1995 VOLVO 850 TURBO
New Car - 1995 Volvo 850 Turbo in Princeton, Mn
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1995 Volvo 850 ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
A unique performer with confidence and class.
Volvo sells more cars in America than anywhere outside its home market, Sweden. The two primary reasons for this popularity - reliability and safety - also happen to be two of the most important purchase considerations for new-car buyers.
Volvo's attention to these key factors has created a loyal following, to be sure, but Volvo planners saw the need for a model that could attract a younger, perhaps less conservative crowd to its showrooms. The model that did it, the 850, was Volvo's first front-drive sedan and wagon line, and it accomplished its primary task with great success.
Volvo wasn't content simply to offer well-packaged family transportation - it offered the 850 with a turbocharged powerplant that instantly rocketed the model onto the wish lists of those who aspire to own a European performance car.
This doesn't mean traditional Volvo values have been ignored. In fact, the 1995 850 Turbo is the first car in the world to offer side-impact airbags.
Standard on the Turbo and a $500 option for the base level 850 and 850 GLT, the side bags join dual front airbags, Volvo's SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) and new Daytime Running Lights as the most comprehensive passive safety package yet available from any carmaker.
This should come as no surprise to Volvo loyalists, who might be aware that the 3-point safety belt was developed and patented by a Volvo engineer and installed in Volvo cars as early as 1959. Those same loyalists, however, might very well be pleasantly surprised by the performance parameters of a car that pays so much attention to safety.
The Turbo's in-line 5-cylinder engine puts its 222 hp to work in such a dynamic fashion that the car's occupants may expect to see a German or Italian badge on the dash. And though this willingness to run with the wind seems to be utterly contrary to the staid pace often associated with the Volvo lifestyle, the Turbo's balanced platform, forgiving suspension, excellent brakes and well-filled wheel wells make the driving experience entirely controlled, no matter the rate or road conditions.
Volvo couldn't expect to play the highline performance game with raw horsepower alone. Such a performer typically comes equipped with more creature comforts than most royal palaces, and the 850 meets that challenge with an impressive list of standard equipment.
The lineup begins with the standard 850 sedan and wagon, which is hardly a base model when it comes to amenities: dual airbags, air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, power windows and mirrors, 6-speaker stereo system, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and velour upholstery.
The GLT models add a remote keyless entry security system, power glass sunroof, upgraded 8-speaker stereo and 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with 3-position memory.
At the top of the line, the Turbo package adds the side-impact airbags, split leather upholstery and electronic climate control.
All the bells and whistles are integrated in a readable, though unexciting, dash panel, which does its best to avoid taking the driver's attention away from the road.
The seats are wonderfully spacious - wider and more plush than the typical German performance sedan - and they offer good levels of support during hard corners.
Optional burled-walnut instrument-panel trim and full-leather upholstery can be ordered for an opulent look, but the 850 Turbo presents a pleasingly upscale interior in its standard form.
One minor irritation is the presence of the Daytime Running Lights. Though they without doubt add to a car's visibility during marginal conditions, we think it should be left up to the car's driver whether to run with lights on during the day. During the course of our test drive, we spent too much time waving off the polite flashings of fellow drivers warning us that our lights were on.
Getting the turbo engine's considerable torque to the ground through the same wheels that also steer the car presents difficulties. What's known as torque steer (the tendency for the front wheels to pull strongly to one side or another during acceleration) can happen when you tramp on the accelerator - but often it's not overwhelming, even to the inexperienced driver.
Volvo's optional traction-control system (TRACS) smooths this process considerably, allowing the driver to apply the throttle fully without having to worry about front wheelspin or torque steer.
Once under way, the car is a paragon of smoothness. Its 4-speed automatic transmission has three selectable modes of operation: economy, sport (holds rpm longer before shifting) and winter/wet, which keeps the transmission in the gear that has been selected to help takeoffs or towing on slippery surfaces.
The gearbox also offers virtually seamless upshifts and nice, crisp downshifts. A manual transmission really isn't required for sporty driving. The Volvo 850 is plenty fast with the automatic.
