LAS VEGAS – Volvo Cars has set its sights high for its new flagship sedan, the ’07 S80. Squarely aimed at established luxury sedans such as the BMW 5-Series and Lexus GS, the new S80 has heavy lifting ahead.

The all-new S80 tops its predecessor in several key areas, most notably the drivetrain. Gone is Volvo’s stalwart 2.0L turbocharged 5-cyl. mill. A fine engine to be sure, but the S80’s new compact inline 6-cyl., producing 235 hp and 236 lb.-ft. (320 Nm) of torque, bests it in nearly every category.

The S80 also comes available with a V-8, borrowed from the XC90 cross/utility vehicle, pounding out 311 hp and 325 lb.-ft. (441 Nm) of torque. It represents Volvo’s first V-8 sedan ever.

During a recent test drive here, the V-8-powered S80 does not disappoint. It gobbles up the desert roads with ease, emitting the slightest hum of an exhaust note, enough to serve as a reminder that a V-8 lurks under the hood.

Power comes on strong and smooth, transmitted to the road via a 6-speed automatic transmission. Our tester came standard with the Haldex AB all-wheel-drive system, which aided stability while powering over blowing sand.

Acceleration is adequate from the Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd. V-8 but by no means overwhelming, perhaps because AWD adds significantly to the S80’s 4,065-lb. (1,844-kg) curb weight.

Volvo claims a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of 6 seconds flat for the V-8 S80, which seems a bit exaggerated. But to be fair, we never put the car up against the stopwatch.

Still, the S80’s driving attributes shine on the highway.

The car is derived from parent Ford Motor Co.’s EUCD platform, which is shared by the Volvo V70 wagon and XC70 cross/utility vehicle, as well as the Land Rover Freelander and the Ford Mondeo and S-Max CUV.

The S80 is smooth as silk at high speeds. During an extended road trip, it would be difficult to find a better-suited vehicle than the S80.

Despite its heft, the S80 is surprisingly agile, reminiscent of a German luxury sport sedan. Add a dash more road feedback through the steering wheel, and the S80 stands on par with its German competition.

The S80 tested was equipped with “speed-sensitive steering,” which may have contributed to the feeling of diminished feedback. In some ways, speed-sensitive steering is more of a hindrance than a driver’s aid.

Regardless, the S80 is more than competent.

Volvo says the new S80’s exterior is totally new, with more sweeping lines than its predecessor. However, at first glance, the car looks much like the old model, with only subtle design changes. Playing it safe in such a competitive marketplace might be costly for Volvo’s new flagship.

The passenger compartment does not disappoint, with plenty of leather and light-colored wood trim complementing clean surfaces and smooth lines.

A “floating” center console, which is separated from the dash by open space (like on the S40), adds to the overall airy feeling inside.

To isolate the cabin from the outside world, Volvo engineers use thicker, hardened side glass. During a cruise down Las Vegas’ famed strip, external noise is barely discernible, especially with music pumping through the S80’s 12 Danish-made Dynaudio loudspeakers.

Technology runs deep in the S80, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on a consumer’s technological comfort zone.

Adaptive cruise control is optional, as is collision warning with brake support and a device designed to provide greater peripheral visibility of the S80’s blindspot.

The Blindspot Information System, new this year, uses cameras mounted near the outside mirrors to detect hard-to-see vehicles and relay the information to the driver through a series of lights.

“Rearview and side mirrors give you a good view, but there are always blindspots,” Product Manager Anders Robertson tells Ward’s. Rearward visibility with BLIS is 33 ft. (10 m).

On the highway, the system performs as advertised once the driver becomes familiar with the system. BLIS could be a handy safety enhancement in everyday situations, but it won’t keep someone from sliding over unexpectedly into your lane.

’07 Volvo S80
Vehicle type Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Engine 4.4L (4,414 cc) DOHC V-8, aluminum block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net) 311 hp @ 5,950 rpm
Torque 325 lb.-ft. (441 Nm) @ 3,950 rpm
Compression ratio 10.4:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 94 x 79.5
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 111.6 ins. (284 cm)
Overall length 191 ins. (485 cm)
Overall width 73.3 ins. (186 cm)
Overall weight 4065 lbs. (1,844 kg)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg) 17/25
Market competition BMW 5-Series; Mercedes-Benz E-Class; Audi A6

Volvo’s penchant for acronyms shines through with SIPSBAGS II (side-impact airbags), SIPS (side-impact protection system), TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) and WHIPS (Whiplash Protection Seating System).

The V-8-powered S80 comes with 11.9-in. (30-cm) disc brakes both front and rear, and optimized hydraulics provide additional brake force in panic stops.

For added security, the S80 also has Fading Brake Support, which builds up stopping pressure and reduces fade during hard braking.

Despite fierce competition, Volvo executives are confident the S80 can deliver the goods.

The I-6-equipped version starts at $38,705, while the V-8 model, which comes standard with AWD, stickers at $47,350. Neither price includes destination or delivery costs.

Volvo expects to sell 25,000 to 30,000 S80s a year, with 20% to 30% of consumers opting for the V-8 and 70% to 80% choosing the I-6 version. U.S. sales began Feb. 1.

bpope@wardsauto.com