1994 Volvo 850 Sedan
1994 Volvo 850 Sedan

By Bob McHugh

Volvo has built a great reputation for super-safe sedans and roomy, strong bodied family wagons with durable drivetrains. On the other hand, words like “unexciting” or “dull” used to come up when talking about Volvo styling, design and performance.

That changed in 1993 when Volvo introduced the 850. It signalled a new direction at the Swedish auto maker and not just because of its front-drive platform or even the less ‘boxy’ looking styling lines – the 850 sedan was also a good handling car that was a joy to drive.

The 850 did not abandon the Volvo safety heritage either, as it came with standard dual air bags, met a high standard of side impact protection, came with 3-point safety belts on all five seating positions and an anti-lock braking system was standard.

Volvo seems to prefer the inherent smoothness of in-line engines to the more compact and conventional ‘V’ configurations, although it has used a V6 engine in few models. Under the hood of the 850 you’ll find an in-line 5-cylinder engine, mounted transversely. It’s a 2.4 litre motor with four valves per cylinder, a 168 horsepower rating and fuel consumption is admirably stingy at 11.5 L/100km in the city and 7.5 L/100km on the highway.

The 850 fun-o-meter got another boost with the introduction of a turbo engine (222 horsepower) version in ’94 model. This year also brought an 850 Wagon into the product line. It’s easily recognised by its unique tailamps that start at the bumper and extend right up to the roofline.

The wagon is about 5 cm longer than the sedan and can swallow a three metre long object when the 60/40 split rear and the front passenger seat both folded. A child booster seat is also cleverly integrated into the fold-down centre rear armrest.

Volvo slipped a less powerful, two-valves-per-cylinder version of the 2.4 litre engine, into the base 850 in ’95 to keep the price down. Side air bags, built into the front seats, were the big safety news that year, but they only came in the Turbo versions. A full-load $50,000 Platinum Edition 850 was also offered in ’96.

An all-wheel-drive wagon was added to the growing 850 line in ’97 and the turbo version was split into two trim levels: T5 and the high-performance 850 R (for racy?). The limited edition ‘R’ only came in red, black, or yellow, and zooms to a 100 km/hour in about 6 seconds. It also came in a wagon – for those that desire an extremely fast wagon!

Even the safety conscious Volvo has safety recalls and the 850’s list includes; a poorly installed block heater on the ’93; faulty seatbelts on models equipped with power seats in ’95; loose throttle plate screws that can cause the accelerator to stick in ’96 and ’97 and in below freezing temperatures, ice may cause the throttle linkage to stick on some turbo models.

The Volvo 850 is near the top of my love-to-own-vehicle wish list. The driving position and adjustments are excellent, especially if you’re above average height person. A practical size, nice to drive and when it comes to vehicle safety, Volvo wrote the manual.

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