2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Introduction
Over the holidays, my family attended an annual gathering of old friends, graciously hosted by the parents of one of my wife’s besties from junior high school. A new 2014 Lexus IS250 was parked in their driveway, one still wearing dealer tags rather than official California plates, so naturally I quizzed them about their new car.
After three weeks of ownership, they didn’t like it. You see, they thought all Lexus models were cushy cruisers, but instead of getting the Lexus ES – which likely would have thrilled them – they insisted on the smallest model in the fleet, the one aimed right at the BMW 3 Series. Making matters worse, the clueless salesperson had put them in an IS250 with a Sport Package, and these elderly drivers detested the rough ride quality. Said my wife’s friend’s father in his halting English: “We should have talked to you first.”
Within the luxury car ranks, there are two kinds of sedans: the ones that are trying to be a sport sedan, and the ones that are not. The 2014 Volvo S80 falls into that latter category, competing against a range of models including the Acura RLX, Cadillac XTS, Chrysler 300, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus ES, Lincoln MKS, and Mercedes-Benz E350 Luxury. I’d even throw a loaded Kia Cadenza into the mix (yes, it is that good).
That’s not a very long list, is it? That’s because American consumers have gotten it into their heads that BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes are the best luxury cars, even in cases when they’re neither the best nor are they luxurious. As rolling symbols of wealth and success, people aspire to own them, which means other automakers are frequently working overtime to emulate them. What’s forgotten is that many car buyers still equate the concept of luxury with a smooth ride and a plush interior in addition to a prestigious badge.
While it’s true that the Volvo iron mark stamped onto the S80’s grille might not carry the same cachet as it used to, this largest of Volvo sedans is definitely a luxury car, it certainly isn’t trying to be something that it is not, and it hasn’t forgotten that lots of people just want a comfortable and quiet cabin combined with a plush ride quality. And though the S80 is getting rather old, it remains a surprisingly satisfying package wrapped in conservatively appealing Scandinavian design.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
Volvo offers a handful of different versions of the 2014 S80. If you’re interested in keeping the price tag to a minimum, choose the S80 3.2. If you’re seeking quick acceleration combined with the traction of all-wheel-drive, select the S80 T6 AWD.
Either is available in standard, Premier Plus, or Platinum trim, and prices start at $40,815, including the $915 destination charge. In exchange for an extra $4,050, the S80 T6 AWD adds a turbocharged 6-cylinder engine, an Advanced Quick Shift transmission, Volvo’s Instant Traction AWD system, and 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Premier Plus trim costs $1,500 and includes several features that really ought to be standard equipment, such as a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, and a compass. Premier Plus trim also adds a Quick Fold front passenger’s seat that helps S80 owners carry long items inside of the car, and a grocery bag holder for the trunk. Platinum trim runs an extra $2,700 and, in addition to Premier Plus content, adds a navigation system with real-time traffic reports, a premium audio system, and unique interior accent lighting.
The Volvo S80 3.2 can be upgraded with a Climate Package (heated front and rear seats, heated washer nozzles, heated windshield, heated steering wheel) and a Technology Package (Collision Warning system, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake system, Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist and Distance Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Active High Beam Headlights, Driver Alert Control, Forward Looking Camera with Road Sign Information). A Blind Spot Information System, active Xenon headlights, and a Front Blind View parking assist camera are also optional for the S80 3.2, as well as a power sunroof, remote engine starting, a fancier steering wheel, and Sensus Connected Touch technology. Buyers can choose to dress the S80 3.2 in metallic paint or upgrade to 18-inch aluminum wheels. Load this model up with all of the goodies, and it tops $54,000.
The more powerful Volvo S80 T6 AWD is available with a handful of exclusive options. The Inscription Package adds premium leather, ventilated front seats, and an extended leather treatment for the cabin, and buyers can also choose to fit a set of 19-inch wheels combined with a sport-tuned chassis. Equipped with every option, the S80 T6 AWD crests $60,000.
My S80 T6 car didn’t have 19-inch wheels, the sport chassis tuning, the remote engine starting, or the front camera, coming in at $57,830. For the sake of perspective, that’s $5,000 higher than the base price of a 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 with the basics and nothing more. In other words, the Volvo represents good value.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Design
- Revised front and rear styling
- New LED running lights and taillights
- Redesigned aluminum wheels
- Crystal White Pearl paint
- Chestnut Sovereign leather color
- Platinum trim gains improved ambient cabin lighting
Adhering to the classically broad-shouldered tenets of Volvo design, my Magic Blue Metallic S80 T6 AWD test car elicited an unusual number of compliments from strangers, particularly among younger people.