Much of Volvo's appeal is in ride quality, and the 850's road manners come pretty close to impeccable. Body lean is very evident during tight cornering, but the vehicle sticks beautifully without the wallowing that afflicts most cars with suspensions tuned toward the comfort zone.
Extra-firm shocks and a larger stabilizer bar can be ordered as options, but there is little reason to want a car that races through the bends any faster than the stock 850 Turbo.
Its wheel-and-tire combination is one of the best original engineering setups offered, and that contributes as much to the car's sporty demeanor as the turbocharged engine.
The power-assisted steering is also among the best in the business. However, although the brakes perform admirably, a certain amount of nosedive during panic braking can lead to a moment or two of uncertainty. Compared with its competitors, the 850's underpinnings rank just below those of the best German makes.
The 850 can feel choppy over freeway expansion joints, and extremely rough road isn't absorbed with quite the aplomb of a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. However, the 850 offers the sort of chassis feedback that the Europeans excel in and that the Japanese seem eager to engineer out of their suspensions.
We were pressed to find any surprises in the 850's behavior; it consistently goes where it's pointed, carrying itself through the sharpest of corners with ease.
The $30,000 to $35,000 market segment is one of the toughest around. There are so many competent automobiles from each of the three automotive continents that special qualities are required of cars in order for them to stand out in the crowd.
Volvo achieves this lofty status with the 850 Turbo by offering class-competitive performance parameters while retaining all those values that have made Volvo a significant marque in America: passenger security and prime comfort, a compliant ride and a purchase price that seems to be consistent with the desires of discriminating shoppers.
And the car's profile is decidedly distinctive. With all the swoopy, soft-edge sedans running around, the 850's chiseled, rakish exterior is a statement that the Volvo owner doesn't blindly follow trends.
So, to Volvo's traditional values perhaps we should add exclusivity as another reason to visit the Swedish company's showroom.Smooth, durable and tops in safety.
Volvo has been on a roll in the U.S. market, and this car is one of the reasons.
Although station wagons don't ordinarily play a big part in a manufacturer's total sales picture, they do at Volvo - particularly the Volvo 850 Wagon. Introduced just last year, it accounts for something like one-third of all 850 sales, in contrast to the more common 7 or 8 percent.
Why is this? We can only speculate. Volvos tend to appeal to people who prioritize functionality and safety ahead of style, and few automobiles are stronger in these two traits than the 850.
And as far as style goes, we happen to think that Volvo wagons generally look a little more appealing than their sedan counterparts.
There's a premium price for this or any of Volvo's other virtues. But Volvo owners tend to be a fairly satisfied lot, and their cars just keep going and going...
The 850 is Volvo's first front-wheel-drive automobile, and it's been an almost unqualified success. The 850 is a midsize wagon - a little smaller than Volvo's key competitors in this market segment: the Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry wagons.
And even though Volvo has been trying to smooth off the hard corners of its designs, the 850 Wagon still looks boxier than the others. We also found that the tall taillights that flank the tailgate from bumper to roof take some getting used to.
To be fair, Volvo didn't put them there just because someone thought they'd look good. Volvo's commitment to safety is relentless, and long taillights make the car more visible to other drivers - not just to the driver directly behind, but the driver behind the driver behind the driver behind...you get the idea.
Volvo has been busy with the headlights, too. For 1995, all Volvos will be equipped with Daytime Running Lamps - DRLs, as they're already coming to be known.
The idea is simple. Having your headlamps on all the time makes you more visible to oncoming traffic. DRLs are already required in Sweden and Canada, and a recent change in federal regulations makes them feasible in the United States.
We're not so sure that everyone's going to think this is a terrific idea. There are those who would argue that judging the distance to an oncoming car is more difficult when that car has its headlights on. And it can also be argued that having your headlights on, even at the low intensity used by DRLs, negates the usefulness of the flash-to-pass function.
