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New Car/Review

1997 VOLVO 850

by Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 27,205
     Price As Tested                                    $ 27,700
     Engine Type                             2.4 Liter I5 w/PFI*
     Engine Size                                 149 cid/2435 cc
     Horsepower                                   168 @ 6100 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               162 @ 4700 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  104.9"/69.3"/183.5"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     3255 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  19.3 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                      195/60/15
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                  2 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/29/25          
     0-60 MPH                                       10.2 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18.1 seconds @ 77 mph
     Top-speed                                           116 mph
     * Port fuel injection

Volvo depends on its well-deserved heritage of building rear-wheel- drive cars with a careful blend of sport, performance, prestige and safety. But with the introduction of the 850 in 1992, that changed a bit, since it was the first front-wheel-drive Volvo ever sold in the U.S. The 850 is available from a base level mid-luxury family sedan up to the tire-smoking 850R sports sedan, with a few models in between.

OUTSIDE - Volvo has been slowly shedding its boxy image, beginning with 850's arrival a few years ago. Creases that were a mainstay on Volvo cars such as the venerable 240 have been smoothed and rounded, but only to a certain point. The 850's nose is long and pointed, and the body is split by a wide black rub strip wrapping the entire vehicle. At 3255 pounds, it can't be considered a lightweight, but its additional crush-resistant structures, which dissipate crash loads across the entire passenger compartment, are worth the added weight. Its bumpers and mirrors are body-colored, and the stately grille, once oversized on previous Volvos, is now small and to-the-point. Our test car wore standard steel wheels with directional wheel covers and all-season tires. Alloy wheels are optional.

INSIDE - The interior of the new 850 is large and roomy, with an upright dashboard and a clear path to the switchgear, and analog gauges which are easy to read. Our base model test vehicle came well-appointed with plenty of luxury features. Its large, comfortably firm front bucket seats provide exceptionally good support, and are covered in soft cloth upholstery. In back, there is room enough for three adults, even the center position, which is notoriously uncomfortable in other cars. Standard 850 interior equipment includes power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, which are also heated; a tilt/telescopic steering column, dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, and a CD-ready 80-watt AM/FM cassette stereo system. Other no-charge features include a 60/40 fold-down rear seat, rear window defroster, power antenna, floor mats and intermittent windshield wipers.

ON THE ROAD - The base model 850 is powered by a transverse-mounted 2.4 liter in-line five-cylinder engine, with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Among its technical highlights are a dual-path intake manifold for optimal engine breathing, and a computer-controlled Bosch-Motronic engine management system. This all-aluminum powerplant produces 168 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. It provides power across a wide range, with over 90 percent of its torque coming between 1700 and 6000 rpms. This means is that its driver won't have to wait for the engine to rev high for the power to arrive, which really comes in handy when passing a big rig on a two-lane road. Our test vehicle came equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, and we found its gear-changing actuation snug and direct.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Its front suspension uses basic MacPherson struts, with forged lower wishbones that attach to a rubber-insulated subframe. In the rear, the 850 uses what Volvo calls its Delta Link axle system, a space-saving and sturdy design that functions much like a twist beam axle. The twist beam is found on the majority of mass- produced cars, but the Volvo design gives the performance of a more expensive multi-link setup. Front and rear stabilizer bars help keep the car flat in corners, although our base 850 behaved like a family sedan, with small amounts of understeer, body roll and tire scrub in corners. Its rack-and-pinion steering system feels nicely weighted, although not particularly quick. All 850 models have four-wheel power disc brakes and a three-channel anti-lock braking (ABS) as standard equipment.

SAFETY - All 850 models feature dual airbags in the instrument panel, with two side-impact airbags built into the sides of each front seat. Three-point shoulder belts are provided for all passengers, and side-impact beams are in each door. The 850 also comes with daytime running headlamps, and a rear fog light.

OPTIONS - Our test vehicle came without optional equipment. Its destination charge added $495.