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Volvo S80 D5 SE manual Car Review | May 30, 2006

Driven May 2006

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The real powertrain interest for the UK is the new straight-six. It's built in Bridgend, Wales, and will also power the new Freelander. Volvo has managed to build a transverse 3.2-litre six-cylinder that's the same physical size as the company's five-cylinder. Small engines are good for crash safety because they leave more room for the crumple zones.

Volvo did it by snuggling the messy, bulky pumps for power steering, water and aircon into vacant space above the gearbox, rather than at the other end of the engine. Other goodies include cam profile switching (like Honda's VTEC), which means plenty of mid-range torque with a punchy top end.

Although the auto 'box is a bit indecisive, when you tip the ratios yourself it turns out to be a fairly eager engine, especially in the mid ranges when it has a nice, hoarse growl. Different from the topendy action of a BMW straight six, but more suited to a Volvo.

At launch, this engine comes with auto and FWD, though a 4WD version is coming. It doesn't feel desperately in need of 4WD anyway - unlike the turbo mania of the old S80, the new one has more controllable power delivery and better traction.

The one that will really sell, though, is the five-cylinder diesel. I drove the higher-boost 185bhp version and it's just what you'd expect of a modern multi-cylinder diesel. Nicer than the sluggish, loud, four-cylinder German diesels everyone buys at this price.

We had to drive the car in Sweden where the roads are smooth, light on corners and heavily policed, so I'm a bit hazy on the S80's handling and ride. But it does seem to swing through arcs with relaxed confidence and the suspension takes the sharpness off road zits without introducing as much of the shudder that so bothered the old one.

On the motorway duty that will inevitably make up a lot of any S80's life, it's quiet and stable. If you lay out £900 on the radar cruise control, an extra piece of software continuously calculates whether the car in front of you is getting too close, too suddenly, and whether you're doing enough about it.

If you aren't, it digs you in the ribs with a loud noise and a fireworks display of flashing red lights. And it primes the brakes so they pull on more firmly, more quickly.

There's another optional driver-prompt: little cameras scan the mirror blind spot and flash an amber light when someone's abreast of you. Trouble is, at certain speeds in the rain, they gather drops of water which fool the camera and trigger the light. Doubtless a little lip below the lens would cure it. So why not?

The S80 is quite an interesting and innovative car, but only if you go for top spec and pile on the options - and no one will.

Paul Horrell

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