Normally, the phrases intercooled twin scroll turbo charged engine; 281 horsepower; and all-wheel-drive conjure up images of hot-blooded rally cars whose creature comfort lists could fit easily on a tiny Post-it note. Volvo, however, wants to change those images. Enter the Volvo S80 T6.
The T6 is the newest member of the S80 lineup (new for 2008) and fits nicely between the base model and the top of the line V8 model. In essence, the T6 can be thought of as the more involving member of the S80 ensemble. Instead of providing the simple punch and go power of the S80 V8 or the easily reigned in ponies of the base model, the T6 requires a more calculating approach to achieve optimal performance. The learning curve of the T6’s turbo charged power delivery is relatively steep when compared to its stable mates, but the process of learning how to keep the turbo spooled up to its optimum boost capacity can be quite a blast. Once trained, a driver is sure to feel like a true rally racer.
One of the tools with which you must become familiar in order to tame the turbo is a six-speed manumatic transmission, which you’ll find is well programmed for the task. Unlike many manumatics out there, the one found in the T6 gives you complete control over shifting. If you want high-rpm horsepower, it’s just a couple of wrist flicks away. But, if you want the turbo to flex its muscles from down low in the rev range, the shift computer will honor your wish and keep you in your chosen gear as the 295 foot pounds of torque come alive from as low as 1,500 rpm and pull like a silent locomotive all the way up to their 4,800 rpm drop-off point. Given the inline six’s silky smooth harmonic operation, however, you may just want to let it wind all the way up to its 6,600 rpm redline. Either choice will bring a grin to your face as you race from Paris to Dakar in style.
Of course, while the scenery can be nice, most road rally courses are not traveled in first class. With the T6, however, you can now have your cake and eat it too. While our tester was modestly equipped, it did feature both Cold Weather and Dynaudio Packages. Among the notable features included with these two option groups are front and rear heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, and a Dolby ProLogic II surround sound audio system with an impressive 650-watt amplifier. These amenities along with the standard supple leather and elegantly unfinished wood interior treatment combine to create a luxurious yet modest environment.
The only things missing were harder biting brakes; gages for engine temperature, oil pressure, and voltage; and the available sports package. While the standard suspension will suffice for most driving conditions, for serious romps through the back country, you’ll want a slightly firmer suspension and steering setup. With the sports package, both damping rates and steering force can be dialed in using buttons on the center stack and a menu accessed via audio system controls.
Volvo’s Active Four-C Chassis (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) offers three different settings: Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. Each setting gives your S80 T6 a personality to suit your mood. Sport mode firms up shock damping quite well for windy back roads while Advanced is best left alone on anything other than an authentic race track.
Like the shock absorbers, the steering effort is also adaptive (dependent on vehicle speed) within three selectable ranges: Low, Medium, and High. Our tester’s standard steering could have benefited from this option as undulating bends in the road tended to mildly unsettle the front end at high speeds to the point where the steering felt overly light for brief moments, which in turn lead to slight yet unintended changes in the amount of steering angle dialed in by the driver. It is safe to say this issue would be resolved with both firmer shocks and steering.
However, with the standard steering and suspension in place, there was never a lack of road feel, something that has been a chink in Volvo’s armor in the past. In fact, all your senses are given a clear message of exactly what is going on between the contact patches and the road.
You could feel the road: not only through the steering wheel, but also through the pedals, which made the road texture seem somewhat over amplified at times. It’s definitely a step in the right direction though.
You could hear the road: sometimes more than you wanted, as every little tire impact was transmitted into the cabin giving you the impression that the guy who was supposed to install the sound deadening material was out to lunch that day.
You could definitely see the road: with a downward sloping hood and very few blind spots you will always have a clear visual on any road obstructions ahead. Furthermore, Volvo has programmed certain functions of the settings menu to work only while the car is not moving. Even if you want to take your eyes off the road to adjust the stereo equalizer, you will only be able to do so at a dead stop, yet another subtle safety touch that keeps Volvo ahead of the rest in terms of proactive security.
As for the rest, how does the Volvo S80 T6 fair against the competition? It has more horsepower and more performance enhancing features than a similarly equipped Audi A6 Quattro or Mercedes Benz E350 4MATIC while still costing around $4,000 less than the Audi and around $7,000 less than the Merc. A BMW 535xi has a similarly rewarding turbo power plant but does not offer the optional adaptive suspension system found in the T6. Furthermore the Beemer costs about nine grand more than a similarly equipped T6. The Lexus GS350 AWD and Infiniti M35x are the only viable alternatives from a continent other than Europe, but neither offers the multitude of personalities offered by the T6.
In the end it will come down to personal taste and subtleties as to which vehicle you will choose, as none of them come cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Choosing the 2008 Volvo S80 T6, however, will be sure to give you peace of mind in more ways than one. Not only does it give you the best bang for the buck in its class, but it can also be equipped with more proactive accident avoidance technology than any contender from Europe or Asia. So, whether you are racing up Pike’s Peak or around the corner to the grocery store, the 2008 Volvo S80 T6 will make your trip a safe and exciting one.
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