- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

Vim! Vigor! Volvo!

OK, I know what some of you are thinking. How did the sensible Swede get mixed in with those words? Cautious? Yes. Solid? Yes. Plodding? Perhaps. But, no way is Volvo the poster car for vim and vigor.

Actually, Volvo’s run to robust began more or less quietly a few years ago with the introduction of its limited-edition “R” cars 300-horsepower, all-wheel drive, manual-shift versions of the S60 sedan and V70 wagon. Not much has been heard about them lately, but they’re still for sale.

Now, Volvo is putting a little more hot in the pot with the installation of a powerful V-8 engine beneath the hood of its redesigned S80 flagship sedan.

Supplied by motorcycle maker Yamaha, the 4.4-liter powerplant produces 311 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. That’s enough to push you back in your seat as you rip from a stop to 60 mph in less than six seconds. Along the way, you’ll even detect a snappy snarl instead of the soulful sigh that has been more typical of Volvo’s five-cylinder engines.

If you’re feeling particularly frisky, you can head for the two-lane blacktop and test your ability to straighten out those curves.

Simply move the suspension settings from “comfort” to “sport” or even to “advanced,” then grab the handle of the six-speed automatic transmission, slip it into manual mode and take over the shifting chores.

The independent suspension will work to keep all four wheels planted on the road, the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering will help you get through those curves, and the powerful antilock disc brakes will stand ready to rescue you from any overly enthusiastic moves. You’ll even get an assist from the AWD system that is standard on V-8 powered models.

All right all you Volvo traditionalists at ease. The Ford subsidiary has not suddenly strayed off the frozen tundra and abandoned its Scandinavian roots to build a kissing cousin to the rebellious Mustang.

Yes, it has injected a bit of technological testosterone into the mix, but at its core it is a Volvo like all others solid, safe and, hopefully, sturdy.

The design evolution is so conservative it’s almost undetectable. There is important new safety equipment. There are more creature comforts. And, in reality, it is much more of an interstate cruiser than a serious sports sedan.

After all, there is only so much attitude to be extracted from what is essentially a front-heavy, front-wheel-drive sedan that gets an assist from the rear wheels mostly to help out in bad weather. Those suspension settings? To an enthusiast, they vary from too soft to not rigid enough. The midrange “sport setting” seems to offer the best ride/handling compromise.

And for those of you who see no need for excessive speed, Volvo offers an all-new, 3.2-liter, 235-horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine as standard equipment. The six-cylinder car does not come with AWD, but it does come with its own special feature. At a base price of $38,705, it is about $9,000 less expensive than the S80 V-8.

So let’s get on with No. 1 ingredient that makes this Volvo a real Volvo. And that is all together now passenger protection.

Dual-stage air bags for front-seat passengers, stability control, traction control, collapsible steering wheel and pedals, side impact beams, inflatable side curtains, tire pressure monitors, whiplash protection they are all so yesterday. But they remain standard equipment, along with a host of new enhancements.

The front body structure has been divided into zones and uses four different grades of steel to better absorb impacts and channel collision forces away from the passengers.

New side air bags have two chambers one for the hips, one for the chest to enhance the effectiveness of Volvo’s side-impact protection system. Rear impact protection has been enhanced to further reduce whiplash injuries.

The hood has been raised, and the front of the car contains energy absorbing features, both to lessen the severity of injuries should the Volvo strike a pedestrian.

Then there are the extra-cost safety features.

A blind-side warning system ($595) uses cameras to detect when another vehicle is entering the driver’s blind spot on either side of the car and then triggers a warning light that is flashed onto the inside of the appropriate front pillar.

Bi-xenon headlights (part of a $2,495 package) will swivel 15 degrees to help the driver see around curves at night, and they have a self-adjusting feature to avoid blinding oncoming drivers.

Adaptive cruise control ($1,495) slows the Volvo to the speed of the vehicle in front, then brings the S80 back to the set cruising speed when the road ahead is clear.

To improve personal security, a pocket-size personal communicator ($495) can communicate with the car to tell the approaching driver if it is locked or unlocked, if the alarm is activated and if someone is in the car.

So, Volvophiles, you can relax and relax in style. The S80 has sumptuous leather upholstery, real wood trim, room for up to five and a long list of available convenience features that approach or match the level of luxury in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 sedans the Volvo is meant to compete with.

The rip and snort of the S80 V-8 comes at a base price of $47,350. But the one you can buy will probably have a sticker price more like the one on the car I drove. The bottom line was $56,075.

Nobody ever said going first class would be cheap.

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