This 2007 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2013.
There's no better example of how far Volvo has evolved from its boxy designs of the past than the '07 S80 AWD. The low-key luxury sedan is the latest example of how the Swedish automaker is producing fun and fast cars, while at the same time reinforcing its first-rate reputation for safety. With its snarling 4.4-liter V8, the $56,025 model tested here is certainly not your mother's stodgy Volvo, although she—or anyone for that matter—would certainly feel safe and secure in an S80 thanks to several innovative safety-oriented features.
I Know You're There
The most significant of these is Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS). It uses digital cameras beneath the side-view mirrors to scope out vehicles in the S80's blind spots (up to about 10.3 feet from the side of the vehicle and approximately 31 feet behind the side mirrors, according to Volvo) and indicates their presence by illuminating a small but highly visible orange indicator in the front corner of each window. BLIS sussed out every vehicle that entered the S80's blind spots during our road test, and the indicators were noticeable even in bright sunlight. But I also had a tendency to not notice them after a while, and the system would be even more effective if it included audible indicators, as with some of the new lane-departure warning systems. Of course, this also could become annoying, but then the BLIS can be switched off via a button on the dash if the driver chooses.
I'm Warning You
The S80's Collision Warning with Brake Support does use both visual and audible warnings in the dire instance of an impending crash. The system, which is packaged with Adaptive Cruise Control as a $1,495 option, flashes a red light on the top of the dash and sounds an audible warning from the audio system's speakers when a radar sensor in the front grille detects that a collision is imminent. If the warnings are not heeded, brake support begins in by first preparing for rapid braking and then gently applying the brakes. As with BLIS, the Collision Warning system can be deactivated.
I'm glad I didn't have cause to test the Collision Warning system, although I did try to trip the indicators, which are also used with the Adaptive Cruise Control to warn when you're getting too close to a vehicle in front. While cruising at freeway speeds with ACC engaged, I attempted to set off the warnings by quickly pulling into the right lane behind a slower-moving vehicle. But my own self-preservation instincts made me hit the brakes before the sensors kicked in.
I Can Hear Your Heartbeat
Similarly, I wanted to test the heartbeat function of the Personal Car Communicator system (a $495 option), but I had a hard time convincing someone to break into the car and then hide inside. The system works via the key fob remote and goes way beyond merely locking and unlocking the doors. When you approach the vehicle in range of the PCC (about 300 feet, according to Volvo), a red light that outlines the bottom left corner of the remote will glow red if the vehicle has been broken into. And if another red light flashes in the left bottom quadrant of the remote, a heartbeat sensor in the vehicle indicates that someone is hiding inside, which would give a person approaching the car in, say, a dark parking garage peace of mind.
The car has several proprietary features to keep you safer on the road too. The Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) uses car-body enhancements to transfer and absorb side impact, while dual-chamber driver and front-passenger side-impact airbags and inflatable side curtains are intended to cushion the blow to the body in such accidents. And Volvo's Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) uses active headrests to help reduce neck injuries that commonly result from being rear-ended.
Outside of the Box
But the S80's tech is not just about safety and security. The optional $1,550 Dynaudio 12-speaker, 650-watt audio system sounds great while listening from the front seats, and the three-channel surround mode is among the most effective and satisfying OEM sound-processing schemes I've heard. I much preferred it over the Dolby Pro Logic II setting, for example. Plus, with PL II engaged, the sound in the rear seats severely suffers. I also found that the steering-wheel controls that duplicate some of the functions of four-way switch panel and rocker switch in the center stack were actually easier and more intuitive to use than the dash switches. And I wish more vehicles had Volvo's MY KEY programmable control for storing a favorite function.
In fact, I found myself wishing that more sedans at this price had the S80's combination of high-tech safety, subtle style and unpretentious performance. It shows that Volvo continues to think outside of the box.
Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.