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Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon

8502 For wagon enthusiasts like me, this decade has been a golden age in which a cornucopia of stylish, incredibly powerful wagons dot the streets--a Bacchanalian feast of wagon goodness, if you will, for every appetite. A Dodge Magnum Hemi satisfies the V-8 set, the Subaru WRX and Forester XT wagons fulfill the dreams of off-road rally wannabes, the Audi S4 wagon is available for fans of fast European cars, and there are many, many other interesting wagons to choose from.

Things were not always so.

Following the 1980s, a time in which the sports wagon concept began to germinate and blossom, the early 1990s were a fallow time. Wagons as a whole were passe--replaced in the American consciousness by the ubiquitous minivan and, soon, the family-oriented SUV.

In this dark time for sports wagons, however, enthusiasts looking for excitement had an unlikely hero-- Volvo. Yes, Volvo, the dour Swedish manufacturer of underpowered and boxy but eminently practical and safe sedans and wagons.

8503 With the 850 Turbo Wagon, Volvo shattered that conservative mold--if not in look, then in function. Imagine George Will, bowtie and all, bulked up with huge biceps and six-pack abs.

Volvo started with its typically boxy and safe 850, then--crucially--dropped a turbocharger and a four-valve head on the 850's reliable if slightly agricultural five-cylinder engine. The combination was good for 225 horsepower, and a wagon that could run with the sports sedans and sporty coupes of the time.

With turbo whistling, a standard 850 Turbo Wagon could run to 60 mph in just a tick over 7 seconds and in super-hot T5-R form could get down into the mid-6-second range. Those numbers may not look that impressive today, but 10 years ago, before the recent horsepower explosion, that was some serious performance--as quick as a Ferrari Mondial of previous years, and as quick as even today's premium hot-rod V-6 family sedans. This made for an extremely compelling combination of performance and utility.

This most audacious of Volvos was even made into a race car in the highly regarded British Touring Car Championship (BTCC)--eventual BTCC champ Rickard Rydell drove an 850 Turbo Wagon (and the subsequent V70 Wagon), one of the only racing wagons I've ever seen. I'm enough of a wagon addict that I have a photo of Rydell's 850 Turbo Wagon, right-left tire suspended in the air in mid-corner, at home waiting to be framed.

If you wanted thrilling speed with the space of a wagon in the early 1990s, combined with Volvo's more typical attributes of durability and safety, the 850 Turbo Wagon was the only game in town.

The yellow 850 T5-R above was for sale on the SwedeSpeed Forums; I've seen the Jan Lammers BTCC 850 above in various places on the web, but I don't have an attribution for the original photographer.

--Chris H.

Comments

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Racing wagon--wow!

My mom had one of these. I always wondered why they'd made it a turbo. Cost her a lot more in premium gas, I'll say that--and it felt like a tank to drive. Always preferred my father's '91 Subaru Legacy. (Which outlasted the wagon, BTW, by 3 years.)

During my old career as a traveling consultant, I had an assigned corporate apartment in Atlanta. One fateful Friday evening, I approached the Hertz counter at the Hartsfield airport and requested the usual corporate car. They were out of the model my company required, so they upgraded me to a Volvo 850 wagon for free.

I had a buddy in Atlanta who bought a first generation Audi A4. One day, while he was following me in his car, I decided to do a little drag test. The Volvo wagon left my buddy's A4 in the dust. We were both surprised. What a great car!

I had a 1990 Subaru Legacy wagon for a long time. For a station wagon with a slushbox, it wasn't a half-bad sports car.

You really have to hand it to Volvo for igniting a new direction for the station wagon. Unlike the seemingly always avant-garde Saab, Volvo kept a pretty conservative design direction for decades. The exception to this trend being the 1800s/es. But the Turbo wagon concept was just brilliant, and when it rolled out and showed itself to be a real performance car it was stunning. It was a car that changed people's minds about the station wagon. At least it did to me.

