The first front-wheel drive car from Volvo to be exported to the U.S., the 850 was a compact executive model from the Swedish car company. Introduced in 1991, the 850 was design by Jan Wilsgaard and was available in saloon (sedan) and station estate (wagon) body styles. Volvo came up with the '850' name after the 500-series and 600-series names were rejected. The '5' in the name referred to the 5-cylinder engine, and the '850' fit perfectly between the 740 and 940 Series.
'A dynamic car with four world-beating breakthroughs', the Volvo 850 GLT was launched worldwide as a 1992 model, but didn't arrive in the U.S. until the 1993 model year. The four breakthroughs found in the 850 were the self-adjusting front seat belt mechanism, the SUPS integrated side-impact protection system, the transverse 5-cylinder engine driving the front wheels, and a Delta-link rear axle that combined the dynamics and ride comfort of independent suspension with the reliability of a live rear axle.
The 850 was powered by an all-aluminum alloy 20-valve straight-five engine. During the mid-1990s the 850 was Volvo's top seller. The Volvo 850 GLT was met with much fanfare by the automotive public and receieved many awards. Outside of the U.S. a popular 850 variant was a 10-valve version of the five-cylinder engine that was appreciated for its cheaper price and better fuel economy.
Standard US equipment for the 950 included popular extras like dual front airbags, head restraints and three-point seat belts for all passengers, anti-lock braking, power windows, doors locks and mirrors, dual zone climate control and cruise control. In 1995 side torso airbags became a worldwide first option. Other options for the 950 included a sleek leather interior, power glass sunroof, traction control, power seats, heated seats, remote keyless entry, automatic transmission and automatic climate control.
On the inside the 850 saloon had an impressive 99 cubic feet of interior space, which was roomier than a 2004 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The interior roominess was achieved by mounting the in-line 5-cylinder engine transversely under the hood, from the left to the right of the car. The 850 T5 had a top speed of around 155 mph and the estate and saloon have been tested to a max speed of 147 mph. A total of 390,835 850 Sedans were produced from 1991 through 1996.
In February of 1993 the 850 Volvo 5-door Estate car version was introduced, just two years after the introduction of the 850 GLT. The estate featured a nearly vertical tailgate that was practical while maximizing interior space. The 5-door Estate was awarded the prestigious Japanese 'Good Design Grand Prize Award' in 1994. Over the years the 850 series expanded to include a variety of engine, and included both turbocharged petrol units and a direct-injection turbo-diesel.
In 1996/1996, the final model year for the 850 series, the 850 AWD (All Wheel Drive) model was launched with a brand new 193 bhp low pressure turbo 2.4 liter engine. The model line was revamped in 1998 and renamed the Volvo S70 sedan and Volvo V70 station wagon. Throughout the 2000 model year these cars continued to be sold when there were still many 850s waiting to be sold. The 2001 Volvo S60 and Volvo V70 were alternatively sold during this production hiatus of the 850.
Volvo created what it called 'Delta-link semi-independent rear suspension' especially for the 850. Giving the Volvo 850 passive rear steering was a U.S. held patent for rear axle bushings that compressed under load. The 850 was incredibly maneuverable thanks to its tight turning circle of 33.5 feet, compared to larger Volvos with a 39.0 foot turning circle.
In 1995 the T-5R, a limited-edition high performance model developed with assistance from Porsche was introduced. Based on the 850 Turbo, the T-5R had an extra 18 horsepower for a total of 243 hp and 221 lb•ft (300 N•m) of torque while utilizing the B5234T3 engine with a special ECU (Bosch #628) that added an additional 2 psi of turbocharger boost pressure. The powerful engine was joined to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Despite the modest, boxy appearance, the T-5R was well known as a sleeper car and had an impressive drag coefficient of 0.29 and had a capability of accelerating from 0-60mph in 5.8 – 6.0 seconds. The top speed of the T-5R was electronically limited to 155 mph.
The high performance model came standard with Pirelli P-Zero tires and provided a lateral grip of 0.88 g. Co-developed with Porsche was the engine tuning, the transmission and other powertrain components. Porsche also helped in some of the interior design and the Alcantara seat inserts. The T-5R came with only two options, no-cost 16-inch wheels and a trunk-mounted Alpine 6-CD changer. The T-5R package included a rear spoiler, side skirts, a front bumper with a lip and polished aluminum doorsills. The interior was sleekly finished in black with deep walnut wood grain accents, special graphite leather and Alcantara seats. Black interior was the only option when purchasing either the yellow or black T-5R version. This model also featured an additional badge referred to as 'The Motorsport badge' to the left of the '850' on the trunk.
The Volvo 850 T-5R came with a standard road wheel titanium-gray 5-spoke 17x7 'Titan'. 1995 would be the only year that the model was named 'T-5R' as the following year the model was renamed '850R' by Volvo due to its incredibly rising popularity. The model was highly praised for its notable safety features and became the first car to be fitted with four airbags, the side airbags were installed in the seat cushions. The rest of the Volvo model line received the side airbags as an option, and a year later became standard. It wasn't long before other manufacturers followed suit. Other innovative standard features the T-5R was fitted with included early version of daytime running lamps and became the first sedan to have three-point seatbelts at all five seating positions. A year before OBDII was an automotive standard the T-5R used the diagnostic system. A total of 5,500 T-5Rs were produced worldwide, with 904 of these models going to the U.S. 185 of these units were painted yellow.
In 1996 a high-end model called the 850 R was introduced as the replacement for the highly successful T-5R. Volvo chose to develop a new high performance model though they didn't want a direct successor to the T5-R. Based on the T-5R, but with minor modifications, the 850 R was available as either a sedan or Sport Wagon. With a top speed of 158 mph, the 5-door 850 R as a turbocharged station wagon could reach 0-62 mph in 6.7/7.5 (manual/auto) seconds.
