The Volvo S80 is often forgotten these days, overshadowed as it is by newer rivals such as the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. However, the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine in the S80 D4 puts the big Volvo back in the spotlight as one of the cheapest company car prospects in the class. Its emissions of just 104g/km mean it squeezes into the 16% tax band, two bands below the most efficient BMW 520d or Audi A6 Ultra 2.0 TDI.
However, fleet buyers will be less impressed that the S80 D4 has to be fitted with the standard six-speed manual gearbox to achieve such low CO2 emissions. Adding the eight-speed auto (a £1550 option) brings emissions up to 113g/km, putting it a couple of tax bands higher, and in the same bracket as its key rivals.
The only other engine options in the S80 range are the much lower-powered D2, or the inefficient five-cylinder D5, both of which are near impossible to justify in such a competitive class.
What's the 2014 Volvo S80 D4 like to drive?
The smooth and powerful D4 engine suits the S80 well. It pulls strongly from low revs, allowing you to leave it in a high gear around town, and power is delivered consistently throughout the rev range.
At motorway speeds the motor settles down to a muted whisper, and wind and tyre noise are kept to a reasonable background hum, but at lower speeds and even under moderate acceleration there is a quite intrusive clatter from the engine. This also translates to vibrations felt through the pedals when the engine is idling.
The six-speed manual fitted to our test car had a slightly vague shift action, but a light clutch meant it was still easy to use. Even so, the manual gearbox doesn't suit the cruising-oriented S80 so well, and our experience of the eight-speed Geartonic auto in other D4 models suggests that it would be worth adding if you can, despite the higher emissions.
The S80 is comfortable on the move. Soft suspension absorbs cracked road surfaces and speed bumps well, though rippled town roads can unsettle it a little, and the spongey ride comfort does come at the cost of substantial body lean through corners. The S80 pitches and rolls a little in bends and feels unwieldy during enthusiastic driving, not helped by steering that feels artificially light at speed and doesn't inspire confidence during cornering. It only goes to emphasise the impression that the S80 is most at home on a laid-back motorway jaunt.
What's the 2014 Volvo S80 D4 like inside?
The S80’s interior feels solidly put together and the materials feel of good quality, although they fall short of the general sense of luxury you get in the closest rivals. The small infotainment screen particularly shows the S80's age, being tricky to use due to a cluster of small buttons and some obscure menu layouts.
Drivers will find it easy to get comfortable in the S80 with a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, and if you go for the optional £350 digital dials fitted to our test car, there's a choice of central rev counter or speedo with eco driving information. Visibility is also reasonable, although the thick front pillars can obscure views at awkward junctions.
The seats are particularly impressive. More akin to armchairs than car seats, they feel cosseting and offer adjustable lumbar support as standard, making long motorway journeys much easier.
Being a large car the S80 can accommodate four passengers in comfort with good head and legroom. The load bay is less impressive. Its size is just about acceptable for this class of car but the low roofline and high load lip makes for a narrow opening, which means it’s tricky to get taller items into the boot.
There are only two trim levels to choose from - SE Nav and SE Lux. Go for the lower spec SE Nav, which gets all the kit you could want including leather upholstery, air-con, digital radio, USB input, cruise control and sat-nav.
Should I buy one?
Certainly not if you're a private buyer, when you're much better off with one of the more popular rivals that will hold their value much better and be more enjoyable to drive.
If you're a company car buyer, and your only stipulations are a comfortable ride and an efficient engine, the S80 D4 will fulfill your requirements at an impressively low cost of £172 per month (for 40% tax payers). Problem is, the Audi A6 Ultra, BMW 520d SE and even the Mercedes E300 BlueTec Hybrid will cost around £20-30 more per month, even as automatics, which many fleet buyers favour. Not only that, but they more than make up for that extra cost with cabins that look and feel at least a generation ahead, not to mention having more engaging handling.
Ultimately, while the S80’s cushioned ride and low emissions make it an interesting alternative to the mainstream choices, it falls short in too many other areas to be a genuine rival.
What Car? says…
Volvo S80 D4
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £32,220
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 8.4 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 70.6mpg
CO2 output 104g/km
Volvo S80 D4 Geartronic
Engine size 2.0 diesel
Price from £33,770
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 8.4 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 65.7mpg
CO2 output 113g/km