Volvo introduced to us the facelifted S80 last month, and took the chance to streamline the range for Malaysia. Gone is the imported 3.2-litre model, which leaves the 2.5T as the sole variant offered. Volvo now calls it the S80 Turbo, and the changes made are more than just skin deep – the engine has been improved, the interior updated and the skin metal has been given subtle changes. There are plenty of new toys too, all for an increase of only RM10,000.

At RM295,000, the locally assembled S80 Turbo once again appears very good value for money, especially when compared with size class rivals from Mercedes and BMW (Volvo names the 523i and E250 as rivals).

Volvo wants to be more mainstream than it currently is, but it’s never easy to break that Merc-BMW stranglehold on the Malaysian premium market, which standards and expectations are dictated by the German duo. We drove the facelifted S80 to Penang to check out Volvo’s interpretation of premium.

Continue reading the report after the jump.

The S80 is a significant car for Volvo. The first generation S80 made its debut more than ten years ago as the first Volvo to ditch boxes for curves, and the marque’s design department hasn’t looked back since. Today, with its latest models like the XC60 and the new S60 (to be launched here later this year), Volvo is a fully paid up member of the Scandinavian brand of industrial design alongside the likes of Ikea and Bang & Olufsen.

But while sleek and neat, this generation of S80 never had a strong presence to this writer, looking more like a more bloated version of the old S60. Nothing wrong with that (my mouth gaped the first time I laid my eyes on a black S60 T5 with those multi-spoke alloys), but it’s a very familiar shape after all these years and one that won’t get you much attention on the road.

Not that it matters to Volvo owners, who are usually affluent but understated professionals. Equally as subtle are the new exterior bits – the bigger iron mark on the grille is the biggest giveaway; others include chrome strips beneath the doors and under the rear lamps. The plain star spoke 17-inch alloys are once again smart, but not spectacular.

Inside, there’s only one major change, but it brings a big effect. The new four-spoke steering wheel, like the front grille, features a bigger logo and “silk metal” trim, which is also sprinkled across the dash. Unlike many wood layered wheels, this one has a full ring of wood, not just the usual top and bottom parts. Very classy and a big improvement over the old wheel.

The dash design is orderly, minimalist and ergonomic, and Volvo shows that it’s possible to have lots of functions without resorting to iDrive/Comand style menus to keep the dash neat. As usual for Volvo, the instruments are highly legible and look good. I’m not a fan of wood trim, but the dark timber here is not offensive and goes rather well with the black cabin of our test car. Volvo really needs to change its stereo displays though; monochrome is old school and rivals have colour screens.

The front seats are comfortable in a Volvo sort of way, which means that it’s big and cushy like your favorite armchair – those used to chairs with more thigh and torso support might not like them.

I found the driver’s seat to be more comfortable than the rear seat, which is odd for a car like this. At the back, I somehow couldn’t get into a “perfect” position – the headrest wont move forward, and with the front seats set low (tall guy in front), there was no room for me to tuck my feet under. The latter won’t be an issue in a car with more legroom (Honda Accord comes to mind), but I had to reposition my legs sideways, which isn’t natural.

We turned off the North-South Expressway at Slim River heading north. From here to Bidor is a wide and fast stretch of trunk road, but with some challenging corners plus severe compressions and mid corner dips that really challenge a car’s suspension. It was probably too challenging for the S80, which bounced its way around and wasn’t far from bottoming out. Hard driving on less than perfect B-roads clearly isn’t within the big Volvo’s comfort zone.

Steady state cornering revealed that the body doesn’t lean as much as we’d feared, but slightly better cushioning against sharper bumps and horizontal obstacles at low speeds would be appreciated for a comfort oriented car. Also, the controls (steering, brakes) aren’t as feelsome and communicative as some driver focussed mid-size execs around, so forcing the issue is uncomfortable for both man and machine.

The S80 is more “dignified” and prefers fast cruising and covering distances with ease, and it’s well equipped for that. The familiar 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine gets a substantial 31 bhp and 40 Nm more for 231 bhp and 340 Nm (from 1,700 to 4,800 rpm), figures that comfortably shade those of the Mercedes E250 CGI and BMW 523i, both of which cost RM100K more than the Volvo.

Paired to a six-speed automatic, the S80 does the 0-100 km/h dash in 7.5sec (pre-facelift 2.5T was 8.0sec), which is 0.3sec faster than the turbocharged E250 and one full second faster than the naturally aspirated base F10. So if it’s maximum bang for buck you’re seeking, this is it.

Besides the added firepower from higher boost pressure (0.5 to 0.8 bar), Volvo says the Euro 5 engine’s fuel economy has been improved to 10.4 km/l from 9.8 km/l, so it’s a gain at both ends, although that’s still not great compared to Merc’s CGI engines. In practice, the five-pot emits a nice growly soundtrack (as always) which is nice company during those trips to the redline. Sounds like a bigger engine than it is, too. The gearbox is not the snappiest, but is vice-free and smooth enough, so no complaints in the drivetrain department.

The extra RM10K not only buys you the improved motor. Let’s not forget the revised S80’s fully stocked safety arsenal, unlike the previous 2.5T. Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is here, as are Lane Departure Warning (audible warning when you sway away from your lane), Active Cruise Control (follows the speed and pre-set distance of the car in front) and Collision Warning with Auto Brake, which flashes a red light and audible warning at you when you approach a car’s rear end too fast. Should the driver still not react, up to 50% braking power is applied to minimize damage. We tested all of these safety kit (but not the airbags, thankfully) and can confirm that they all work as intended. Anything you don’t need can be switched off.

Personally, of frequent and practical use to me are BLIS and LDW. The former, which lights up the inside section of the wing mirror when a vehicle is beside you, saves one from middle fingers and angry honks when not driving with full attention, while Lane Departure Warning would be a good partner on those long solo highway drives where I’m prone to dozing off, especially after nasi campur lunch at the R&R!

Brand power notwithstanding, the S80 offers a lot for the money. Now, some might see the Volvo’s lack of all conquering dynamic ability as a criticism, but not all luxury sedan buyers drive their RM400K cars to within 70% of its abilities anyway, so do rivals really need to match up to the Ultimate Driving Machine in handling and car-driver communication?

My opinion is that it’s perfectly fine to be yourself and the Volvo S80 strikes us as a car confident of its own strengths, a welcome alternative in the segment for those whose priorities are comfort and safety. Yes, an E-Class offers that too, but RM100K is not insignificant, even in this segment.

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