Volvo 480

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Volvo 480
Volvo480 TwoTone.JPG
1992 Volvo 480 TwoTone
Manufacturer Volvo
Production 1986–1995
Assembly Born, Netherlands (NedCar)
Body and chassis
Class Compact car (C)
Body style Hatchback, Shooting-brake, Coupé
Layout FF layout
Related Volvo 440/460
Wheelbase 2,502.7 mm (99 in)
Length 4,258 mm (168 in)
Width 1,710 mm (67 in)
Height 1,318 mm (52 in)
Curb weight 998 kg (2,200 lb)
Predecessor Volvo P1800
Successor Volvo C30
A 1988 1.7-litre 480ES with headlamps lowered

The Volvo 480 is a compact car that was produced in Born, Netherlands, by Volvo from 1986 to 1995. It was the first front-wheel drive car made by the automaker. The 480 was available in only one body style on a automobile platform related to the Volvo 440/460 five-door hatchback and four-door sedan models. It features an unusual 4-seat, 3-door hatchback body, somewhere between liftback and estate in form. The 480 was marketed as a coupé in Europe starting in 1986 and the U.S. as a 2+2 "sports wagon" in the fall 1987.[1]


Volvo took six years from the time the 480 was conceived, through its development, and finally brought to production readiness.[2] The press launch was on October 15, 1985, but the 480 was first put on public show at Geneva in 1986, becoming available to the buyers in 1987. The automaker described the car as a four-seater with "sporty styling" and the first front wheel driven Volvo.[3] The press described it as having a "sleek hatch body" in contrast to Volvo's traditional "boxcar look".[4] The 480 was the first Volvo of its style since the P1800ES, and the last until the unveiling of the C30.[5] All of these models featured a frameless glass hatch for cargo access.

The 480 was produced in Born, Netherlands, at the factory that built DAF cars, including the DAF 66-based Volvo 66, and later, the Volvo 300 Series. The 480 shared the platform of the Volvo 440 and 460 models. It was originally planned for the North American market (evidenced by its US-spec front and rear side markers, not used on European automobiles). Volvo also claimed that it was one of the first cars sold in Europe featuring bumpers designed to comply with U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations to withstand a 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) front rear impact without damage to the engine, lights, and safety equipment.[6] This was the only Volvo to feature pop-up headlamps for better aerodynamics.[4]

The concept was to market a modern, compact front wheel drive car with a unique low-slung design targeting buyers "between 25 and 40, probably with a higher than average education and with a career."[2] Designed by Volvo's Dutch subsidiary, the "sporty 480 ES coupe" was introduced to change the automaker's "frumpy image" and into the "yuppie" market segment.[6]

Volvo highlighted that the car was "well-endowed with advanced electronics" and the automaker's press release described in detail the numerous features.[2] However, the necessary technology was still a bit crude, and several of the earlier 480's suffered electrical problems. Other typical problems included water leaks. This is largely due to poor sealing of the glass hatch and deterioration of the rear light cluster seals. The rear lights themselves often discolour and are notoriously brittle.[citation needed]

The 480 had good handling, due in part to its Lotus-designed suspension. The normally aspirated Renault engines were reliable.[7]

Annual changes[edit]

The 1987 models were available with an anti-locking brake system (ABS) as an optional extra.[3]

In 1988, a Turbo version was introduced, the Garrett AiResearch turbocharger increasing the power from 109 PS (80 kW; 108 hp) to120 PS (88 kW; 118 hp). Maximum torque was 175 N·m (129 lb·ft) compared to the 140 N·m (103 lb·ft) for the naturally aspirated 1.7 L engine. In 1993 (UK), due to new legislation which meant that catalytic converters had to be fitted to unleaded petrol engines, power dropped and so the 2.0 L engine was developed; it was rated at 110 PS (81 kW; 108 hp) and 165 N·m (122 lb·ft). A four-speed automatic transmission was also offered.

In 1991, the 480 received new mirrors, headrests for the back seats, as well as subtle modifications to the trim and body-colour bumpers. The 2.0 naturally aspirated engine was also introduced, again based on the Renault F3-engine. Changes between the CEM (Central Electronic Module) are externally apparent with the introduction of a total closure system whereby the key can be held in the lock position to close the windows and (where fitted) sunroof. Earlier CEM modules feature a "passing" function for the wipers, whereby fully depressing the accelerator pedal will switch intermittent wipers to full. Early 1992 saw the first release of special editions such as the "TwoTone" (with a two-tone paintjob).[8]

Rear end of 480 with its hatchback

1994 saw the UK release of the "Celebration" limited edition of 480 specially equipped and numbered cars. In 1994 the 480 also received its last light update, and now sported clear front turn signals.[8] Production ended on 7 September 1995 with about 80,463 units produced.


Writing about the demise of the 480 in Car Magazine, journalist Richard Bremner wrote about the car's decent power and low weight combination. "This meant there was some danger of a sporty steer — pretty radical from a company that considered having fun at the wheel as acceptable as seducing a nun," he commented. "Good grief, a Volvo worth preserving. And there aren't many of them." He also commented on the last UK versions as, "And Celebration it was too, as Europe waved goodbye to the badly built, pointless, DAF coupe with an outrageous asking price of £16,500. That paid for the CD player, alloys, leather and a pointless hallmarked plaque glued to the dashboard."[7]

Today, the 480 can be viewed as "officially cool" and a genuine piece of Volvo history[citation needed], it "was no sports car" with most being "ridiculously underpowered" and available to collectors "at rock bottom" prices.[7]


A Volvo 480 Cabrio prototype in the Volvo Museum

The 480 factory also made several prototypes, including a 480 with an electric drivetrain, a supercharged version (G-Lader), a version with a 16-valve engine and a version with a turbocharged 2.0 L engine. A convertible was also announced to the press in summer 1987, but not seen in public until the 1990 Geneva Motor Show. It was planned to be launched at the beginning of 1991, but it did not make production after a supplier declared bankruptcy and concerns over roll-over safety protection.[8]


  1. ^ Hartford, Bill (July 1986). "Imports". Popular Mechanics 163 (7): 49. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Volvo 480 ES: a dynamic car" (PDF) (Press release). Volvo Car B.V., Helmond, Netherlands, Marketing Department, Public Relations (courtesy of Volvo Club UK). 1986. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "1980-1989 a historical review" (Press release). 8 January 2003. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Front Drive Coupe". Popular Science 228 (2): 46. February 1986. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Barry, Keith (25 May 2011), Swedish Style Icon Turns 50 
  6. ^ a b Scott, David (February 1987). "Dutch treat". Popular Science 230 (2): 122. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Braithwaite-Smith, Gavin (20 June 2011). "Volvo 480". Bangerwatch. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c "Volvo 480 historiken" [Volvo 480 history]. Svenska 480 Klubben (in Swedish). Retrieved 2014-11-02. 

External links[edit]