My family had always owned station wagons. All the families I new had big American station wagons with exotic faux wood siding. We had a trim Falcon Futura wagon with a 289V8. I drove a Volvo station wagon all over Europe including into the depths of the former East Germany. It was a tank. Highly space efficient and completely in need of some serious anti-sway bars. Nothing to get excited about as far as performance went. The station wagon was almost on a par with mini-vans in current popular culture. I pretty much wrote them off and looked forward to a variety of faster less practical rides.

The Volvo turbo wagon really made me rethink this concept. That and life with a few less practical vehicles. I settled on the hatchback as a platform that seemed the best compromise, but the idea of a performance wagon stuck and still calls to me. I really wish I could have stuffed a high performance flat 4 into my old VW Sqaureback. That would have been a total kick.

Now when I survey the auto-scape I find myself thinking about how small station wagons with some really performance hardware look like a wonderful option. Their drag coefficients, weight, lengths, and handling are not that different than their more ordinary counterparts. But there is something exceedingly cool in their high practicality and they are so different than vans or SUVs. The station wagon has almost become exotic. And honestly who doesn't take a certain delight in being able to put the hammer down in a station wagon and dust off some glitzy show-mobile. The Volvo turbo wagon may well be one of the great stock sleepers of all time.

The old RWD Volvo 120s and 140s and even the 240s were pretty bulletproof; the 700-series was mostly a decent piece of hardware (though the sedans with their folded-spindled-and-mutilated C-pillars set new standards of ugliness even by Volvo standards) but I was never fond of the V6. Volvo buying DAF and going FWD always seemed like a move downmarket, and no matter how fast some of the turbo-motor cars were, to me they've always felt more fragile than the earlier cars and they don't seem to age all that well.

I had a 1993 legacy turbo 5 speed sedan, and currently have a 1995 volvo 850 turbo sedan, slightly modified. The subaru takes the cake as far as reliability, but there is no comparison in total performance. Volvo wins hands-down. The legacy was ultra quick to 30mph, but it's non-intercooled 165hp puffed out after that. The subaru has better build quality, but the swedish steel stands up much much better to corrosion. The subarus are all rust by now, and my 1995 has seen each winter of salt, no rust...

I've owned a T5-R from new. It might not be fully bulletproof but it stood the test of time quite well overall. 13 years and 225k miles by now.

It's still moderately good fun to drive :)

The last of the proper ones, as far as I am concerned. The S80T6 we got next is horrible in reliability and solidity in comparison and anything newer is just downhill from there. And they slipped back to becoming automotive valium - the least interesting things to drive imaginable.

When we got married, my wife had to have a red Camaro with t-tops. She'd never gotten to pick her own car before (her stepfather was a mechanic who picked her cars) so we went out and got exactly what she wanted--a red 1995 Camaro with t-tops, automatic transmission, anemic brakes and a gutless 3.4L V6 (ever see the air intake on the 3.4 they put in the Camro? You could build it out of iron water pipe in an afternoon.) Then we adopted twins. Then we had a baby. Suddenly she had to have a van instead, so we got a good one and a hefty car payment. Guess who got stuck driving that gutless, huge, cramped, uncomfortable Camaro for two years?

When we felt like we could afford to look for something better for me to drive, I wanted something I could haul all three boys in, be comfortable in myself, and enjoy--and I wanted to pay cash. Not easy, but someone mentioned Volvos and I looked into them. The more I saw of the 850s the more I liked them, and eventually that was all I wanted. Two weeks ago I picked up a 1994 850 Turbo. I originally wanted a wagon, but this sedan was a good deal, so I jumped on it. I paid for it with U.S. legal tender and walked away with no debt, and after two weeks I'm still in lust with it. I can strap all my kids in and take them for a drive, I can pick them up from the babysitter's house . . . . but after a long day at work, I can open the sunroof and all the windows, switch the trans to "sport mode" and let it gallop. With the traction control off, it'll chirp the front tires into second gear. The difference between this car and the Camaro is astonishing. When they were new, the Volvo cost nearly twice as much as the Slowmaro, but today they're worth about the same and I can't think why. The Volvo is comfortable, with wide-swinging short doors and upright seating. The visibility cannot be compared, and things like heated seats, heated mirrors, and side airbags in the backseat in a 1994 model are just plain awesome. The turbocharged I5 makes almost 50% more peak horsepower than the 3.4 V6, but it makes it at much lower RPM and the curve is flat. The 850 handles curves at speeds that would ditch the Camaro in a heartbeat and the brakes feel like supercar pieces after the Camaro's spongy mess.

