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2008 Volvo S80: Short-circuited by high tech

2008 Volvo S80


When Volvo introduced its S80 sedan in 1998, it had at least 18 on-board computers built into it. Volvo was proud of this, but that was a lot of software and circuitry to potentially go wrong.

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 1999 version of the S80 had 110 technical service bulletins, while the 2000 model had 69 and the 2001 version had 76 various issues and contretemps.

Fast forward to 2008, and it was still an electronically governed car that had all sorts of safety features, including the Blind Spot Information System – BLIS – which featured a pair of small cameras mounted in the outside mirrors to sense oncoming vehicles, and an Active Cruise Control system, which set off a flashing light and a beeper if you got too close to the car in front. Both of these features were part of the Security Package and could be disabled.

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In 2008, there were two versions of the S80: one with a 4.4-litre V-8 engine and one with a 3.2-litre six-cylinder. Both had full-time all-wheel-drive, and there was but one transmission: a six-speed automatic, with Volvo's Geartronic manual shift feature.

To its credit, while just about everyone else in the industry was utilizing V-6 engines, Volvo retained an inline configuration for the six-banger, which made it one of the more refined in the industry in terms of smoothness, power transfer and torque. Incidentally, the main reason car makers stopped producing inline-sixes was because cars have been getting smaller and smaller, and in many cases, it just wouldn't fit – especially front-drive models.

Brakes for the S80 were four-wheel disc with ABS and electronic distribution, and in just about every respect, the 2008 edition of the S80 was a very driveable automobile.

Standard equipment level was high. Heated front seats, leather interior, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated outside mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, 60/40 folding rear seat and all the usual modcons came with both versions, and you could order things like ventilated/cooled front seats, sport suspension and heated rear seats, which were part of the Luxury Package. Other optional extras included a dual-screen back-seat entertainment system, and a navi system.

One note here. Volvo's unique heated/ventilation dash design was, and is, unique in the industry. A little one-dimensional chrome graphic is located front and centre and it allows you to direct heat/air precisely throughout the front cabin with a visual reference. Easy to use and nicely designed.

Surprisingly perhaps, there are five safety recalls on file with Transport Canada. One is the ubiquitous and relatively minor Garmin navi system glitch involving faulty batteries that can overheat, but others are more serious, including possibly flawed fuel pump electronics that can leave you stranded, a software programming error that could affect the air conditioner and engine cooling system, windshield wiper problems due to more software issues, and questionable engine mounts with the V-8 model that could break and cause havoc. NHTSA also has a tire labelling issue with this year of the S80.

NHTSA has 31 technical service bulletins on file for the 2008 S80, and they range from a "whiny" power steering pump, to faulty rear driveline bearings, to evaporative emission systems leakage, to "rattling" seat belts and a wide variety of electronic and software problems. Volvo, it seems, had not yet ironed out its computer problems by 2008.

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Still, Consumer Reports has mostly good things to say about this year of the S80. Apparently, there are lingering electronic and wiring issues, as well as problems with the climate control and audio systems, according to this organization, but it nonetheless gets an above-average used-car prediction rating.

Some comments from owners: "Electronics are too clever for their own good," "No problem in four years," "Smoother than a Mercedes CLK350 or BMW 5-series" and "Consumer Reports got this one wrong." Praise for the comfort level of the seats is a common thread, as are complaints about the fact that the S80 requires premium gas.

From a base price of just less than $55,000 in 2008, the S80 has dropped in value by more than half. The six-cylinder model is in the low-to-mid-$20,000 range, while the V-8 is fetching about $3,000 more, depending upon extras.

Tech specs

2008 Volvo S80

Original Base Price: $54,995; Black Book: $20,350-$23,575

Engine: 3.2-litre inline-six/4.4-litre V-8

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Horsepower/Torque: 235 hp/236 lb-ft for six, 311 hp/325 lb-ft for eight

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):13.3 city/8.2 highway (six-cylinder); premium gas

Alternatives: BMW 5-series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-class, Saab 9-5, Cadillac CTS

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