Finally, there are those, including some of us here at New Car Test Drive, who dislike the idea of a car company playing mom to us all. Nevertheless, DRLs are in at Volvo, and other car companies are following suit - Chevrolet and Volkswagen, to name two.
The Volvo 850 Wagon comes in three models: the basic wagon, the more luxurious GLT and the torrid Turbo. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard for the basic car and the GLT, while the Turbo is automatic-only.
The standard engine is a 2.4-liter 5-cylinder that's acceptably powerful and exceptionally smooth. With a turbo-charger, however, this engine becomes a real tiger, generating 222 hp and transforming this modest midsize wagon into one of the fastest freighters on the road.
Our test wagon was a GLT with an automatic transmission.
Side-impact airbags have been considered for years by several manufacturers, but Volvo, characteristically, is first to bring them to market.
The problems associated with the concept seem complex, but Volvo's solution is elegantly simple. Designed to inflate within 12 milliseconds of impact, the system is integrated into the outer side bolsters of the front seats. Sensors in the bodyside panels trigger the system, which employs a pyrotechnic flash (gunpowder) to set off two sequentially actuated gas generators that inflate the airbag.
Volvo already had one of the best side and angled frontal-impact protection systems in the business, and this makes it that much better.
Available initially only in the 850 line, the side-impact airbag system is standard equipment in turbocharged models, and a $500 option in the basic 850 and 850 GLT.
Naturally, our test car was equipped with the system. We're happy to report that we didn't test it.
Other 850 standard safety features: dual airbags, standard anti-lock brakes (ABS) and 3-point seat belts and head restraints at all five seating positions. Integrated child safety seats are also available.
The 850 Wagon is a comfortable place to be as the miles roll by. Volvo seats have always been first-rate, and the 850's are no exception - well padded, with plenty of lumbar support and a very good range of adjustability.
The instrument panel looks a little angular compared with the sweeping, organic lines of more contemporary layouts. But the instruments and secondary controls are well-marked and easy to read. An exception here is the radio, which has lots of little buttons.
On the outside, the 850 Wagon is a bit smaller than the other popular midsize wagons, and the same goes for the inside, as well - primarily in the cargo area.
There's some more rear-seat legroom than in the Camry and Accord wagons, but the cargo area maxes out at 67 cu. ft. However, the shape of the cargo space is well-designed for maximum efficiency, the cargo floor is flat when the split rear seat is folded, and the rear hatch is wide. There's also a net to stretch across the cargo bay to keep laundry baskets from vaulting into the front seats when you stop.
Although our GLT automatic wasn't exactly exciting, particularly after a quick spin in a Turbo model, it was quiet, smooth and comfortable.
Ride quality was firm, without feeling aggressive or harsh, and we'd call the handling sporty, particularly as measured by the standards of the other popular midsize wagons. Firm suspension-tuning usually equates with good control, particularly in European cars, and that's the case here.
Handling becomes distinctly sporty in the Turbo edition, at the expense of some choppiness. The Turbo's performance is seductive, but for all-around comfort we'd choose the more sedate traits of our test car.
Sedate also applies to the performance of the 850's 5-cylinder engine. Its power is fine for cruising and passing on two-lane highways, and it's definitely a smooth operator with impressive fuel economy numbers.
But it's a little short on muscle at the bottom of its operating range, the kind of punch that gets you running when the light turns green. Even with its three operating modes - economy, sport and winter/wet - the automatic transmission doesn't help in this kind of work.
Braking performance, on the other hand, is simply outstanding whether the road is dry or wet. The basic 4-wheel disc system has excellent power and control, and ABS pretty much makes the notion of panic stops a thing of the past. Why panic when you're still in control?.
The Volvo 850 Wagon isn't what you'd call a styling pacesetter, and it's on the small side among midsize wagons. The standard engine, though smooth, is rather ordinary in terms of performance.
The 850's small shortfalls are magnified by its price. This is an expensive car, straddling the $30,000 luxury-car border.
But in the areas that matter to Volvo buyers - durability and safety - the 850 is a standout.
So it comes down to a couple of questions: How important is safety to you? And what price would you pay for it?.