- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The original S80, introduced to the U.S. in 1998, was Volvo’s first large car with front-wheel drive. When it was introduced then, critics and fans both agreed the company had taken a big step forward in terms of the North American market. As an automaker partially controlled by automotive powerhouse Ford, it made sense for Volvo to offer a front-wheel-drive model to please the American consumer.

Volvo’s flagship is nearly flawless both inside and out and combines elegant design, a choice of two powerful engines (including the 280 horsepower turbocharged 6 cylinder), a refined ride, and the new FOUR-C active chassis showcased in Volvo’s 2004 turbo S60 and V60 R models.

The exterior design is largely unchanged, but updated slightly. A facelift in front gives the newest model a narrower, sleeker look. Clear glass headlamps curve gracefully into side panels, while new foglamps sit neatly in the new front spoiler. Chrome trim surrounds the grille and highlights the spoiler intake, door handles and side window moldings.

The side of the S80 is a long, flat plane split by a low, straight beltline. A redesigned rear section includes a seamless new trunk lid and chrome-tipped back panel. Smaller taillamps are less dominant than in the past model year, while a rounded bumper is color-matched to the body.

Drivers can choose between two engines, each with a four-speed automatic transmission, to power this luxury machine. The S80 2.9 is equipped with a 2.9-liter inline 6-cylinder that delivers 194 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. The really impressive numbers come from the T6, a biturbo version of the inline six that pounds out 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Its zero to sixty time is 6.8 seconds and it has a top speed of 155 mph, as compared to 8.3 seconds and 140 mph for the 2.9-liter engine.

Both engines are aided by Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) from four valves per cylinder on both inlet and exhaust, and both have a front-wheel-drive layout. The 2.9 features a four-speed computer-controlled automatic with Geartronic, while the T6 gets a four-speed electronically-controlled automatic without the semi-manual shifter option.

Optional is one of the most exciting technologies on the highway today — Volvo’s Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept (the FOUR-C system), which readjusts the level of input to each shock absorber 500 times per second — in other words, the shocks are constantly checking and compensating for the vehicle’s response to the road. Electrically controlled valves quickly adjust damping when cornering, under heavy loads and in other important applications, such as accident avoidance maneuvers.

Having debuted in the new S60 R and V70 R turbo models, FOUR-C is also intended to be a performance enhancer for the Volvo stable. Based on a very simple principal, it lets drivers choose how they want the car to behave, based on the type of road — or road conditions — they are driving on, and their personal driving style.

Here’s how it works: a set of buttons on the instrument panel allows the driver to choose Comfort, Sport and Advanced Sport chassis settings.

• Comfort gives the car a soft ride that is more pleasant over potholes and city streets or for leisurely highway cruising.

• Sport makes for stiffer shock absorbers, which gives quicker steering response and a firmer grip on tight and twisty roads.

• Advanced Sport is the least cushy and brings a race car feel to those interested in more spirited driving.

• Advanced Sport also communicates to the vehicle that you want a more direct throttle response, linking the motor and chassis for performance.

The system, developed with Swedish engineers at Ohlins Racing AB, is designed to distribute the pressure of the road surface optimally among the four tires - this lets you drive faster, with more control and better responsiveness than you might be able to without the technology boost.

This is achieved by continuous damping control for each individual shock absorber - for example, the damping rate increases with speed and lateral acceleration, as well as with braking and engine torque.

FOUR-C is available on all S80s that are equipped with DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control).

Inside, the S80 has a clean, refined and comfortable design delivered in a large and airy cabin. The transverse-mounted engine provides for more interior room, while also allowing a smaller exterior profile. The center instrument cluster holds all relevant buttons, switches and dials, including a cleverly designed climate control selector that simplifies the vent selection and automatic temperature control.

Speedometer, tach and other gauges are easily readable behind the wheel and 6-cylinder models are rimmed in polished aluminum. The chronograph-inspired instruments are a carry-over from the new S60 and V70 R variants. The five-cylinder models get the same gauge treatment.

Safety features from the automaker heralded for safety innovations include standard dual stage airbags for driver and front passenger, side impact bags, inflatable side curtain airbags, Five-three-point inertia reel belts, with front seat height adjustment and pretensioners, overhead-mounted seatbelt reminder lights, top-tether child seat anchor, whiplash protection seating system, anti-submarine seats, daytime running lights, dynamic stability and traction control, anti-smash-and-grab laminated side windows, emergency trunk release, rear door safety locks and rear fog lights with auto off.

Brakes are four-wheel discs with ABS and EBD. Rack and pinion, power steering is speed-dependent — which means more force is needed to turn the wheel at high speeds than low, which also contributes to a more driver-involved ride.

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