1994 VOLVO 850
Used Car - 1994 Volvo 850 in Levittown, Pa
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1994 Volvo 850 ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
For years, Volvos have been praised for their solidity, lengthy road life and reputation as being virtually invincible when it comes to impact resistance. Adjectives such as 'sporty' and 'stylish,' however, were rarely used to describe Volvo's utilitarian, built-for-comfort-not-for-speed design-especially when the talk turned to wagons.
But Volvo's serious reputation began to change last year when the Swedish t maker introduced its front-wheel drive 850 series sedan, with its sleek lines and 168-hp, 20-valve, five-cylinder engine. That vehicle clearly filled a need in the market-place: After just one year, the 850 sedan accounts for a high percent of Volvo's U.S. sales.
Now, Volvo has followed up that success story by offering a turbocharged 2.3-liter, 222-hp engine - in both the 850 sedan and the new 850 Sportswagon. For the wagon, the result is a delightful synergy of safety, durability, roominess, superior ride comfort, and levels of power and handling quite uncommon in a vehicle of this type.
The MSRP of our test 850 Sportswagon was $30,985. Optional amenities such as leather seats, a wood-trimmed instrument panel and a front-passenger power seat bumped the price up to $34,335.
Our test Sportswagon, at first look, struck us as a slight variation on the venerated Volvo theme. (Keep in mind that buying a Volvo is like purchasing a Brooks Brothers suit: You're more interested in understated elegance and product integrity than in making a fashion statement.) Upon closer inspection, however, the front end's cleaner, more aerodynamic lines revealed themselves. The windshield was gracefully swept back, framed by matte plastic trim, while the corners were smooth and nicely rounded. The sturdy, integrated front fascia wrapped around to the wheel wells, and a bodyside molding ran the length of the vehicle and transformed into the rear fascia.
The rear wheel wells boasted a flared ridge to intercept and deflect the impact of shopping carts and other car doors. But we took off a few points for the inconvenient passenger-side gas tank filler. And, oddly enough for a wagon, there wasn't a roof rack or clasps for fastening skis or luggage.
But it was the rear end of our 850 Sportswagon that was most distinctive-in fact, we'd never seen a design quite like it. Keeping with Volvo's reputation for safety-mindedness, the highly visible taillights ascended from the bumper all the way to the roof - so there was no chance of a rear-ender offender feebly protesting, 'But I didn't see you.
The generously expansive windows of our 850 Sportswagon offered all-around visibility. The instrument cluster was beautiful in its simplicity - no faux-cockpit digitized conceits there. Everything was straightforward and conveniently laid out.
The instrument console controls gave our driver easy access to the windows, the heater, the shift-lock override and the traction-control system.
In the event of differing tastes in temperature levels, the 850 Sportswagon should help keep the peace with its separate heater controls for the driver and front passenger.
Volvo engineers in chilly Sweden evidently empathize with drivers in the more frigid regions of the United States: The rear view mirror and all the outside mirrors were heated, and the transmission could be adjusted to a winter mode to prevent rocket-like takeoffs in third gear on icy roads.
Up front, the power-seat option offered the driver and Passenger a variety of positions for maximum comfort. And the front seats could each be preprogrammed to return to a preferred position.
Once again, it was in the aft section of the Sportswagon that Volvo engineers earned our praise for smart, functional design. The rear seat boasted three-point, self-adjusting seat belts that were fastened to the seat backs, not the door pillars. So when the seats were folded down, the belts folded down with them instead of getting in the way of cargo. The rear seat was designed with a 60/40 split, and either one or both of the seats folded down depending on cargo needs. For maximum storage, the front passenger seat folded forward, allowing 10 feet of horizontal storage space.
The rear seat configuration also included a fold-down armrest that could double as a booster seat for a small child. However, it didn't appear that it would afford junior much comfort on long trips.
Our 850 Sportswagon was powered by a turbocharged, 222-hp, 20valve engine. So when we say this baby hauled, we don't just mean groceries. Yet, make no mistake: This wasn't abrupt, whiplash-inducing acceleration. Whether we were going from a standing stop or accelerating quickly on a freeway entrance ramp, the 850 Sportswagon's power was understated-like the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. The five-cylinder engine pumped out 222 hp at 5,200 rpm, with a nearly flat torque curve (221 pound-feet at 2,100 rpm).
The turbocharged engine came with an automatic transmission that allowed our driver to select from one of three driving modes: The economy mode shifted subtly at lower rpm levels, the sport mode shifted more assertively at higher rpms for maximum performance, and the aforementioned winter mode forced the transmission to start in third gear, limiting the torque availability and wheel spin on slippery surfaces.
This all means that the 850 Sportswagon handled beautifully. Volvo engineers tweaked their Patented Delta Link semi-independent rear suspension, firming up the springs, shock settings and sway bars. The result was sure, responsive steering and a maneuverability that had us darting in and out of traffic like a rabbit. Even when negotiating hard corners, the 850 hugged the road without compromising the ride that could best be described as dreamy.
When you're spending $34,335 for a vehicle, you're clearly in a position to ask for something special. You say you want sports-car performance and a land-yacht ride, combined with the roominess of a wagon? With the Volvo 850 Sportswagon, you just might get it all.
What we found most striking about the 850 Sportswagon-remember, this is a station wagon, after all-was its 7-second 0 to 60-mph acceleration, which left many sedans and coupes choking on its dust.
Obviously, most wagon buyers aren't looking to light up their tires on the way to the kids' hockey practice. But for dads and moms whose unruly broods haven't dampened their yearning for power in the pedal, the 850 Sportswagon may be just the ticket.
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