Volvo’s 850, first introduced in 1992, is almost legendary for its list of firsts and set the stage for many of Volvo’s subsequent vehicles.
The 850 was the company’s first foray into front-wheel drive (in the US) and all-wheel drive in a later update. The 850 also introduced side impact airbags to the world. On top of all that, Volvo’s first dip into high performance vehicles came with the T-5R 850 in 1995, their turbo version of the 850.
Volvo 850 History
In model year 1992 (1993 for North American markets), Volvo replaced the aging 700-series and 240 with the all-new 850. We already mentioned that this was a car of firsts and this offering broke new ground for both Volvo as well as the auto industry at large. It was the company’s first US front-wheel drive model, first to feature their legendary 5-cylinder engine, as well as AWD drive later on in 1996.
Not only that, beginning with the 850, Volvo was the first auto manufacturer to add side airbags for additional safety. The side airbags were part of Volvo’s new Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) that included not only the airbags but reinforced pillars and a latticed honeycomb structure inside the doors to spread impact forces across a greater area. Volvo has equipped every vehicle they’ve manufactured with SIPS since its introduction in model year 1992.
The 850 came in both a sedan and wagon version, with both the base and GLT trim levels enjoying a dual-overhead-cam, 20-valve, 168-horsepower 2.4-liter inline 5-cylinder engine under the hood.
After first introducing the 850, Volvo frequently updated the car, adding a turbo version in model year 1994, a performance version in 1995 (the T5-R), and an AWD version in 1996. The 1997 850 was the last 850. The next year it was given a substantial refreshing both on the inside and outside, and was reborn as the V70 (wagon) and S70 (sedan).
Driver- and passenger-side airbags were standard, as were 4-wheel ABS disc brakes. Traction control was an option.
Volvo 850 Specs and Model Changes
Since its introduction in model year 1992, Volvo updated the 850 each year, with a few major upgrades throw in.
1992 Model Year Volvo 850
European Debut. Known as the 850 GLT, it produces 168 HP and enjoys a 0-60 of 9 seconds and a max speed of 130MPH.
1993 Model Year Volvo 850
North American Debut of the 850.
1994 Model Year Volvo 850
Volvo introduces the new 4-door wagon, which they’ll continue to produce until the 850’s demise. They also introduced a 222-hp turbocharged engine available for both wagons and sedans, but it’s only mated to an automatic transmission.
Dropped the GLT trim level. See this dedicated thread on 1993 to 1994 Volvo 850 Differences.
Also in 1994, Volvo went racing. That story details Volvo’s fantastic run at the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
1995 Model Year Volvo 850
The 850 becomes the first production car to offer side airbags (as part of Volvo’s SIPS) as a supplement to front airbags. These side airbags are mounted in the outside bolsters of the front seatbacks and deployed in a lateral impact to help protect the chest area of occupants. These side airbags are standard on the 850 Turbo sedan and wagon and a $500 option on non-turbo models.
Base models are now badged simply as 850s, with the GLT trim level reborn as an upscale model.
Also in 1995, Volvo debuts the T-5R, their first foray into performance cars and at the time, the fastest wagon in production. The T5-R produces 225HP and shaved about 2 seconds off the standard model’s 0-60, with a max speed of 152 MPH. Read the NYT article on the 1995 T-5R.
Volvo imported 1000 units of the T-5R, 413 of them with a special yellow paint “Cream Yellow”, and featured a 240-horsepower version of the durable 5-cylinder.
For more specifics, see Differences Between 1994 and 1995 Volvo 850.
1996 Model Year Volvo 850
For the 1996 year, Volvo offered a Platinum Limited Edition 850 sedan and wagon in a limited US run of 1500 units. This Platinum edition is equipped with the 222-horsepower turbocharged engine, leather seats, unique 16-inch wheels, and a metallic “pearl white platinum” paint.
For their performance model, Volvo takes away the T5-R name from its fastest 850 and names it simply the 850 R. The 850 R is not a limited-edition car like the T5-R was.
1997 Model Year Volvo 850 – The Last Year
For its last year, the 850 family now includes base (168 HP), GLT (190 HP), T5 (222 HP), and R (240 HP), and all are available in both sedan and wagon body styles.
This same year, Volvo also introduces an all-wheel drive version of the 850 this same year, the 850 AWD, that enjoyed a new 2.5L engine, higher ground clearance, and manual drive exclusively.
Volvo ceased production on the 850 for model year 1997, with it soldiering on as the Volvo S70 (sedan) and V70 (wagon) in later years.
The S70 and V70: Volvo’s Facelifted 850s
Volvo introduced the S70 to the European market in model year 1997 (1998 in US). It was, in short, an updated 850 – at least 90% of it anyway. Consider the S70 simply an 850 with a facelift. The “S” in S70 of course meant “sedan”, with Volvo naming the wagon version the V70, as the Swedes name “wagons” as “vagn”.
Like the 850, the S70/V70 was extremely popular and shared the 850 sheet metal. Compared to the 850, the S70 and V70 enjoyed a number of changes and ‘freshening up’ when they debuted in the 1998 model year.
Window switches were moved from the center armrest to the driver’s door like most cars. Volvo smoothed out and retouched the head- and taillights, and the antenna became integrated into the car’s windshield — no longer a threat from the car wash’s dreaded spinning, uh, things.
All S70s and V70s came with standard heated mirrors, remote locks, ABS, and power windows.
Volvo only made about 1800 of these cars and the S70 had a short life of just 3 years, from 1998 to 2000, when it was replaced by the Volvo S60 beginning in 2001.
Have a Volvo 850 Problem?
If you’ve got a problem with your Volvo 850, we’ve got you covered!
First off, start with a quick search in our Volvo 850 Forum. This is the place to get advice and ask questions. If you don’t want to hunt around for an answer, simply register (it’s free!) and post your question. Since they’re so similar, the 850 and S70/V70 actually share a forum. We’ve never confirmed it, but we’d be shocked if the two Volvos didn’t share upwards of 90% of their parts!
Searching the forum is another super way of digging up information. You must be logged in to use Forum Search. Most of the posts here at MVS do get answered to one degree or another, so there is a ton of good information to be discovered.
Lastly, the Volvo Repair Database is a page that has links and short descriptions to over two hundred 850 and S70 repairs.
Volvo 850 Repairs and Tips
Like we just mentioned, check out the Volvo Repair Database. From how to replace your thermostat to resetting your service light to what to do when your Volvo radio says CODE, it has dozens of fixes and how-to’s found in the MVS Forum, with feedback discussion and alternate methods from owners like you, with both onsite and offsite links to quality 850 information.
Looking to tune up your 850? Check out this short video from our friends at iPd Volvo to get the basics:
850 Odds ‘n Ends
- Volvo Performance & Tuning Upgrade Forum
- Detailing & Paint Care Help
- Volvo Classifieds Forum
- Volvo 850 History, as told by Volvo