I teach school, and I know my coworkers wonder why I'm so proud of a boxy car with a tape deck and worn leather seats. If they drove it, they'd get it.
Or maybe not.

I was hired as a chef at a local cafe'in 2007.Part of my job involved going to the local markets to purchase a couple of weeks worth of groceries for the cafe'where I work.
As an owner of several vehicles, mostly Toronado Trofeo'coupes, putting several hundred dollars worth of groceries in one was next to impossible.So, after several months of working at the cafe' I was able to secure a loan for another vehicle with my bank.
After reading the reviews, and looking at Volvo wagons on the internet,I decided a Volvo wagon would be a fantastic way to haul groceries!
After several weeks of searching I found the right one in Indianapolis not far from where I live. An Italian red 850 turbo wagon with tan leather interior. It made going to the store so much more fun.It haul's alot more than groceries. It haul's a**!
I love the solid ride,the fit & finish,the outstanding performance,and having a vehicle that stands out from a sea of sameness.
Yes, my other vehicles are nice also, but as far as safety and perfomance, the 850 turbo has them beat.As far as being compared with a Subaru,that I would not know about ,as Japanese cars always have felt very cheaply made to me.
This spring I plan on having the wagon's windows tinted with limo tint, new 18" chrome wheels and lower profile tires than are already on it. I also am an interior designer/artist in addition to being a chef,and you cannot beat the space the wagon offers for hauling supplies for my clients.All wrapped up in a beautiful & timeless Swedish design.

I bought my 1996 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon in October of 2008. What a machine! I knew that these cars were quick, but once you drive one you really understand. I love the look on drivers faces after they've been burned by a grocery getter. The other day I smoked a 2008 Porsche Cayenne 3.2 . Yes it was the 3.2L V6 version...but hey the Volvo smoked a $70,000 Porsche. These cars really shine in passing situations, its almost untouchable even against newer entry level premium luxury cars(A4 1.8t, 325i, TSX, Passat) . I've always bought cars with manual transmissions. The Turbo only came to America with an automatic. Doesn't matter. The transmission when put into Sport Mode works amazingly well. Quick and crisp downshifts, holds gears when needed etc. I'm amazed this engine/transmission has 180K, it all works so fluidly and seamlessly, a testament to its durability. Its no surprise then that Volvos' premium engine configuration in the S40 S60 and C30 is the same 2.5L 222HP 236ft./lbs of torque motor used in my 96 850 Turbo.

Ian, your 96 850 turbo is a 2.3L, NOT a 2.5L. The 2.3L puts out 222HP/221ft/lbs; per my 96 850 owner's manual. This can be easily remedied with a call to IPDUSA for a remapped ECU.

Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon Platinum Edition 1996
A fantastic car , had her for 7 years now and this is the ultimate sleeper and performance car. Oh so boring and boxy , not a chance what a great car totaly reliable and performace to boot.We all should be so luck to own one.
My 4th Volvo, 240 Wagon, 760 Turbo wagon,850GLT and now 850 Turbo Wagon, VOLVO it is the only way to go .Get a good second hand one no regrets.

K&N air filter and a boost control for $135, that is all I had to pay to drop my Volvo 850 sport wagon into the mid 14s in a 1/4mile! It takes some cars thousands of dollars to become 1 second faster than stock!

13psi for almost 5 years and 181K miles now and the engine still puts out like a prostitute on a street corner.

