Review: 2014 Volvo S80 T6 AWD Inscription

Most cars on the market go through a pretty volatile refresh rate, on the fringes are models that stick around four years before grabbing a total redesign, eight is a more normal number, but the current S80 has been with us now for 12 years in its current form. In the time it requires an infant to germinate and get 2/3rds of the way to college, Volvo has kept their well loved, quirky niche, midsize luxury sedan on the market. We tested an all wheel drive Inscription model to see what all the fuss is all about.

Drivetrain

This car will set you back about $55,000 and yet it comes with a mere 3.2 liter straight six under the hood, transverse mounted like one might find in a car of a lesser upbringing, but it’s not bad. The 3.2 liter straight six is the one from the S60R (and from the original Ford Taurus SHO), 325 bhp is available, there’s a six speed auto with a manual mode and it even manages 25 mpg with slightly naughty freeway cruising. The power feels decent, the 40-70 sprint is quick if you’re in the right gear already, and the ratios are well spaced out.

The transmission in this car really is the weak point. Feel like slamming home an overtake on a two-lane road? Be sure to pick your gears by hand because the kick-down switch involves a committee composed of octogenarians within the car’s target market, and you’ll likely want to body slam a baby ferret every time you have to listen to the cheap, loud clunk when shifting between Drive and Manual modes. The bargain-priced Hyundai Tuscon we recently tested has a more refined shifter than this.

There’s no turbo lag though; and the wastegate chuff, the noise emanating from the exhausts, and the turbo whine. in what is otherwise a pretty reserved car, still make for a fun environment when desired.

Exterior

Volvo has done a very good job at keeping the changes conservative and preventing this car from looking like too much of a refresh over the circa-2006 model. If you’ve got interest in enjoying the level of equipment found in a BMW 5er, but would prefer to avoid the current BMW 5 series stigma, this is your car. It’s just a Volvo, not a fashion statement or a target for the gendarmes, though we could do without the massive Volvo logo up front.

Handling

This is a two-ton pudding designed as a commuter and Sunday driver, but it’s a closet case of driving enjoyment. Poke it with a stick and it will happily just push wide, but the seats offer just enough support and the suspension firms up enough that a nicely nailed apex feels much, much better than one might expect. The steering wheel gives a little bit of information and the brakes work, though the pedal certainly isn’t the firmest we’ve tested.

Interior

Being the “Inscription” model, there’s loads of special stitching, special leather and logos bearing this name. There’s an overly glossy wood surface throughout that is a magnet for dust and fingerprints that we could do without. The seats offer plenty of displacement without feeling like armchairs and every surface feels like it belongs there and not inside a less expensive car. It’s pretty quiet inside, though it’s just adequate for this class.

Ergonomics/Comfort

As mentioned previously, this is a pretty comfortable car; if you’re familiar with Volvo’s controls, this car is no different. The satellite navigation system behaves like a poorly coded attempt from the early aughts and is a bit crude. It’s much easier to simply tether one’s smartphone and use that, if necessary for voiceover navigation. The ride in this car is a bit shocking for the class. The suspension is firm and it’s painful to roll over potholes. A little attention to sound deadening and rebound adjustment could straighten this out.

As you may have noticed, up front there’s a little panel in the grille, indicating that this car has radar-guided cruise control. This works as advertised, and there’s a heads up display projected on the windshield that tells you that you’re following too closely and will happily apply the brakes if it wants to. Speaking of the windshield, it’s heated, and the element disappears in everyday driving, but if you want to notice it, it’s definitely there.

Conclusion

Given the noise and the ride, is it $55,000 worth of car? Maybe not if one cross shops with Audi’s A6, Mercedes’ E, and BMW’s 5, but the interior is easily on par or better than what one will find in a modern Bimmer, and the growl from that transverse mounted six means that it’s definitely $55,000 worth of Volvo. Even with the optional, Ford-developed, Yamaha V8 (which we lost in 2010) and AWD, this car might not pick up the desirability of the old straight-six powered RWD brick it replaces. Why? The Ford-developed S80 of this generation and the previous has always been a corporate solution and replacement for a much more unique car, the 1998 S90, which lived a similarly long life. Our take is that this is a great car for the money and will likely offer just as much joy as the lower end, but overly trendy midsize offerings from outside of Scandinavia.

-By: Sawyer Sutton