjure with, to roll around your tongue and to savour the depths like a complex Bordeaux. Who are we kidding? The S80 is one of that small clique of large cars that aspire to the premium level but always fall someway short of attaining the necessary desirability. But does that mean the Volvo S80 is a bad car, or even a not-very-good one?

Of course not, as hundreds of chauffeurs and taxi drivers will testify. Sitting in the back of an S80 after a night out is a very pleasant experience, even when sober. But bringing in the punters is still hard work so for 2008 Volvo has introduced new petrol and diesel engines, both four cylinder, both two-litres. The entry-level 2.0 petrol SE is a bargain £23,495.

Sounds a little compromised

Sticking a two-litre Mondeo engine into an S40 might sound like a reasonable proposition, but you’ve a right to be concerned about the same 143bhp unit in the bigger, heavier S80. Power isn’t really the issue. The S80 can cruise reasonably well on the motorway, one- or two-up, and at higher revs the engine feels lively and responsive. It may seem unseemly to drive a car like this on the gearbox but it’s a solution some of the time.

Where the S80 stumbles so miserably is in urban conditions. Torque is in short supply at the best of times but at low revs it seems paltry. That leads to some oh-my-God moments pulling out from road junctions where acceleration feels even slower than the 0-60mph time of 11 seconds implies. That’s with just the driver on-board. With a full compliment of passengers it could get scary.

Click ‘Next’ below to read more of our Volvo S80 2.0 SE first drive

Hmmm. But think of the savings

True, this two-litre petrol S80 does bring the entry point for the range down by a couple of thousand pounds making the S80 miles cheaper than rivals. The A6, 5 Series and E-Class cost £2 to 6K more, though crucially none of the Germans brands sinks below a 170bhp petrol engine.

So has Volvo been totally misguided? It could argue that this is a large car for A4 money. You can also look at the economy – 34mpg – and emissions of 199g/km. Thing is, you’ll never get close to that average fuel consumption in real life. The CO2 figure is more significant, getting below the 200g/km will mean more in the future than it does right now.  

How does the S80 measure up in other respects?

There’s a lot more in this standard SE package than rivals can offer. A decent satnav system for a start, Volvos ubiquitous pop-out-of-the-dash variety. It’s not the simplest thing to operate; you have to use the remote control or learn the hidden buttons behind the wheel, but this is a two thousand pound option on an Audi. The driver gets electric memory seats, the passenger front backrest folds flat, and there’s cruise control all in the package.

But like any car in the S80’s category, there is also a lengthy list of must-have options. Shove your hands firmly into your pockets if you can, but when you cast your eyes on Volvo’s “Sundby Textile/T-Tec Upholstery” you’ll instantly realise that another £1,200 on leather is only way to go.

Click ‘Next’ below to read more of our Volvo S80 2.0 SE first drive

A tacky interior?

Most of the cars we drive at CAR come fully tricked up. It’s the way the industry works because it hopes it will fool us into thinking a car is better than it really is. Ha! Some chance! Still, it was brave of Volvo to let out a really basic S80, with seat coverings that looked like they were designed to fight back a power wash and win. Now you and we know that others do cloth a lot better so on the S80 leather needs to be factored in.

But that is really the end of the negatives. The interior architecture of the S80 is stylish, passenger space roomy and very comfortable. Volvo has a knack of building seats that combine soft enveloping comfort with a high degree of support in the right places. Combined with ride that, while hardly cosseting, is competent and volumous luggage carrying potential, there is genuine appeal to the S80. Just not with this engine.


Is the S80 a lost cause, a car that no one in their right mind buys? This particular version fits that bill absolutely. Scratch beneath the attractive price ticket and there’s a car that even taxi drivers may shy away from. But for those still convinced the S80 is the car for them, there is a much better option. A mere £850 more gets you into the two-litre diesel that drives vastly better, has a six-speed instead of a five-speed transmission and gives massive C02 and economy benefits. Even with leather the price is a reasonable £25,545.


Price when new: £23,495
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1999cc, 143bhp@6000rpm, 140lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 11.0sec 0-60mph, 127mph, 34.0mpg, 199g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1565kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4851/1861/1493

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  • Volvo S80 2.0 SE (2008) review
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