To my middle-aged eyes, the S80 is conservatively handsome but suffers excessive front overhang that makes it look a bit out of balance from certain angles. Still, in Los Angeles, where the roads are littered with BMWs, Lexuses, and Mercedes in various shades of white, silver, gray, and black, I can understand how a rich, dark blue Volvo with good-looking silver-painted wheels and lots of shiny chrome trim might catch the attention of bystanders.
Inside, when equipped with the optional Inscription Package, the S80 is plush and upscale, but punctuated with evidence of a starting price of less than $40G. For example, the secondary switchgear looks and feels dated, the vents aren’t as refined in operation as expected, and the cupholders have glossy plastic that looks inexpensive. But seriously, you need to look very closely to find any evidence of cost reductions here.
As a result of its relative rarity on the roads and its remarkably luxurious cabin, the 2014 Volvo S80 makes an even greater argument for itself in terms of value.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Climate Package adds heated steering wheel
- Premier Plus trim adds quick-folding front passenger’s seat
- Premier Plus trim adds grocery bag holder for trunk
I’ve been test-driving and reviewing cars for almost 20 years, and over the course of those two decades Volvos have consistently offered the best seats in the house. At first, this S80’s front chairs weren’t instantly impressive, but after several days spent in them for hours at a time, they felt like they were designed specifically for my body. Add an excellent driving position and clear outward sight lines, and the S80 serves as an excellent road-trip machine.
Passengers are unlikely to complain about comfort levels, either. The rear seat is roomy, providing a tall seating position with excellent thigh support and a perfectly angled backrest. Plus, it is really easy to get into and out of this Volvo, and the car includes padded front seatbacks and protection against shoe scuffs when your passengers place their feet under the front seats.
Where the Volvo S80 falls a bit short is with regard to trunk space. At 14.9 cu.-ft., it is on the small side, but the cargo area is nicely finished, roomy, and practical in terms of its shape.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Adaptive digital gauge display with three themes
- New steering wheel and shift knob
- Climate Package adds heated windshield
- Optional Sensus Connected Touch internet access and mobile application technology
I am not a fan of the Volvo S80’s center control panel, which emphasizes design over ease of use. It looks elegant, but it can be hard to find the right button or knob when you need it, and because so many of them correspond with what’s displayed on the screen perched atop the dashboard, the level of distraction is unacceptable. After nearly 400 miles of driving, I still wasn’t acclimated to the control layout.
As far as the S80’s technology is concerned, I found that the Bluetooth wasn’t quite as easy to pair as some systems, but the extra steps that it requires are easy and intuitive. Still, beyond the basics, I suffered occasional stumbles associated with limited voice-command menus and unexplained inability to perform certain functions.
Setting a destination by voice was a fail. Specific, and limiting, voice-command menus combined with Point Of Interest search that looks for destinations closest to the car’s current location did not allow me to program Disneyland by voice. Also, the system had trouble recognizing my words, but to be fair, my voice was hoarse from weeks of allergy-inspired coughing.
Because the S80’s primary controls are logically located and easy to use, I would urge the company to develop natural voice recognition technology and either a touchscreen infotainment system or a system similar to the latest version of BMW iDrive.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Premier Plus trim adds reversing camera
- Price drop for Technology Package
Volvo has long been a pioneer when it comes to vehicle safety, and the brand remains synonymous with the concept. In recent years, though, other car companies have made significant investments in safety-related structural designs and technologies, in some cases surpassing what Volvo has not offer.
Surprisingly, most of the S80’s safety-related equipment is optional. Aside from Ready Alert Brakes and City Safety, the latter a radar-based system that is designed to reduce vehicle speed prior to impact or to bring the S80 to a complete stop in order to avoid low-speed collisions with pedestrians, other cars, and stationary objects, buyers of this Volvo need to spend extra for safety features.
That said, it takes $3,700 to add the most important safety-related systems to the S80. First, get Premier Plus trim for a reversing camera and parking sensors for both ends of the car. Then add the Blind Spot Information System. Finally, choose the Technology Package, which at $1,500 represents excellent value and installs Driver Alert Control, Lane Departure Warning, a Collision Warning system, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake, Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist and Distance Alert, Active High Beam Headlights, and a Forward Looking Camera with Road Sign Information.
Yes, it’s true that lots of other luxury cars offer these types of safety systems. The difference here is, in part, how thoughtfully Volvo programs their operation. For example, the Distance Alert function is a dim but noticeable bar of light that fades into and out of the driver’s field of vision depending on how closely the S80 is following traffic ahead. The Lane Departure Warning system emits a pleasing chime not unlike that of a smartphone ringing, and fades the stereo so that you can hear it. When danger lurks, the Volvo gently informs the driver rather than issuing glaring lights and sounds that could frighten a driver. I, for one, noticed and greatly appreciated Volvo’s more subtle and refined approach in this respect.
