Volvos are not built for excitement. They’re as sexy as a dead Pope.
But, that’s not Volvo’s mission. The automaker isn’t seen that way. They know that. Instead, Volvos are amongst the international paragons of reliability. They are expensive mobile temples to safe, comfortable and carefree driving. They’re made so well they’re casually, but constantly compared to armored assault vehicles.
You want a popular culture example? Remember the movie-mocking show “Mystery Science Theater 3000?” During an all-out assault on that tremendous Japanese super turtle and friend to all children Gamera, a squad of tanks advanced hopelessly on the city-crushing terrapin.
One of the robots riffing on the catastrophe quipped, “Tanks. Those are built like Volvos, y’know.”
To test the validity of that bon mot, we had a chance to do a weeklong test drive of the 2012 Volvo S80 T6 AWD. Somehow managing to be both luxurious and understated, the luxury Sedan offers an extremely comfortable ride with enough power and technology to stay ahead of the peasant cars crawling around it on America’s roads.
The 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 serves up power few Volvo drivers will ever think to use. The 300 horsepower it puts out can break an average Volvo driver’s hip if he or she kicks it in the arse too hard.
To prove its safety obsession, Volvo put the most elaborate Volvo sedan surroundings protection systems I've ever seen. Most luxury cars have rear view cameras for use in tight spots. Some have front cameras for a little cheating in parallel parking. Infinitis have cameras on all sides able to recreate the vehicle's entire surroundings.
But, the Volvo Front and Rear Parking Assist System has four way sensors that monitor potential obstacles on all sides in stages or zones of proximity. For example, if you're parallel parking and sliding back into the space while cutting the wheel, the Volvo S80 will sense the car’s outermost collision threat. The S80 then issues a slow, repetitive beep and flashes an animated indicator on the in-dash monitor warning the driver that there's a possible hazard within in a few feet of the car.
If you don't respond to that beep and alert and keep backing up, the tones increase in frequency and volume until it builds into a steady, shrill alarm flashing red alert. In short, you’d have to be a deliberate vandal or a ham-fisted clod to hit a stationary object while parking this car.
The S80 also has collusion warning systems and blind spot monitoring. If a horse fly breaks wind in the next county, this Volvo will warn you to close your window.
Some of these tech safety tools might seem – to be blunt – old guy driving crutches. They’re features looked on as needed only by aging luxury car drivers with the cataract eaten eyesight of a blind-folded mole.
But, when you spend about $43,000 on a luxury sedan, it's nice to know you'd have to be Helen Keller (or just extremely unlucky) to put a mark on it.
While obviously not a performance ride, the Volvo S80 delivers a satisfying cruise marked down only by heavy steering. But that laden nose is to be expected in a sedan that traditionally exceeds U.S and European safely specs.
It’s a polished tank. It’ll run forever. It’s just not going to get noticed a lot en route.