Owning both a STI (WRX) and Volvo 850 wagon (Turbo), though the STI is faster, when getting into the STI you find yourself cramped, where the Volvo you almost feel like you are in a full size sedan! and no one ever sees these sweet Sweden sleepers coming...My wagon weighs in at only 3600LB (This was weighed on a car scale at the drag strip, The 850 DOES NOT WIEGH 4200LB PEOPLE! stop adding the rear and front weight together that you see on the inside door) which everyone thinks these things are heavy TANKS.

If you want an ultimate Sleeper...Buy a 850 Turbo drop a little bit of money into the engine, and go Kill some muscle cars...No Rush can compare to it, and befor I forget, check your turbo line to make sure they do not have any leaks, I drove my Volvo around for 6 months thinking she was giving all she had, found the leak and the beast was awaken

How much are the 850 t5r wagons in cream yellow worth these days to a collector? I'm interested because my family is trying to sell ours. Would you recommend ebay?

I am 18 and lucky enough to have inherited a bright red volvo 850 turbo wagon from my dad. Man does it fly! I know its not perfect. For one, the 4-speed automatic's gears are too far apart, and the car doesn't really pick up until 4000 rpm, but I'm not racing it. Not exactly. I did overtake my friend in his dodge caliber. My other friend was sitting next to him and going "what are you doing? Come on, floor it". He was flooring it. My friend had to concede that when we both put pedal to the metal my twelve year old volvo was faster than his car, despite being nearly twice as heavy and having nearly the same displacement engine.

I think what makes the car incredible is when you consider what it is. Its a volvo. From 1996. With 2.3 liters of engine. Front wheel drive. And it will hit 60 in under 7? No way.

My favorite thing is the engine. Volvo's 5 cyl is truly one of the engineering marvels of the auto world. It makes this wonderful low hum at idle- especially nice inside underground parking structures- and it has a reserved, modest feel to it between 1k and 2.5k rpms. When the needle makes its way towards the little four, however, it becomes an absolute beast. It almost seems too powerful for itself, like its going to spin up a black hole or rip space or something.

Most people hate turbo lag- the effect of putting a large turbo on an engine. They complain that the car doesn't pull well from a stop. They complain that there isn't much power at low rpms or low end torque. But frankly, I don't care. I love that my car wants to fly at 4000 rpms and putter around at 1500. In real world conditions you dont need to go 0-40 fast. You need to go 30-70 fast. The very intelligently designed automatic transmission drops from third to first at that speed and the car feels like a miniature rocket ship. In my opinion, it's more thrilling to have the power come in at 4000. The sound and the sudden, unexpected influx of power get your heart rate up.

In contrast, a corvette LS9 will flatten you against your seat when you put your foot down and get to 60 in half the time, but its also much more likely to kill you, and the fun stuff comes at 120 mph, not 60.

The engine also contrasts with a bmw, which sounds bored at 40, like its dying at 25, and hates to idle.

I only wish i had a mid engined sports car with the volvo R engine in it...

Anybody who doesn't think Volvos are high-performance vehicles hasn't been behind the wheel of an R model. 300-plus horses, active suspension, wicked-good brakes, and all in a package almost invisible to the local constabulary. An S60R was on the top-ten list on Top Gear for quite some time. My '87 745 Turbo is still quick and fluid at 225,000 miles, and the newer ones only keep getting better. I just wish they would drop the V8 into the V70 and really make my day. Remember, only get a Volvo with an egg-crate grill -- those are the high-performance ones, and with a little help from ipd in Portland, Oregon, you'll be surprising many in more "performance-oriented" equipment, for many happy miles to come.

I know this is a little late but I have a 1992 Volvo 940 Turbo and it flies. I recently beat out a mustang with a v8 and it was by a mile. i know it's not an 850 and it has a 4 cyl instead of a 5 cyl but I love it.

I had a '91 940T wagon that I just let go recently. I snagged a '99 Subaru Forester which I love, but I will ride one of those damn Volvos again. I LOVED THAT DAMN CAR!

Had a nice used 740 Turbo sedan years before. STANDARD SHIFT and SUNROOF! Oh the joy...that thing was a rocket and such a blast to drive.

Tears are welling. I...I have to say goodbye now!

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