The Volvo 480 is a car with an unusual 4-seat, 3-door hatchback body, somewhere between liftback and estate in form, though marketed as a coupé. It was the first front-wheel drive car made by Volvo Cars and the only production Volvo to feature pop-up headlamps.
Press launch was on October 15, 1985, but the 480 was first put on show at Geneva in 1986, becoming available to the public in 1987. It was produced in Born, Netherlands, at the factory which built DAF cars, including the DAF 66-based Volvo 66 and later Volvo 300 Series. The platform that was also used in the Volvo 440 and 460. It was originally planned for the North American market (as can be evidenced by its US-spec front and rear side markers, not used on European automobiles), but it was ultimately never sold in the U.S due to unfavourable currency exchange rates. The 480 was the first Volvo of its sport back style since the P1800ES, and the last until the unveiling of the C30. All of these models featured a distinctive frameless glass hatchback which has become something of a trademark for such Volvo coupés.
The concept was to design a sporty, luxury front-wheel drive car with advanced electronics. Unfortunately, the necessary technology was still in its infancy, and in the early days due to funding, the 480 suffered electrical problems. Revisions in the early 1990s saw improved reliability. Offsetting these problems, the car had excellent handling, due in no small part to its Lotus-designed suspension, and a series of reliable Renault engines, tuned by Porsche.
Early cars suffered from electrical problems possibly down to an over ambitious "intelligent" central electronics module that many owners had replaced under warranty - some many times! Early cars also suffered from water leaks that probably were a contributory factor to the electrical problems. Later cars were much more reliable, though it is not uncommon to find a water filled spare wheel well, largely due to poor sealing around the trademark "frameless" glass hatch, and deterioration of the rear light cluster seals. The rear lights themselves often discolour and are notoriously brittle.
The 480 (particularly the 2.0 and TURBO) was a surprisingly good tow-car due to its relatively powerful engine, light weight and short rear overhang, however availability of towing equipment was limited, with few aftermarket manufacturers producing fixed tow brackets that unfortunately obstructed the low mounted rear numberplate. Volvo did supply a "detachable" tow bar for the 480 manufactured by "TOBO" a Swedish manufacturer now part of the BOSAL group. It was prohibitively expensive over the "aftermarket" items, and still commands a high price should one become available second hand.
The 1987 models were available with an anti-locking brake system (ABS) as an optional extra.
In 1988, a Turbo version was introduced, the Garrett AiResearch turbocharger increasing the power from 109 PS (80 kW; 108 hp) to 120 PS (88 kW; 118 hp). Maximum torque was 175 N·m (129 lb·ft) instead of 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). Standard 4 speed automatic transmission was also offered.
In 1992 the 480 was given new mirrors, and headrests for the back seats, along with subtle modifications to the trim and body-colour bumpers. The 2.0 naturally aspirated engine was also introduced in a bid to improve performance. 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 release of special editions; 1994 saw the UK release of the "Celebration" limited edition of 480 specially equipped and numbered cars. In 1994 the 480 was updated further with clear front turn signals. 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 made reference to its 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."
Prototypes for variants
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. However, none of these made it to production. A convertible was announced to the press in summer 1987 but wasn't seen in public until the 1990 Geneva Motor Show. It was planned to be launched at the beginning of 1991, but ultimately did not make production due to a supplier going bankrupt, concerns over roll-over safety protection and a too-long development process.