Big Car + Small Engine = ? | Volvo S80 T4

BY Joel Tam

Volvo's S80 flagship sedan has been fitted with a 1.6-litre engine. Yup. Flagship. 1600cc. We tell you how something that sounds so wrong can feel so right.

Photos: Joel Tam

People who love to drive, revel in piloting cars that are small in size but big on power. Volvo however, has produced something quite the opposite. They've taken downsizing to a whole new level with their largest sedan, the S80, by powering it with a 1.6-litre engine. Thankfully though, it's a perky little turbocharged unit (courtesy of Ford) that pushes a rather heady 180 bhp. Still, it has 1.6 tonnes to lug - I can't wait to see how this turns out.

So here I am, waiting to filter onto the highway, I make sure the coast is perfectly clear before I go - just in case the car doesn't go as fast as I need it to. My lane clears up, and I plant my foot down. Within seconds (9.2 to be exact), the speedo needle is pointing beyond 3 digits. Not bad, and it feels faster than the numbers suggest too, thanks to a healthy torque output of 240 Nm. At this point, all initial preconceived notions about this car were starting to fly out my wound-down window. This car is pretty quick! It shouldn't be. But it is.

Power aside, the Volvo S80 is all about ferrying 'towkays' around in a fair amount of comfort and style. It does this well - as it has been doing for many years now.

This second generation S80 has graced our roads for the past four years and while it may not possess the new Volvo design language found in the new S60, it still cuts a rather handsome profile.

T4 badging is a smart move. "1.6T" just wouldn't cut it on a large executive car like this.

Flagship Volvo is well screwed together. It may not boast the same build quality as its German competitors like the Audi and BMW, but the Swede is not far off.

Interior has typical Swedish characteristics, simple yet stylish. The light coloured leather found in our test car was very inviting and matched well with the dark blue exterior.

Dials and switches are all well within reach and the driver never feels stressed being in the control seat.

Instrumentation could have been given more detail to set it apart from it lesser siblings. Information is legible, but it looks too plain to justify being found in a top-of-the-line model.

Modern switchgear a far cry from Volvos of old. Yet the overall design does not betray the carmaker's stress on functionality.

Two-tone dash is lined with hints of aluminum inserts and highlights. Faux brushed aluminum found on some sections not so welcomed though.

Keyless entry and ignition start all standard fare nowadays. Volvo does it slightly differently though. No typical round buttons found here.

Leather found everywhere. Panels and handles are soft to the touch, enhancing the luxury experience.

Floating console a delightfully common Volvo feature now. Still is a cool factor you can boast about to your passengers.

180 bhp and 240 Nm of torque. Pretty impressive figures for a 1.6 powerplant, and it delivers punchy performance through its 6-speed twin clutch transmission too. That said, the engine has to put up with some turbo lag, and coupled with a sedate but precise gearbox, finding the right powerband is not always easy.

This car was never made to drive or handle like a sports car. See it from that perspective, and the S80 doesn't feel that bad at all. In fact, body control is decent and while the heft can be felt round the twistier roads, the car still keeps its composure and maintains road confidence.

So it turns out that a big car plus a small engine equals a rather impressive package. You get the luxury features of a large executive sedan, plus punchy performance from the turbocharged engine - and the ultimate icing on the cake has to be the huge COE and road tax savings that you'll get to enjoy!