Volvo S80 T5 Drive-E: Strong enough, safe enough

Photos and story by Y. G. Siow

“Nobody dies in a new Volvo by 2020.” With this corporate ethos in mind, one can perhaps appreciate the talent, effort and engineering that went into the making of the 2015 Volvo S80 T5 Drive-E.

Gone are the awkward curves and boxy look of its 2012 predecessor. Instead, Volvo’s flagship luxury sedan has been facelifted to give it a more contemporary and aerodynamic look.

Exterior

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This Volvo has a sportier mien. The sharper look is accentuated by a pair of wrap-around headlights (including LED daytime running lights), updated grille, new bumpers and new front air dam.

While its xenon headlights easily penetrated dark basement carparks and dimly lit suburban roads at night, the same cannot be said for the yellow light emanating from its halogen high beams which did little to show the way forward in darkness.

Somehow, this latest 4.8 m version of the S80 doesn’t look as large as its predecessors despite retaining similar dimensions. At just under 1.5 m tall (1,493 mm to be precise), it retains its predecessor’s signature high waistline that gives it an instantly recognisable Volvo profile.

Boot space at 480 litres was good. However, this advantage was diminished somewhat by a smallish opening that compelled one to bend at the waist to load luggage or grocery bags. The heavy boot lid is raised by hand. There is no electronic assisted opening standard in other luxury makes.

Interior

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Interior instrumentation is intuitive and easy to operate. As before, the centre control console is the focal point of the cabin. All main car functions are controlled from here – making and answering calls on your Bluetooth-tethered mobile phone, adjusting ride comfort and driving mode, customising climate control and choice of entertainment (whether radio, CD or via USB port).

Mode of entertainment including volume are duplicated on the integrated remote control located on the three-spoke sports steering along with cruise control buttons. There are no paddle shifters.

The luxurious leather interior is furnished with seats that provide excellent lumbar support that go a long way to minimising driver fatigue.

In addition to a smallish 8” Adaptive Digital Display and a start button located counter-intuitively high on the dashboard, Volvo has also retained the S80’s predecessor’s sporty gearshift knob which compliments a digital binnacle that changes display colours depending on one’s choice of driving modes – Elegance (black and white), Eco (light green) and Performance (red and orange).

Performance seemed to us most intuitive as the digital speedometer sat in the centre of an analogue rev counter that, taken together, was easy on the eye. There are sufficient power outlets throughout the car to feed ubiquitous mobile devices while on the move. DC sockets are strategically located at front, centre and rear.

The Drive

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No hesitation from this Swede during the drive. The direct injection turbocharged 245 bhp Drive-E power plant achieved its 0-100 km/h sprint well within the manufacturer’s 6.5 seconds. Its 350 Nm of torque acquitted itself well in low speed, high torque local traffic situations.

The S80 effortlessly accelerated from 80 – 120km/h in barely three seconds, well within Volvo’s stipulated 1,500 – 4,800 rpm max torque output range, and more than sufficient for swift lane changes and overtaking on expressways.

Prompt throttle responses ensured the car rose to the occasion in every traffic situation. Volvo’s Drive-E technology consistently delivered smooth and powerful rides with noticeably less need for refuelling its 70 litre tank.

Our test car achieved eight to nine litres per kilometre in urban stop-go driving conditions and on expressway runs. The Drive-E powertrain convincingly combined low fuel consumption and emissions of an in-line four cylinder 1,969 cc engine with the performance and handling of a six or eight litre engine exactly as promised.

The S80’s glossy, sporty gear shift knob felt solid and well-made, if somewhat heavy and notchy during gear selection. Fortunately, automatic gear shifts through the eight-speed Geartronic box was smooth and barely discernible, enabling the 18” alloy wheels of this well put-together 1,672 kg Swedish marque to glide over speed bumps and rough road surfaces.

The anti-dive, anti-lift equipped chassis, four power-assisted anti-lock disc brakes and electronic brake distribution package delivered a reassuring and affirmative grip with none of the front “diving” and uncertain brake pedal feel typical of some Japanese and Korean makes. During our test drive, we deactivated Volvo’s City Safety feature, an automatic computer-activated emergency brake that slammed on the brakes each time the car’s front proximity sensors detected an obstacle in front – whether another vehicle, or even a higher than normal speed bump on a down slope basement carpark.

U-turns proved an unexpected challenge as the S80’s turning radius at 11.7 m took-up two full lanes at full steering wheel lock to execute a turn. Otherwise, the speed sensitive power steering was more than adequate for the demands of day-to-day driving.

Small interior flourishes such as the rimless anti-dazzle rear-view mirror and built-in sunglasses holder added to the overall impression of a well-made, sturdy vehicle that articulated Volvo’s “Swedish Way to a better life”. Alas, we had no opportunity to explore Sensus Connectivity which is offered as an option in the S80.

Insulation from road and traffic noise was outstanding. The S80 did a credible job of shutting out high-pitched buzz from passing Malaysian bikers as well as noise from overworked bus and lorry engines.

Conclusion

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Safe, comfortable and practical, this luxury sedan is more than up to shuttling the family about in a secure cocoon. Its good fuel economy and handling will appeal to drivers looking for a sturdy set of wheels that conveys the family safely from A to B with an effortless and pleasurable drive.

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We like:

The torquey throttle response, smooth gear changes and cushioned ride comfort. Consistent solid Volvo build quality inside and out.

We don’t like: 

The wide turning radius. The absence of front parking sensors which would come in handy negotiating tight corners in older carparks as well as HDB multi-storey carparks. Oh yes, did we mention the heavy boot lid too?

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