Not limited like the T5-R, the 850 R was produced between 1996 and 1997. An estimated 5,000-7,000 850 R variants were produced and sold worldwide by Volvo. The 850 R was sold in a variety of colors: Black Stone, Dark Grey Pearl, Dark Olive Pearl, Bright Red, Turquoise Pearl and Polar White, but only three colors in the US; Polar White, Black Stone and Bright Red.
The 850 R lost the Cream Yellow color. A brand new revamped rear spoiler was added to the saloon model. On the Estate model the spoiler was now standard. The interior was upgraded to includ a 2-tone leather steering wheel, stainless steel '850' kick plates, heavily bolstered bucket style front seats, Alcantara door cards and R branded over mats. The 8-speaker audio system received a 200w amplifier along with the option to have an SC-805/815 in-dash CD player in some markets. The 850 R featured two color choices: Ivory and very light brown leather with beige Alcantara sued seat and door inserts, and graphite grey leather with dark Alcantara suede seat and door inserts.
During 1996 for a very brief period Volvo introduced a brand new heavy-duty manual transmission that was produced specifically for the 850 R. It was called M59 and featured both a viscous coupling and a Torsen differential. Other features on M49 equipped vehicles included the B5234T4 2.3 liter 5-cylinder engine with a larger TD04HL-16T turbo, unique ecu + motronic 4.4, updated manifold and intercooler, uprated fuel pressure sensor and a heavy-duty clutch. All of these updates helped the manual M59's capable of producing 250 hp and 260 lb/ft compared to the automatic transmissions 240 hp and 220 lb/ft of torque. Other suspension changes for the 850 R compared to the T-5R included stiffer damper settings, 20mm front and 19.5mm rear anti-roll bars and 7x17 7-spoke heavy duty volan alloy wheels. 850 R models sold in Italy were heavily based on the 2.0 liter 850 Turbo because of engine volume encumbrances imposed by the Italian government.
A 'Platinum' edition of the 850 Turbo was introduced in 1996. Featuring special 16-inch alloy wheels and a special metallic pearl platinum-color exterior paint, the Platinum 850 model came with special leather seats and burled walnut accents. The U.S. market only received 1,500 of these special Platinum editions.
In the United States the 850 Series underwent different trim level changes. 850 models in the U.S. were badged GLT in 1993 regardless of equipment. The Touring package added numerous options that included leather, sunroof and much more. In 1994 the bumpers on the Volvo 850 were updated and the headlamps featured separate low (dipped) and high beam bulbs. Also this year the GLT badge was dropped, though the same equipment was available. New models for 1994 included the 222 hp Turbo sedan and wagon, and the normally aspirated 168 hp wagon. Still in use today the wheels were upgraded from a 4-bolt pattern to a 5 bolt on 108mm pattern.
The following year the GLT badge returned which made the lineup sedan and wagon versions of the 850, 850 GLT, 850 Turbo, and 850 T-5R. The new high performance model in the U.S. was the T-5R, with more power stemming from ECU tuning, trim and wheels and special suspension. Other changes in 1995 included optional side airbags for all models, new interior switchgear design, other minor detail changes and new taillights for sedans. Labelled DOHC on the cam cover, Australian delivered 850 SEs were provided with the B5252 10 valve motor.
U.S. changes in 1996 included a modified power door lock system, full OBD-II compliance and new exterior colors. This year the T-5R high performance version was renamed the R, but the performance differences didn't change much. Not available in the US and Canada, the UK received 2.5 10v and 2.5 20v versions that were also available in Russia and Switzerland. The power output in 850 R manual form was bumped up to 250 bhp with torque 350 NM.
For the 850's final year in 1997, all GLT models were bumped to 190 bhp by joining a low-pressure turbocharger with the 2.4 L engine. The 850 Turbo model was renamed it's UK name, the 850 T-5. This model year was cut short with the introduction of the Volvo S70 sedan and Volvo V70 wagon and Ford Motor Company taking over Volvo the final year. The 850 AWD was introduced to the Canadian market. Prior to this time the car had already been available in Europe and had the same motor as the '97 GLT 2.4 L I5 LPT (13G). In Canada the vehicle was only available with a 5-speed M58 transmission and an M56 with an added bevel gear (transfer case) that created the M58 transmission. Around 214 models were estimated as imported to Canada in 1997. The following year AWD versions were only offered in automatic modes, unless you went to Canada or Europe, though only a very few select models were imported to Canada.
The 850 Series marked a return to motorsport for Volvo. In 1994 Volvo returned to the racetracks under the banner of BTCC, the British Touring Car Championships. Joining forces with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) Volvo began to construct a 850 Estate Super Touring Car. Even though the 850 Estate received much criticism at first, it actually performed very well and had a best qualifying placing of third, and a best race finish of fifth. In the Manufacturers' 1994 championship the 850 Estates were driven by Jan Lammers and Rickard Rydell, finishing eighth.
A Saloon version was introduced in 1995 that replaced the Estate model because of changes in BTCC regulations in regards to aerodynamic aids that effectively ended the change of the Estate remaining competitive. Once again with Rydell behind the wheel with Tim Harvey, the 850 Saloons qualified on pole position 12 times and winning six racing, with Volvo placing third in the Manufacturers Championship.
The following year a modified and updated 850 Saloon arrived that competed in the championship with Rickard Rydell and Kelvin Burt driving won five race wins. Once again Volvo finished third in the Manufacturers' Championship. The 850 also competed in the Super Touring category across Europe and in Australia during this era. Sources:
https://www.volvoclub.org.uk/background_850.shtmlBy Jessica Donaldson