Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.
Volvos don’t usually leave much of an impression on me (Sorry, Connor), but the thing I remember most about the S80 is the excellent stereo. I mention below that Volvo replaced most of the typical buttons with knobs. To get a feel for it I must have listened to several local stations that I usually spurned, like the local Top 40 station. Though a child of the ’70s and ’80s with little interest in ’90s music, I found that there were several songs I really liked. “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” are two that I remember hearing in the S80 for the first time.
Several years later, my wife and I were watching an episode of The Gilmore Girls (her favorite show), and motorcycle-riding rebel Christopher, Rory’s father, was showing Lorelei his new Volvo S80. She was shocked that he bought a Volvo, and he responded with something along the lines of, “But you’ve got to hear the stereo!” He then cranked it up about as loud as it could go. I got a silent chuckle out of that.
Beyond the stereo, I thought it was a very nice car for someone that wasn’t me.
The following review was written on June 13, 1999.
Volvos weren’t always boxy, you know. So anyone who whines that Volvo is abandoning its roots with the new S80 can just stop right now. Volvo isn’t abandoning its roots, it’s doing what any smart company would do when it’s taken a theme as far as it can go: moving on.
The front-wheel drive S80 displaces the discontinued rear-drive S90 at the top of Volvo’s model range. Its targets are no secret: Cadillac, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes. Boxy isn’t going to cut it with this crowd, and the S80 has a sleek shape highlighted by a steeply curved rear window and a beltline that stretches from the top of the small-but-familiar Volvo grill to the top of the tail lamps.
Of course, Volvo built its reputation on safety and it isn’t about to abandon it for a pretty face. To start, the passenger compartment is surrounded by a strong safety cage. Front and side airbags are supplemented by Volvo’s unique Inflatable Curtain, which provides increased head protection for ALL outboard passengers in a side collision. There’s also a Whiplash Protection System, as well as a stability and traction control system to help avoid a collision in the first place.
While the base model has the S90’s 201-horsepower, 2.9-liter inline six, the T-6 model gets a powerful twin-turbocharged 268-horsepower, 2.8-liter six. While that’s a lot of power to put to the front wheels, traction control keeps you going straight and torque steer is nearly nonexistent. To make the most of the driving experience, Volvo has introduced Geartronic, its version of the newly popular “manumatic” transmission.
The dash follows the exterior’s theme, with just a few creases to keep former Volvo owners comfortable. The only unusual feature is the radio, which replaces most of the expected buttons, such as for the pre-sets, with knobs. It takes a little getting used to, but tuning and volume buttons on the steering wheel help. Rear seat room and cargo volume are top notch.
Spy photos of the new 70 Series show a car that looks very much like the S80. This is the new Volvo. Get used to it.
For more information contact 1-800-458-1552
Type: Four-Door Sedan
Engine: Twin Turbocharged 268-horsepower, 2.8-liter inline six
Transmission: Four-speed automatic with Geartronic
EPA Mileage: 18 city/27 highway
Tested Price: $44,715
These T6s had a 4spd GM 4T65E to help deal with the torque, but just like in GM’s own forced induction applications using this transmission, they just don’t last long.
Interesting piece of knowledge.
Wonder why Volvo didn’t use the Lincoln Continental or Taurus SHO powertrains instead of dipping into the GM parts bin?
I guess an even better question from this time period would be why didn’t the Taurus SHO and Continental share powertrains?
Isn’t that the whole point of corporate mergers and “lean?”
Well, since we know how the story ended it isn’t really surprising.
Speaking of 1990’s Lincoln dealers, I would have killed Mercury around 2000 and made the dealers Lincoln/Mazda instead. By 2000 there was almost nothing available from Mercury that couldn’t be made available or special ordered at a Ford dealer.
The only “major” change required at that time was changing the “Cougar” badge to “Probe” or “MX-6” badge.
Perhaps Mazda would have had a difficult time “ramping-up” for the additional dealers? But it seemed like a no-brainer to me at the time. Especially in and around 2000, when it seemed the imports led by Camry, Accord/Civic, and Galant were going to take over the world.
