Chances are the Volvo S80 won’t be on your exec saloon wishlist, but, with a light re-style, sharper chassis and punchier engine, the Swedes have transformed it into a proper contender.
Okay, but it's a Volvo S80 so I’m waiting for the but…
No but, the S80 is the sleeper of the segment, a comfortable companion with – in the D5 SE Lux Premium spec we’re driving – a surprising turn of speed and an unexpectedly capable chassis.
A light re-fresh is the tip-off to those in the know: a new grille with larger badge, plus chrome detailing on the air intakes, lower part of the doors and below the rear lights.
Glass half-empty types could dub it dull, but my glass is looking half-full today, so I’ll call it a more subtle alternative to the aggressive German oppo.
About that revised engine, then?
It’s a cracker. The 2.4-litre, twin turbo, five-cylinder engine sits at the top of the diesel model range, and the stats are impressive: 202bhp and 310lb ft torque goes to the front wheels, while you’ll still reap 45.6mpg and spew a respectable 164g/km – while the auto knocks that to 178g/km and raises the 62mph dash from 8.0 to 8.5sec.
There’s loads of puff lowdown and an engagingly thick and vocal gurgle as you pile on the revs. It’s a quick way to cover ground and no mistake. Impressively, torque steer is all but banished too.
We only tried the manual option, but it was a decent ’box and certainly didn’t feel out of place in a 5-series/A6/E-class rival.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Volvo S80 D5 first drive
And the chassis?
The S80 has previously been a comfort-focussed wallower, and while the top-spec Executive models stick with exactly the same damper and springs settings, all SE and SE Lux models get a new Dynamic Chassis as standard – and that’s what we’re driving.
It’s the one to go for. Comfort levels are still extremely high, but there’s now a poise and flow to cross-country progress that adds a level of engagement previously missing. Insiders deny that Jaguar had a hand in the fettling (the two firms were part of Ford’s PAG empire until recently, don’t forget), but there’s a similar feeling of compliance and control that marks out the best from Coventry.
Yes, but they’re not deal breakers. The seats are very comfortable, but you sit a little high. The steering lacks initial feel, then weights up unnaturally. Then there’s the rear legroom. It’s okay, but the rear seats are scalloped in such a way that six footers will need to put knees together with Sarah Kennedy-like primness to benefit from the extra space on offer.
Fast, comfortable, agile, frugal, subtle, the S80 is the exec alternative most people won’t even think of. The job for Volvo will be making most people do just that.
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