Practicing Safe Style
by Scott Corlett
Volvos are long hailed for their reliability, utility, and, above all else, their safety. Stylishness, however, was an adjective rarely applied to these Swedish haulers. Oh sure, Volvo’s signature, big, boxy sheet metal—which perhaps provided design inspiration for another Swedish institution, the IKEA warehouse store—was iconic, not to mention comforting to those driving over icy roads with precious cargo. With the last generation of Volvo’s flagship S80 sedan, the design teams in Sweden took the first, tentative steps outside the box. For 2007, an all-new, fully redesigned Volvo S80 not only breaks free of its rectilinear past, but this S80 is one sleek, svelte Swede.
Just after Election Day, the nice folks at Volvo invited us to Las Vegas to test drive the 2007 Volvo S80. Despite the view of the Eiffel Tower from our room in the MGM Grand compound, the abundance of big hair, cigarette haze, and jingling slots left us no doubt that we were in Sin City. Early in the morning, after a night of … well, as they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, we went out to the parking lot where, under a blue sky propped up by the city’s ubiquitous constructions cranes, we caught our first look at the new S80s.
Perhaps Las Vegas, with its gaudiness and desert severity, was chosen as the location for this reveal to highlight the grace—yes, we said grace—of the new S80; if so, it was an unnecessary maneuver. This S80, with its supple, curvilinear roofline and dynamic stance, would be a standout in cities that boast the sleekest of architecture. After an admiring walk around the S80, we climbed into the sedan. According to Volvo’s product people, special care was taken to elevate the S80’s cabin finishes. Looking around the sedan’s interior, especially at the supple, optionally heated and cooled leather seats, elegantly simple readouts, and swooping center-console panel (which, ironically, is the new Volvo signature design element), we could see that the Swedes had hit the jackpot.
Our S80 test car was equipped with optional keyless start, so we simply pressed the brake and pushed a dashboard button to start the vehicle. We shifted the solely offered, six-speed automatic transmission into “D” and then headed for the Strip. After threading our way through the Vegas traffic, which is as heavy and ever-present as the smoke in the casinos we passed, we hit the onramp to the freeway that would take us east to Lake Mead. We punched the gas pedal and the optional 4.4-liter, 311-hp, Yamaha-sourced V-8 engine pleasingly rumbled as we quickly made freeway speed. According to Volvo’s engineers, the V-8 will take the S80 from zero to 60 in a mere 6.0 seconds—pretty darn good for a sedan whose mandate is luxurious safety, not performance.
Safety is one area in which the new S80 hews closely to Volvo tradition: During a detour onto the track at the Las Vegas Speedway, our stomachs felt the accident-avoiding prowess of the S80’s optional Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning system. This setup, which measures the closing distance to vehicles in front of the S80, projects a warning onto the windshield if the S80 is too rapidly approaching traffic ahead. If the closing distance becomes dangerously short, the brakes are readied to supply full enervation upon first touch of the pedal. Should you still fail to keep the S80 out of harm’s way, there is panoply of protective crumple zones throughout the vehicle’s rock-solid frame, while enough airbags to float a tanker stand ready as a last resort.
Thanks to improvement in the new S80’s handling dynamics, those safety systems are less likely than ever to see action. As we cruised down the freeway, the S80 handled swift and sure—no more of the loosey-goosey steering of Volvos past. Even after we left the highway and hit the two-laner that twists its way around rocky mounds and over dried washes out to Lake Mead, the S80’s lack of body roll and cornering ability—aided by the optional 18-inch tires—continued to impress.
After a quick, sun-drenched lunch overlooking the reservoir, we traded our V-8 variant for an S80 equipped with Volvo’s 3.2-liter, 235-hp, inline six-cylinder engine. We headed back toward the city, past the red rock of the Valley of Fire. While lacking the sonorous tones of the V-8 (and AWD, which is only available with the larger engine), the six-cylinder plant offered great power as we pushed through tight turns and up desert inclines. Not only will the smaller engine save on gasoline consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, but you’ll also skip the $8645 that the AWD V-8 option tacks onto the S80’s $38,705 base price.
In Las Vegas, you gotta go with the odds and hope for the best. With the 2007 Volvo S80 sedan, there is no gamble—just Swedish safety and a newly earned adjective, style. We turned the S80 into the lot of the MGM Grand. It was time to rack up a few more stories that would stay in Vegas.
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