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SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide

1996 VOLVO 850

by Tom/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 27,100
     Price As Tested                                    $ 27,595
     Engine Type                             2.4 Liter I5 w/PFI*
     Engine Size                                 149 cid\2435 cc
     Horsepower                                   168 @ 6200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               162 @ 3300 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  104.9"/69.3"/183.5"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3140 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  19.3 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                    P195/60VR16
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/29/26          
     0-60 MPH                                        9.0 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       16.8 seconds @ 85 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    125 mph

     * Port fuel injection

(Tom Hagin believes safety sells cars these days, and knows that all Volvos have state-of-the-art safety items. His dad Bob says it's ironic that the new 850 version has the heart and soul of a performance car, but its major selling point is that it's safe in a crash.)

TOM - Volvo continues to use safety as its main selling feature and this new 850 comes with nearly every safety device available today. It has anti-lock brakes (ABS) and side-impact protection, as well as four airbags in front - two built into the dashboard, and two more positioned into the sides of the front seats. These are part of Volvo's Side Impact Protection System which includes steel beams inside each door to strengthen against forces coming from the side, and if an impact occurs, the side airbags will inflate within 12 milliseconds.

BOB - Selling a car on its safety features is a lot like selling life insurance, Tom. Underlying it all is the specter that something "bad" has to happen before you know it's working. And in the case of the Volvo 850, dwelling on its safety aspects tends to negate the fact that this car is really a great performer, despite its dignified exterior. Our version of the 850 used a transverse-mounted 2.4 liter inline five cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. The standard version puts out 168 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque and comes with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic costs almost $1000 more and has three drive positions, Economy, Sport and Winter/Wet which locks out First and Second gears for easier take-offs when the road is slippery. Our test car had this setup, but I personally would have liked to try the stick-shift model, just to be able to make a comparison. And maybe the folks at Volvo will let us try the hot-rod 850 Turbo soon. The power is pumped up by another 50 horses and I'll bet it's a stormer.

TOM - That car also comes with tighter handling suspension components to compliment the boost in performance, which is available with any of the 850s. It's a $700 option and gives more road feel and lots better handling. The rear suspension is really interesting too, and also adds a lot to the handling. For lack of a better description, it seems to be a "semi-independent" system that uses long interconnecting suspension arms that are almost like the swing axles of those old British race cars. They allow the rear wheels to toe-in slightly on a hard turn, which neutralizes the car's natural tendency to understeer, or plow through turns. It also helps to keep the maximum amount of rubber firmly planted to the road.

BOB - With all that safety and performance comes a lot of real comfort. Even the standard 850 we tested came with items like air conditioning with dual controls, cruise control, power windows, door locks, radio antenna, and power heated outside mirrors, a tilt and telescoping steering column, AM/FM cassette stereo, and super plush upholstery. Volvo also puts daytime running headlamps on all its cars, plus a rear fog light that's just a bit brighter than standard tail lights. And 850 buyers can get traction control, which reduces wheelspin on slippery surfaces such as ice, by using the anti-lock brakes to cut power to the offending wheel. I'm not sure if these should be considered safety or performance items, maybe they're both.

TOM - Volvo must be pretty confident of those safety features, Dad. Besides the usual four-year/50,000-mile warranty, all of its new cars come with a million dollar "Accidental Loss of Life" insurance policy that stays in effect for the first four years of ownership.

BOB - Even from its earliest days here with its 444 models in the '50s, Volvo has made cars that were nearly unbreakable.

TOM - Not according to your friend John Regis. He tells me that you did a pretty good job breaking the engine of his '59 Volvo 122 you worked when you were a young mechanic.

BOB - In my whole career, that was the only car I ever forgot to tighten the oil drain plug on, Tom, and John will never let me live it down.

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