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The Top Gear car review: Volvo S80

£32,165£35,215
4/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Impressively fuel-efficient, Volvo quality

Against: 

Neither wafts as well as a Lexus, nor drives as well as a BMW
Once a good, left-field choice - the S80 is simply too old to compete in a sector full of talent.

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Our choice

Volvo

D4 [181] SE Lux 4dr Geartronic

£35,215
N/A
63mpg
8.40s
181bhp
119g/km

What we say: 

The ageing Volvo exec is a favourite of the Virgin Atlantic fleet, but there are many better alternatives now on sale

What is it?

Volvo faces a problem here. It desperately wants to compete with the clichéd troupe of 5-Series, A6 and E-Class saloons, but people buy Volvos because they build good estate cars. Not because they build good saloons. As such, no one has really ever fallen in love with the S80. It looks OK, goes OK, has OK amounts of room, but does nothing to distinguish itself. The trouble is that Volvo, whose image isn’t quite up there with Audi and BMW, needs the S80 to be more than OK to steal sales off the Germans.

Driving

This is the S80’s weak spot, as it neither wafts as well as something like the Lexus, nor handles as well as something like the BMW. The enormous armchair seats do their best to isolate you from the chattering ride, but the S80 still picks out too many imperfections in the road surface. Try to press on, and the front tyres on all but the four-wheel-drive model scrabble for grip. Better to try to relax.

There’s certainly enough engines to choose from. There are four diesels, ranging from a 1.6-litre eco model to the 213bhp D5 with 309lb ft. Our choice would be the 181bhp D4 - it’s the best trade-off between economy and performance. 

On the inside

Very Swedish in here, so lots of clean lines and minimalist buttons. It’s good to see that Volvo hasn’t tried to take on Audi head-on here, but instead focused on giving the S80 its own identity. There’s no iDrive trickery in order to get rid of loads of buttons, but somehow it still feels nicely spartan. Build quality is spot-on, and the usual raft of Volvo safety tricks surrounds you. The seats are vast and armchair-like, so you’ll never struggle for comfort.

Owning

There shouldn’t be too many worries here. The Volvo warranty isn’t as extensive as some, but the engines and transmissions are well-proven by now. Just be wary of tyre wear – the torque on the high-powered, front-wheel-drive models tends to come in a bit of a surge, so you’ll need to be gentle so as not to burn through loads of front rubber. Company-car drivers will be well-covered – the D2 engine produces only 109g/km and averages 68.9mpg. But with only 114bhp, you’ll struggle a bit if you’re in a hurry: 0–62mph takes 12.8secs.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
D4 [181] SE Lux 4dr
8.4s 108g/km 68.9 181 £33,665
The cheapest
D4 [181] SE Nav 4dr
8.4s 108g/km 68.9 181 £32,165
The greenest
D4 [181] SE Lux 4dr
8.4s 108g/km 68.9 181 £33,665

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

8/10

Skoda Superb

£18,585£34,505
You can't go far wrong with a Skoda Superb. Superb by name, superb by nature