New Car/Review

WOMAN ON WHEELS:
1999 Volvo S80 T-6 Sedan

By Laura Heilig
The Car Chick

THE DRESS

I take pride in being able to drive down the road and identify the makes and models of the cars approaching me. Eighty percent of the time, I identify the vehicle correctly; however, my percentage is near perfect when it comes to Volvos. It's easy- I just look for a box with wheels. Then Volvo decided to stray from their boxy image with the S80 sedan. With its rounded edges and streamlined appearance, its difficult to differentiate the S80 from the Infiniti sedans. I even almost got into an Infinity by mistake in a 7-11 parking lot. Now I can't even tell the difference in a parking lot, let alone driving down a road. There goes my percentage!

Like the Infiniti sedans, the S80 is a classy looking car, and while some of us may not always see it, it is still a genuine Volvo original. It is practical, stylish, and jam-packed with safety features, and, if you look close enough, you can even detect a hint of Volvo boxiness behind its new aerodynamic lines.

As with most Volvo sedans, the time and thought put into ensuring both driver and passenger safety and comfort has been well spent. Every seat in this car is comfortable with plenty of leg and head room for five adults. The seats in our T-6 were a very stylish soft leather, which is a nice upgrade from the standard velour upholstery offered and also looks very nice with the walnut trim on the doors and instrument panel. Both the passenger and driver also have the luxury of eight-way power seats and the cold weather option of heating them. The front seats are also designed with a Whiplash Protection System, reducing the risk of serious head trauma in a whiplash situation. Along with the front air bags and Volvo's new Inflatable Side Curtain throughout the car, all occupants of this vehicle are safe.

The 14.2 cubic feet of trunk space proved its worth for us, as my husband and I were even able to fit all of my mother's luggage with ours for a trip to my sister's house. While most of you may not know it, this is the best testimonial on trunk capacity! One feature I particularly liked was the rear seat trunk access. The S80's backrest release button is placed in the trunk instead of behind the headrest, making it harder for thieves to break in to the trunk area. The trunk is also equipped with a cargo restraint net that pulls out to hold groceries. We didn't get to use this feature, because we didn't have any room left for groceries.

THE ACCESSORIES

Volvo prides itself on making the safest cars on the road, and to back their ideal, they have made all of these safety features standard on both the 2.9 and T-6 versions of the S80. Along with the Whiplash Protection System and Inflatable Side Curtain, each car is equipped with ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution. Also standard are entry and exit lighting features, which illuminate the area around the car so you can detect any dangers. I was impressed with the "home safe lighting" because it completely illuminated the areas all around the car for up to 90 seconds, providing me with ample light to find my housekeys and enter my home safely. The approach light similarly lit the vehicle. The S80 is also equipped with anti-trap power windows, power locks, and a keyless remote.

If these standard safety features are not enough, for an extra $2495 Volvo is offering its newly created Integrated Navigational System to help the directionally-impaired reach their destinations. Our T-6 did not have this accessory, so I cannot compare it to the Cadillac Onstar system.

When you look inside the S80, you notice the thoughtful placement and design of all the interior accessories. Every button is in the correct place, and each storage compartment has an obvious function. The tilt steering wheel is equipped with volume and tuning controls for use with the standard-issue CD/cassette stereo, and it is where the cruise control is located, another standard feature. The console has a deep pocket for CDs and another level for coins and smaller items. There is also a small slide up door next to the radio which perfectly fits two cassettes.

And let's not forget the all-important cup holders. The S80 has them everywhere in the front. You can find them on the doors, as well as two on the console. Rear passengers can find theirs in the fold out middle armrest. While having them in the middle is nice, door cup holders would work better in the back when there are three people occupying the rear seat.

The S80 is a model car when it comes to climate control. Not only are the control buttons easy to understand, but all of the air vents are placed in the correct spots, even in the rear of the vehicle. Back seat passengers finally receive adequate heat and air conditioning, because the vents are placed high along the sides rather than on the floor in the middle. The climate system is also equipped with an air filter to eliminate pollen and other allergens.

I was very pleased with the amount of accessories offered standard with the T-6. In addition, Volvo provides a large array of other luxury add-ons to improve driving pleasure, ranging from $495-$2495 extra. I believe the base model T-6 can achieve posh status without them, but everyone has their own idea of necessities.

THE SHOES

Our T-6 was equipped with a 6-cylinder 2.8-liter twin turbocharged engine which averaged 22.3 miles per gallon consistently on our highway trips. This engine, along with the Volvo stability and traction control systems, afforded us with smooth, powerful handling. The S80 responded quickly in all situations and was a definite pleasure to drive. I particularly enjoyed experimenting with the four-speed Geartronic manual shifting option on our automatic transmission. The transitions were smooth and the shifter was easy to use.

The only true complaint I have with this Volvo is with its brakes. Both my husband and I felt they were too touchy and took a long time to get used to. This problem may have to do with the ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution systems. But in the long run, it is better to have touchy brakes than none at all!

THE PURSE

The base model 2.9 S80 has a starting list price of $35,820, while the T-6 begins at $40,385, neither price including the $575 destination charge. I'm always a little leery of spending over $30,000 for a sedan, but with the S80's safety features and practical engineering, I would say the extra money is worth it. Its classy styling puts the S80 in a class with Lexus and Infiniti, but I think it has them beat when it comes down to which is the better car.

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