CC Capsule: 2006-10 Volvo S80 V8 – Swedish Power Metal

The early stages of buying a car, for me at least, typically involve writing a list of utterly left-field options that never end up making it to my shortlist. The Volvo S80 V8 is one of those cars, the former flagship of the Volvo lineup and one of the few Volvos to ever come with a V8 engine. But the S80 V8 is merely a curiosity, a forgotten flagship lacking the dynamic poise of its German rivals and failing to adequately compensate with character of its own.  

The 60-degree, transverse-mounted Yamaha 4.4 V8 was available in the S80 from 2007 until 2010, and first appeared in the 2005 XC90. Whenever I spot a last-generation S80, I look for the V8 badge on the back as V8 S80s are scarcely different visually from the lesser five- and six-cylinder models. I generally don’t find that badge.

As Jim Klein has noted, I seem to have become Curbside Classic’s resident mole person as so many of my photos are taken in undercover parking lots. A good two years elapsed between these photos from the parking lot and the lead photo I managed to quickly snap the other day in traffic. If I waited to find another S80 V8 parked, I’d be waiting a long time.

Here’s a press photo instead. There, much nicer. Alas, the second generation S80 had a rather watered-down design compared to the Peter Horbury-penned first generation. The first S80 had shaken up Volvo’s staid image with a new, broad-shouldered design language. The second generation smoothed it out and made it a touch sleeker, but now the S80 resembled an upsized S40. The V8 model, in Australia at least, added available chrome wheels that were an odd touch for a Swedish car—more [Chevy] Malibu than Malmö.

Sitting in a S80 3.2 the other day, I was surprised to find the interior wasn’t especially nice for its class. The material quality and presentation would have been tolerable in a lower-end V70 wagon, but if I was buying a new V8 luxury sedan I would have crossed the S80 off my list. It was well-screwed together inside and had a neat design, mind you, but it wasn’t terribly luxurious.

The S80 V8 also couldn’t compete with the Germans dynamically. Although the S80 was a front-wheel-drive sedan, all-wheel-drive was standard with the V8. The system was neither as complex nor as satisfying as that in the Acura RL, however, with 95% of the power sent to the front wheels. Overall curb weight was just under 4200 pounds – similar to other AWD rivals, albeit with 61.5 percent of that weight over the front wheels – but 0-60 was still accomplished in a fleet 5.7 seconds thanks to the sonorous V8 with 311 hp and 320 ft-lbs. The S80 V8 also came with an electronically-controlled suspension known as Four-C, allowing drivers to select between four different modes. Alas, not even Sport or Advanced could make the S80 handle as well as the Germans. Handling was secure and competent, but no more.

I suppose one shouldn’t expect a full-size Volvo to be as exciting to drive as a BMW, but the S80 failed to make a convincing case for itself against a class of immensely capable sedans from around the world. When you are trying to take on goliaths like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, you have to offer something really special. The Volvo had the comfort, technology, pace and refinement required for the segment, but it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi.

Volvo has long been renowned for its station wagons. Maybe they should have put the Yamaha V8 in the related V70 wagon to create a more distinctive flagship. It might not have resulted in more sales, but hey–it might have ended up on my shortlist!

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