Volvo 850R: Swedish Land Forces

David Hlaváček
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It’s an evening. The air does not move, I am sweating just by sitting still on the bench. It’s dead on our estate, there is a show of fifty-shades-of-under-average in the parking lot. Nothing to do and if it weren’t so hard to die, I’d probably try, just because of the heat. In the corner stands seemingly the most boring car of all. A car, state of which shows that its owner gave up on all the fun, and  just in case he doesn’t get tired at the sight of some wild shapes, it is… square. One might say that it has clean lines all around but “all around’ does not quite accurately reflect the body shape. It is a Volvo standing in the corner. Combi. Brick shape. Tank image. Bored like crazy. Meanwhile…


Who on earth would put 17″ wheels on this? Moreover basically just wrapped in rubber foil P-Zero size 205/45/17? Why is the bumper so low? And is the roof on the trunk just to keep the water from coming into the wiper? What does the ‘R’ on the back mean? Is there anything you can tune on this?

The Volvo 850R came as a sequel to the T-5R. Imagine a situation where a “punk” becomes the director of a retirement home. Somehow, the arrival of the T-5 and T-5R versions into the Volvo model line in the 1990’s had the same impact. At that time the Volvo marketing team wisely defined its sales priorities and decided to deploy the 850 Combi to the prestigious BTCC series. Although it is not possible to speak retrospectively about the racing successes of unprecedented proportions, the photos of a blue-white “fridge” with two wheels in the air were, after all, better advertising than any persuasion campaign from the editing room. And then there was the sound. 5-cylinder, turbo, multi-element wheel suspension, perfect body rigidity. Miraculously, the Volvo has transformed the stigma of a retirement car into a middle class hip status.


A certain J.C. of the most watched unnamed car show, the 850R said: “bring back the punk! bring back the Volvo” and then bought one, baptised it the” terminator” and would write columns full of praise. But time has progressed, 250hp today slowly squeezes out a shopping cart from its 14x supercharged one-and-a-half cylinder, it is only a 5-speed transmission (do you also remember the time when the 911 Turbo was enough with only 4 speed box?). There are remote control cars on 17″ wheels today and this car doesn’t even have any city safety, does not keep you in the lane when your rhubarb smoothie spills on your polo from Prada while you are checking your Instagram.


Look around the parking lot again. Most of the cars parked around are clearly classifiable into the creation decade. Here we have the headlights elongated nearly to the middle of the door, elsewhere a wild mix in the kim-chi-spirit, a chewed-up shapeless candy of a random hatchback, which is perhaps made specifically with the intention that many clients lose it in the first bigger parking lot so that they have to go and get a new one. And in the corner stands a long, slender, simple shape, a low body pontoon with a mask proudly raised against everything, ending with an ageless strip of vertical lights, the legacy of which Volvo has been using to this day. You see, there is nothing to age on this car.


I press the button on the keyring. Even after so many years, the central locking system faultlessly unlocks the car and in front of you there are almost non- fashionable seats in a brilliant combination of cut leather on the centre and smooth, very resistant leather on the sides of the seats. The black leather steering wheel has grey leather upholstery at the bottom and the dashboard was available in two weird shades of wood. Not that this exactly promised fun. But then you sit down on those fantastic couches, the sofa hugs you, thanks to the unrivalled range of adjustments you will find your perfect position and… go to sleep.

And although it would be tempting to do so, you wouldn’t. It’s time to wake up the beast. I turn the key, the engine settles on the silent baritone, shift into gear one, and…yawn… What is this, a super combi of its time?! Although the engine sings nicely and the interior is more than pleasant, the Czech tankodrom will melt its quality through the dressed skins in the cacophony of unpleasant wounds and you will keep on apologising to the beautiful seven-beam wheels. Firstly, because they perfectly complement the design of this legend, but mainly because you are more likely to find an HD photo of a unicorn on the net than find a used set of Volans wheels.



So where the hell is the fun?! Is this the iconic Volvo 850R? With the melodious sound of a roaring beast I am out of the city. The road opened but as the 50km / h limit still applies over the last intersection, I leave town with the gearstick stuck in three. Revs are somewhere above 2K and I’m stepping on the gas. The beast rises quite lazily, and by the time it reaches 3.000, you can start seeing its claws. And then the “snail” inhales and starts singing. The car fires ahead as the 350Nm commands, and suddenly all your senses get busy. Your eyesight follows the road ahead, your touch fights the steering wheel telling you that the wheels rake even when shifting into four, your hearing just found a new favourite sound and your sense of smell senses a near loss of your driver’s license if you don’t slow down soon. And you won’t. You won’t get tired. Ever. Not even at the gas station when you get there again. Not even when you are replacing the front tires again. Soon you will know the employees’ names at all the gas stations. Not that the car uses so much, here it does not deviate from what to expect from a similar category. You simply WANT to burn the gas. Legend has it that at high speeds (of course only on the mud), the car takes full advantage of surprisingly great aerodynamics, without the unnecessary curl whirling the air goes silent, as if kneeling and very swiftly flies to the limiter at 240km / h. That’s what they say. The car is so quiet inside that the crew happily falls asleep while you change gear only for the engine to sing, the very flexible acceleration is fun and that is what you always want. I like the schizophrenic nature of the engine. Up to three thousand revs you are an average “bloody Volvo driver” and then…you disappear.



No. This is a memory I refuse to leave. Find the nearest 850 T-5, and whether it is the Italian 2.0 T5 155kw, or the full-fat 2.3 T5 166kw, the iconic T-5R, development of which Porsche was involved in, or the top of the Volvo 850R food chain and see how fast the steel ingot can move. On trackdays don’t expect miracles (although some videos from Nordschleife mean the opposite and you will want to come back to them just because of that sound) but rather very fast, very entertaining, very comfortable and very stylish moves across Europe. As a top-of-the-range model, the Volvo 850R was fitted with maximum gear with a minimum of possible surcharges, where the decision was solely based on sunroof, gearbox type and rear seat heating. And thus the car is still fully operational without any problems and without being unnecessarily complicated. Dual-zone climate, heating, high-end audio, electric seats… and yet a beast that will engulf you.

If this is not a legend of the nineties, give me a Tuk-Tuk to ride around Gothenburg without a hat for the rest of my days.

Check out the period video. (link to Youtube)