Brought to market in 1992, the Volvo 850 was introduced as a successor to the 200, 700, and 900 series cars, which had created Volvo’s reputation for substance over style. Indeed, the 850 was Volvo’s attempt to create a balance between these two elements. The 850 was discontinued in 1997, when it was superseded by the V70 and S70 models.
Confounding those who had known and loved previous Volvo models, the 850 was given front-wheel drive, sharper steering, and a more robust ride. This was not to say that the 850 lacked safety features – far from it. In fact, these newer vehicles boasted several more safety features than its predecessors, in addition to more impressive standard kit.
Aesthetically, the 850 remained unmistakeably Volvo-esque, following a similar theme in terms of body shape as previous models, but with more rounded, sleeker lines.
The 850 was available in mid-size four-door sedan and five-door station wagon variants, with a choice of 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual gearboxes. During its 5-year lifespan, the 850 did not change drastically besides the addition of a turbocharged engine in 1995.
Upon its introduction to the marketplace in 1992, the 850 was produced with a choice of two 2.5L 5-cylinder petrol engines, one of which used 2 valves per cylinder, and the other used 4 valves per cylinder.
The base 10V engine produced a power output of 103kW and a torque of 206Nm, which, when paired with a 4-speed automatic gearbox produced a top speed of 194km/h, reaching 0-100km/h in 10.6 seconds.
The more powerful 20V engine produced a power output of 125kW and a torque of 220Nm, enabling 850 models with this engine to reach a top speed of 215km/h and an acceleration time of 0-100km in 9.2 seconds. While the 850 is by no means a racer, it was clear that Volvo’s reputation for producing reliable if sluggish cars was being undone, at least in part.
A turbocharged variant of the 2.5L engine was released in 1995, boasting a power output of 177kW and a torque of 300Nm. Choices of gearbox for this engine remained 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual configurations. When paired with a manual gearbox, the turbo 850 had a top speed of 229km/h and a staggering acceleration time of 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds.
With regard to fuel economy, the 850 is very good, using an average of 6.8L/100km from tests done on nearly 7000 vehicles.
On the road, all 850 models feel solid and stable with good handling courtesy of precision power steering which has a responsiveness lacking from previous Volvo models and which some died-in-the-wool Volvo enthusiasts found disconcerting.
Despite this, the 850 had a distinctly safe feel even at highway speeds or on corners. However, the fact that the front-wheel drive of the 850 was initially derided has nothing to do with the actual car and more to do with the perceived notion that front-wheel drive cars don’t handle well – something this car disproved with aplomb.
This is not to say the 850 is without its issues. Indeed, problems involving the cam belt tensioner have been reported, with owners noting a degree of noise being created in the front of the engine as a result. Generally though, used 850 models remain tight, comfortable, and free of rattles and bumps. Any issues can be fixed with minimal fuss by trained service repair staff.
Standard features included air-conditioning, a height-adjustable steering column, and a 6-speaker stereo system with cassette player and central locking, which was joined by leather trim as standard in 1994. Higher-end models were equipped with electric power windows and wing mirrors.
In terms of safety features on the 850, anti-lock brakes (ABS) were fitted as standard and front airbags were introduced as standard in 1994. In addition to the solid body structure, which put it at the top of the class in terms of crash performance, the 850 was one of the safest cars of the 1990s. Traction control was also offered as an option on higher-end models.
The 850 faced some competition from the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Saab 900, all of which match the Volvo in terms of space. Some prefer the BMW, not only for the prestige of its marque but for its rear-wheel drive layout, greater acceleration, and overall competence.
However, the Volvo more than hold its own in terms of performance. It is equipped to the brim with an array of standard features and safety equipment. To cap it all, it is very fun to drive.