2014 Volvo S80 Crash-Test Ratings:
Because it is sold in relatively low volumes, the Volvo S80 has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested the S80, and gives it a rare “Top Safety Pick+” rating for 2014.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes for 2014
A 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine is standard in the S80 3.2, generating an adequate 240 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability delivers the power to the front wheels, and this engine is rated to return 20 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg in combined driving. For most people, this engine ought to serve well.
If you’d prefer extra power, or you live someplace where it snows plenty, get the S80 T6 AWD. It’s got a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine generating 300 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 325 lb.-ft. of torque between 2,100 rpm and 4,200 rpm. This model’s 6-speed automatic includes Advanced Quick Shift technology, and it delivers power to all four wheels through Volvo’s Instant Traction all-wheel-drive system.
With the T6 AWD, the EPA says you can expect to get 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in combined driving. During my week with the car, which included a good deal of freeway driving, I averaged 22.7 mpg.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Recently, sections of the southbound 23 freeway in Ventura County, California were reconstructed and evidently paved by drunken idiots. Maybe CalTrans is planning to come by at some point and smooth it out, but right now the right lane between the exits for Avenida de los Arboles and Moorpark roads is doing an Oscar-worthy impression of a winter-ravaged Midwest roadway. For a guy who reviews cars for a living, that’s awesome. I sincerely hope it doesn’t change.
I mention this because the Volvo S80 just soaked the mess right up, providing the smoothest ride yet over this stretch of road. At the same time, though, this test revealed that from a structural standpoint, the S80 is an old car. While I was perfectly comfortable and could barely feel the surface of the freeway through the seat, the S80’s suspension was definitely jitterbugging and didn’t feel as connected to the pavement as it should have, and it was clear that road shock was getting transferred through the structure.
When you’re not traveling over rough road surfaces, the Volvo S80 is quiet, composed, and cushy. Round a city corner with extra speed, and the Volvo leans over. Take a speed hump with a hint too much velocity, and the shocks fully extend and then compress. Travel across undulating pavement, and the car rocks and sways. Brake hard, and the nose dips. Accelerate hard, and the rear end squats. The S80 drives old school, at least with the Comfort chassis settings on my test car. I can’t speak to how the optional Sport chassis tuning behaves.
While the S80 is generally a marshmallow of a car, the T6 AWD model’s Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires mounted to 18-inch aluminum wheels lend it decent handling on a writhing ribbon of road. Nothing about my test car’s driving dynamics made me want to take the long and twisty way home, but the S80 is secure when hustled through S-curves at quick but prudent speeds.
When merging onto a freeway or accelerating away from a stop, the T6 AWD model’s turbocharged engine pulls willingly, and if you really mash the gas pedal the S80 is genuinely fast. The transmission exhibits a slight delay when requesting an unexpected downshift to accelerate, such as when approaching a traffic light that is red and then changes to green, but otherwise operates in an entirely unobtrusive manner.
Hefty and syrupy, the S80’s steering represents a welcome change, as frequently numb and over-assisted electric steering systems are becoming the rule rather than the exception. Precise and responsive if not particularly fast, I liked piloting the S80. As for the brakes, the pedal can feel a little too firm from time to time, especially when attempting to fine-tune pressure in variable braking scenarios, but generally speaking there’s nothing significant about which to complain.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
So many vehicles in the midsize luxury sedan class are trying to be a sport sedan, while the 2014 Volvo S80 is clearly not. Dynamically, this car is a cruiser, and that’s OK because when most people buy a “luxury” car, like the S80 T6 AWD with the Inscription Package, that is what they expect in terms of ride quality, comfort levels, features and equipment, and quality of materials.
In many cases, modern “luxury” cars don’t deliver on these expectations, providing little more than the implied prestige of a brand to support premium pricing. Not convinced? Revisit my story about family friends and their dissatisfaction with their latest purchase at the beginning of this review. This Volvo would have made them happier.
2014 Volvo S80 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Old-school luxury
- Top-notch safety
- Outstanding comfort
- Impressive quality and value
- Plush Inscription Package
- Powerful engine in T6 AWD
- Older design and engineering
- Safety features don’t come standard
- Confusing center control panel layout
- Technology requires simplification
- Lacks brand cachet of luxury leaders
Volvo supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Volvo S80 T6 AWD photos by Christian Wardlaw
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