Pros: Surprisingly affordable; strong optional turbocharged inline-6; high-quality cabin; stellar seat comfort

Cons: Weak base engine; awkward new display hump atop the dashboard; generally feels outclassed by newer rivals

The 2012 Volvo S80 is the flagship of a company in transition. When the first S80 made its debut more than a decade ago, it was a revelation, a genuinely stylish Volvo that turned decades of predictable boxiness on their head. But it takes more than just style to get the job done these days, and Volvo's automotive division has had a rough go of it lately, running into financial trouble in the mid-2000s that recently culminated in the division's sale by previous owner Ford to Chinese automaker Geely. In other words, it's not realistic to expect the current S80-which made its debut in 2006-to be a world-beating luxury sedan.

All is not lost, however, as Volvo has adopted an aggressive strategy with the S80, offering its top-of-the-line sedan at prices you'd expect to pay for, say, a new BMW 3 Series. Indeed, there's considerable overlap between the S80 and Volvo's own S60 sport-luxury sedan. So what value does the S80 add? Well, it has a bigger back seat than many comparably priced sedans, for one thing, and it looks fancier, too, in that understated Swedish way. There's a maturity to the S80, an elegance, if you will, that sets it apart from the so-called entry-level offerings that populate this price point.

We're not telling you to run out and buy an S80-but we are saying that it deserves more consideration than it gets. If you find the looks appealing, take one for a spin; you might be pleasantly surprised by Volvo's flagship that isn't priced like one.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Volvo S80 is offered as either the 3.2 or the T6 AWD-those designations refer to the drivetrains, discussed in detail below-in base, Premier Plus and Premier Platinum trim levels. Standard features on the base trim include 17-inch wheels (18s on the T6), leather upholstery, power front seats, automatic climate control, a seven-inch information and entertainment display screen and an eight-speaker audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The base T6 additionally comes standard with a sunroof (optional on the 3.2) and can be equipped with a Dynamic Package that includes special 18-inch wheels, a lowered sport suspension with stiffer calibrations and auto-leveling capability, sport seats and "sanded silver" interior trim. Opting for the Premium Plus trim nets front and rear parking sensors and keyless entry/ignition, while the Platinum trim adds a 650-watt Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound stereo and a voice-activated navigation system. There's also a fancy Inscription appearance package with upscale interior touches.

If you're familiar with the S80's cockpit, you might find the 2012 version a bit jarring. That's because, in order to accommodate the newly standard seven-inch information and entertainment screen, Volvo decided to construct a center hump on the dashboard that reminds us of what BMW did with the previous-generation 3 and 5 Series. It didn't look good in the BMWs, and we don't think it plays well in the S80, either, where crisp minimalism formerly won the day.

Fortunately, the rest of the cabin hasn't changed much, so you still get top-notch materials all around, a sleek center panel with sensible controls (including Volvo's unique humanoid diagram for airflow control) and a generally luxurious vibe that speaks well of Volvo's attention to detail. The front seats are wonderful, providing drive-all-day comfort to a degree that few others can match, and although the back seat isn't huge like a Benz S-Class's, there's considerably more rear passenger space than in the S60 and its rivals.

Trunk capacity is 14.9 cubic feet, which is about average for a luxury sedan of this size.

Technology

The S80 comes standard with iPod/USB and Bluetooth, so it's got those boxes checked. But what about the new seven-inch information and entertainment display? Well, we like the display's graphical quality, and we don't mind that it's not a touchscreen, as the straightforward buttons under the screen guarantee that you won't have to deal with fingerprint smudges. It's just that, compared to the wide-screen displays in the latest Audi and BMW sedans, for example, the S80's display already seems outdated, an impression that is strengthened by that dash-top hump. The technology is okay, but we're just worried that the overall effect is a bit quaint by current standards. Hey, don't take our word for it; go sit in an S80 and see what you think.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The S80 3.2 comes with front-wheel-drive and a 3.2-liter inline 6 good for 240 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. This is a rather sluggish and unrefined engine by luxury-sedan standards, so we'd strongly advise investing a few grand extra and getting the T6. That way, you'll have a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 with a potent 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, and the T6 also has standard all-wheel drive. Bear in mind, however, that the T6 gets just 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway, while the 3.2 achieves 20/29 mpg. A decent six-speed automatic transmission is standard in every S80.

Safety

The 2012 Volvo S80 comes with standard stability control, six airbags and an optional suite of computer-driven safety features, including a collision avoidance system that can bring the car to a full stop if an impact is deemed imminent.

The government hasn't crash tested an S80 using its new methodology, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the S80 its top rating of Good in every category.

Driving Impressions

The S80 has a nose for the fast lane, hunkering down at high speeds the way a good European luxury sedan should. Otherwise, though, it drives like a flagship, which means it's well isolated from the elements but not remotely engaging. If you're looking for a cosseting commuter pod with room for four adults, you could do much worse than the S80. Just don't expect much in the way of driver involvement. This Volvo is a throwback to the days when luxury meant soft, smooth and straight ahead. We can see the appeal in that.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 3 Series - The S80's pricing is so moderate that the 5 Series is too expensive to compare, so if you're interested in a BMW, see if you find the new 3 Series suitably sized. It certainly spanks the S80 in performance, fuel economy and tech, but styling and quality? Those are tough ones.

Cadillac CTS - Slightly larger than the 3 Series, the CTS is much like the S80: it's the brand's de facto flagship because there's nothing above it. Expect engaging performance with the 3.6-liter V6 but less refinement than the Volvo offers.

Infiniti G37 - The G can't touch the Volvo for stateliness, but it adds a healthy dose of sport, courtesy of its rowdy V6 and its 370Z-derived platform. If the S80 kind of puts you to sleep, the G37 is guaranteed to snap you out of it.

AutoTrader Recommends

Since we're afraid the regular S80 might put us to sleep, we'd go with the T6 model and add the Dynamic Package for the lowered, sport-tuned suspension. Otherwise, we'd go easy on the options and be out the door for under $45,000. Not a bad deal, when you think about it.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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