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S80 out of the wilderness

Sales of the S80 had been declining sharply over the past couple of years from a peak of 364 in 1999 - the first full year of sales - to a paltry 44 last year before the decision was made to hold the car back until the new model was available.

Volvo Australia spokesman Todd Hallenbeck says the ability to launch the revised S80 with a proven V8 engine - the Yamaha-sourced 4.4-litre unit from the top-selling XC90 - and a well-sorted six-speed automatic gives the car a new relevance to buyers here.

"We are not expecting to sell huge numbers but around 500 a year is a nice target. At $95,950 for the V8 it sits well against other luxury V8 sedans," Hallenbeck says.

The transverse alloy 4.4-litre V8 in the new S80 is the same 232kW and 440Nm unit used successfully in the XC90. For the V8 model, AWD will come standard. Also available will be Volvo's well-tested 2.4-litre five-cylinder TDi with 136kW and 400Nm priced at a sharp $71,960 and expected to account for a majority of sales after an initial rush for the V8.

A 3.2-litre in-line six is also available but Volvo Australia will wait and add it to the mix next year.

Designed by Peter Horbury, the S80 retains most of the major design cues of the original car - prominent rear hips, upright Volvo grille and boat shape outline from above. However, there are more differences than similarities.

The new S80 looks much tauter than its predecessor, with a more integrated roof profile, larger wheel arches filled by 19-inch wheels and the general impression of being a more compact car, despite actually growing slightly. Inside, the S80 borders on Swedish minimalism. There is the floating centre console from the S40 and V50, a tasteful brushed aluminium trim, clear instrumentation with Volvo's patented easy-to-use knobs and ergonomic seats. While it all works fairly well, there is little that will set the emotions bubbling.

The main instruments are analog, with needles pointing to the perimeter and digital messages at the centre. Most functions are controlled via buttons, a four-way switch pad, and a small screen on the centre console. The screen for the optional navigation system pops up at eye level from the top of the dash.

The end result is impressive, polished by the inclusion of some fairly sophisticated electronic wizardry in the Four-C chassis active damping technology -- standard fare on the V8 for Australia. The comfort setting is likely to be a little soft for most Australian applications, with sport the favourite for day-to-day running.

A further tightening of the parameters is available with the advanced option which will tie-down body-roll and sharpen damper response to a degree that outstrips the S80's slightly disappointing steering.

Although it is not actually vague, the steering feedback is sluggish and under pressure can feel a little dissociated from the action. But the chassis performance is crisp and the road-holding impressive.