As I slide into the understated but extremely well-appointed Volvo S80, I immediately realise two things. First, there's none of the glam bang you get in a BMW or a Mercedes; as those Teutonic two fight it out among themselves, the Swedes have been looking at things in a different light. The second thing was that in just a few seconds I felt right at home and rather comfy. This is no German über-saloon, it's a Swedish massage.
The S80 is a bit of an anachronism as it does the big saloon thing in a different way to the other big players, and yet goes right up against them in the sales charts. It also targets the young hip audience, despite having an older and more conservative buyer profile. Is it confused or is just Scandinavian? On paper, the S80 has a lot going on for it. With its sleek rear roofline and sculpted bonnet and grille, it looks great on the road. It also has a quiet ride and an engine to match. Inside it's like a designer art gallery, all white and clean. Mind you, it's probably the most comfortable art gallery I've ever been to.
The interior is designed around the floating centre console and the sweeping fascia that was allegedly sculpted to represent Swedish snowdrifts. The seats in particular are vintage Volvo, supremely comfortable and just the right consistency. There's no hard BMW sports seats here; this is all built around kilometre after kilometre of cosseted driving. There's also a great sound system that'll cope with everything from the Beastie Boys to Beethoven with equal aplomb. This is a car for anyone of any age.
The S80 also has the controversial Bliss system fitted, which I rather like. For the uninitiated, a small light just inside the window by the mirror warns you when someone is in your blind spot. While others argue about the possible distraction of the blinking orange light, I love the extra pair of eyes in a country where no one seems to understand the dangers of driving in someone else's rear three-quarter. OK, it does tend to flash at some rather odd moments, but in all the Bliss system is great.
The one downside to the S80 is the front-wheel-drive system, which gives the car a hot hatch handling style. That's fine when the car weighs the same as a hatchback, but the S80 doesn't, so it struggles in tight turns at speed when many of its rear-wheel-drive rivals will simply bowl through the bends without a worry. The car's size and layout just isn't as sharp as a rear-wheel-drive car, so it tends to trip over its own feet in the corners; it needs to be pushed rather than pulled.
Luckily, the engine makes up a lot of the difference. The combination of five cylinders and a turbocharger really haul the S80 along at a fair pace. Its 0-to-100kph time of 7.5 seconds just doesn't tell the whole story, as you soon completely forget that there's only a 2.5L engine under the hood. Once on the move, the Volvo proves itself time and time again with plenty of available power right through the range. Overtaking is a breeze and, importantly, the inside of the cabin remains quiet and composed throughout the whole process. I thoroughly enjoyed wafting past procrastinating drivers with the stereo on low and the AC quietly cooling as a backing track.
For me, the S80 is a left field choice that is well worth investigating. The drive isn't as involving as a BMW and the interior isn't as sumptuous as a Mercedes, but then you can't have it all, I guess. Anyone wanting to show off and make a load of noise should look elsewhere, as this is not the car for you. This is nicely refined, large-saloon motoring that ticked almost every box I could find. That Nordic interior and the purposeful exterior add up to something very different from the competition. If you want a smooth, creamy motorway cruiser, there isn't much that comes close. The Volvo S80 does everything so well I found myself getting very used to it very quickly. The problem came when I have to give it back.
It may not be the most dynamic driving experience on the market, but when I returned to other less refined modes of transport, I really missed the caramel-centred S80 and its snowdrift dashboard. Roll on, to cooler climes. email@example.com