Classic CARmentary: 1999 Volvo S80 T6 Sedan

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