Regarding the subject car, these Volvo’s were the only generations that appealed to me as something I would have purchased. The “R” versions were genuinely competitive with BMW’s and Audi’s.
The XC90 was the first seven seat crossover that made me actually consider owning a crossover someday. Especially with the optional V8 from Yamaha. I’m looking at reviews of the 2003 XC90 now and they also used a GM transmission called “4T65EV/GT automatic.”
Maybe GM should have brought Volvo and Ford should have brought Saab? Hindsight is always 20/20.
Please remember that Ford didn’t purchase Volvo until 1999, so all of the S80 development was prior to any Ford involvement whatsoever.
Well, to be fair, GM used the 4T65E-HD in their own high-powered transverse-powertrain cars. Stuff like the Riviera Supercharged, Monte Carlo SS, Impala SS, Regal GS, Grand Prix GXP, etc. Perhaps if Volvo had done that, their T6 S80 and XC90 wouldn’t have chewed up transmissions.
I don’t recall the 4T65E-HD being a bad transmission I think because it was paired with the twin turbo T6 is when it failed. I could be wrong though. I have never owed one of these, and never will. I will gladly take the less powered 2.5t or 2.9 naturally aspirated over a T6. It’s Volvo owners 101 to never get a T6.
That’s just it; the T6 cars used the 4T65E, not the 4T65E-HD.
From those years, the 2.5T is definitely the one to go for. Weirdly, the N/A 2.9 was only offered on the S80, and not the XC90 or any of the other Volvos.
Ah got it. Usually I see it referred to as just 4T65E and the more important “HD” is left out. Good information to know.
I wonder could a 4T65E-HD be swapped into a T6? Might prevent common failure.
I had a friend who bought one new for about 38k.
About 10 years later all he could get for it was about 2500, sold to an indie mechanic. The heat exchanger in the radiator failed putting coolant into the transmission, the engine overheated and blew the head gaskets.
He told me after running the numbers it would have been cheaper for him to have rented a car from Enterprise all those years than to take the depreciation hit that he did.
Sad too, the car was beautiful inside and out..he really cared about its appearance.
I never wanted any Volvo after that.
If he had it for 10 years, and he got 2,500 for it (with busted head gaskets and all), he came out pretty darn good unless he was sinking money into it constantly before cutting his losses or had a horrible finance rate. Thats less than $300 a month in depreciation off the numbers you give. The monthly payment would have been MUCH higher if it was financed, and not only that, after ten years what percent of a car’s value should be left? 10%? 20%? 20% is $7,600. Nobody is dropping that on any broken 10 year old car that’s driven daily the owner won’t fix themselves.
I think that this is a pretty car for the times, and nice to hear that the stereo is good because V70 stereos from that time weren’t. “Smooth” by Santana and Rob Thomas really holds up. I love some songs from that time for kitsch reasons (I wish so much that someone today would cover “Are You Jimmy Ray?” as a joke), but that one is a classic.
I had one of these cars for about 5 years. I can vouch for the stereo. The HU801 head unit is fantastic. Easily one of the best car radios I’ve ever had. Car was silky smooth. I enjoyed it very much.
No joke about Volvo’s audio. They have had some of the craziest systems of the past 20 years. I’m not sure if this S80 had Dynaudio yet, but my best friend’s C30 does, and it’s wild. 650 total watts, 5×130 amp, 5 tweeters, 4 woofer drivers, and a center fill high range. It literally can drown out the passenger next to you and still be crystal clear. With intense bass. The C70’s of that era are even madder, adding two subwoofers for a total of 910 watts… I always laugh when Acura touts their ELS audio. No comparison whatsoever.
My wife had this car in black. We kept it for 10 years, then sold it for 5500. The same salesman who sold it to us handled the sale for a small commission (well worth it as I hate the public and dealing with them.)
A friend who owned several Volvos advised us to buy the extended warranty, which was a wise purchase. The car never ate a tranny even with the Empress of Entropy at the wheel, although there were a couple of expensive repairs which were fully covered. Overall a very nice car, amazing to drive and very comfortable, but maybe not so well suited for the climate here in balmy Phoenix. My memory of the sound system is a little hazy, but seems it was good.