Final instalment in the conceptual revolution introduced by Volvo, the top S80 saloon completes the most important stage of the strategic programme decided on in 1994 when the unconsummated marriage with Renault was abruptly annulled and the Swedish firm set off towards the ambitious, but achievable, objective of 500,000 cars per year by the beginning of the third millennium. The Göteborg-based industrial group has the strengths and abilities to do it.
Diversified in operational activities (Volvo Truck is, with rival Scania, at the top of European production), it vaunts solid financial foundations and the car division, in this difficult four-year period of strategic mutation in which the extraordinary renewal of the model range has been protagonist, has demonstrated it possesses an efficient industrial structure and human resources of elevated professional skills with clearly no lack of creative momentum or thirst for technological innovation and sufficient marque culture to nurture the powerful image of the Volvo product.
To think that overturning certain design concepts (the top saloon concludes the decisive move to front-wheel drive) and the abandonment of certain typically Scandinavian styling cues may have frayed the edges of the traditional image is off the mark. The different architecture and the formal changes have, if anything, enriched it and belong with the generic metamorphosis of the automobile. The S80, its creators sustain with conviction, is nevertheless a classic Volvo in every sense, with specific characteristics and valuable mechanical and technological content that accentuate appeal, safety, quality, reliability and respect for the environment.
Hans Wilkman, responsible for project P23 (codename of the S80), presenting the car at the home plant of Torslanda, near Göteborg, did not hesitate to say that copying the majority of its main competitors would have been relatively easy but, “We would have risked coming second. We have to offer something special to make us stand out and enhance the prestige of our brand.” It is true that in every case the final judgment is the prerogative of the marketplace, but the S80 possesses the essential qualities to distinguish itself and face up on equal terms to comparison with same-segment saloons from BMW, Audi and Mercedes.
Substantially, the S80 is a twin-bladed conqueror, able to adapt intelligently and with beguiling ease to European and American tastes (the United States represents Volvo’s largest market), while capably sustaining the image of one of the world’s safest cars.
The article continues in Auto & Design no. 111