Understated yet radical, the Volvo 850 provided buyers with a chance to drive 150mph, with their dog in the back. The big Swedish car maker made an absolute brute of a machine that came in both saloon and estate forms. Not only did the five-cylinder lump have a brilliant bark, it could back it up thanks to its racing pedigree. Tom Walkinshaw Racing infamously prepared an estate version for the 1944 BTCC season.
Volvo 850 T5
Engine 2319cc, 5-cyl, OHC
Power 225bhp @ 5200rpm
Torque 221lb.ft @ 2000rpm
Top speed 149mph
Gearbox 5spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Stone chips are a major concern, as it is wide and low, with hard suspension. The T5R had even lower suspension, and a front splitter to scrape along speed bumps. Generally the Swedish barge doesn’t suffer from rust, although one major rot point are the exhaust rear hangers, which are an easy fix. Estates are obviously very practical, which means some may have been used as a make-shift van. Check the roof linings to see if they’ve been abused. Tow bars are another tell-tale sign it might have been worked hard.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
Turbos are a very prominent feature of the Volvo, and is an important part of what makes it so quick. It’s important that there’s no blue smoke when the turbo is on boost, as this can indicate a worn turbo, turbo oil seals or worn piston rings. The turbo should begin working at about 2500rpm and reach maximum boost at 3000rpm. The boost gauge (if it has one, non standard feature) should reach approximately three-quarters of the way. If it doesn’t, there could be a problem with the turbo. The Electronic Throttle Module failing is a common fault, and easily identifiable by a stuttering engine and a lack of power. One way to check this is to rev the car to about 4000rpm and take your foot off the accelerator; it should fall smoothly back to idle. Timing belts need changing every 5-8 years depending upon use, it’s well worth checking when this was last done.
The R suspension is lower than the stock T5 by about 30mm, which is important to remember for people with bad backs or people who like any sort of travel in their suspension. Some will be equipped with a self-leveling system for the rear suspension, most commonly found on estates. If it looks suspiciously low at the back then this may have failed. Suspension parts are often modified, so ask the owner about any they may have made. Brake components are also rife for change, with owners often upgrading to a 302mm disc to aid braking performance. Make sure if they’ve been upgraded in size, the hoses have been upgraded as well. These Volvos are notorious for their front tyre wear, mainly due to it being front-wheel-drive. Significantly more worn tyres at the front than rear can also be a sign of hoonery.
Air conditioning units were known to fail within their first two to four years. If this is the case it requires taking the whole dash out, meaning costs of up to £1000 to put right. Heater matrixes have also been known to fail.
There was a recall on heated seats effecting 1996 models. Although it is most likely they have been replaced, it’s still important to ask. Some models came with electronically controlled seats which can fail over time. Expensive to put right, but can be used as a bargaining tool when trying to get money off.
T5s and T5Rs are usually specced to within an inch of their lives, meaning there are more electrical items, and more to go wrong. Most have climate control and CD multichangers, which add to the expense when they go wrong. It’s important to check that the warning lights are working, especially as the ABS light is known to fail, which can be a wider sign of ECU trouble.
Why do you want one?
There’s something oddly irresistible about a large saloon or estate that will do 150mph. You don’t really need to transport a large quantity of flat pack furniture from IKEA, but you want to. With prices starting from £1600 for useable versions, it’s also a performance bargain, and the engines can easily get 200,000 miles plus if well maintained. If you’re after something left field, Swedish and fiery, you’ve found it.