In the days before Polestar spiced things up a bit, Volvo wasn’t exactly a performance brand. It was mostly known for making sensible and durable luxury cars like the 240. However, even before it offered cars like the C30 hot hatch, the Swedish brand had a subdued speedy side. One that came into the limelight with the Volvo 850R wagon.
Volvo 850R and 850 T-5R: history, specs, and features
To be fair, the Volvo 850R isn’t the first sporty model the automaker produced, Car and Driver reports. It’s not even the first tuned-up 850 wagon, GarageDreams reports. That honor belongs to the 850 Turbo, aka the 850 T5, which had a 2.3-liter turbocharged five-cylinder, rated at 222 hp and 221 lb-ft. Even with a V8, the contemporary BMW 5 Series didn’t make that much power, Autotrader reports.
But for the 1995 Volvo 850 T-5R, the automaker went even further. The wagon received an upgrade courtesy of Porsche, which had already helped Audi develop the RS2 Avant. The 850 T-5R also has a 2.3-liter turbocharged five-cylinder, but it makes 237 hp, Autocar reports. It’s still a front-wheel-drive wagon, like the T5, but it’s a FWD wagon that does 0-60 in 6.9 seconds. At least it does with the 5-speed manual, which wasn’t available in the US.
Porsche’s touch doesn’t stop at the engine, though. The Volvo 850 T-5R has upgraded hydraulic dampers, larger anti-roll bars, and suede-trimmed heated leather sport seats. Plus, when it was new, it was the first car to come with side-impact airbags. And despite its age, it also comes with ABS, traction control, and self-leveling suspension.
Then in 1996 came the Volvo 850R wagon. Its 2.3-liter turbocharged five-cylinder had a few upgrades, boosting it to 243 hp, Road & Track reports. Also, although its anti-roll bars were a little thinner compared to the T-5R, its dampers were stiffer. And while the US market only received the 4-speed automatic model, the 5-speed manual wagon came with a limited-slip differential. But even with the automatic, Car and Driver reports the Volvo 850R can go 0-60 in 6.7 seconds.
The Volvo 850R was a genuine racer
On the street, neither the Volvo 850R nor T-5R is especially hampered by their FWD nature. Although the stiff suspension and high-performance tires make for a harsh ride, Car and Driver reports the wagon’s handling is excellent. As is the steering, which is sharper than the base 850 wagon’s, and comes with plenty of feel.
The US-spec 4-speed automatic isn’t bad, Autoweek reports, if geared a little long. But apart from the ride, the Volvo 850R has quite a few luxury touches. The leather-and-suede seats are well-bolstered and comfortable, and its brakes are impressive even by modern standards, R&T reports.
The most impressive Volvo 850 isn’t the 850R or 850 T-5R, though. It’s the British Touring Car Championship racing wagon. Yup, Volvo took a wagon racing, R&T reports. Admittedly, the BTCC 850 wagon only raced in the 1994 season, with rule changes forcing Volvo to race the sedan in 1995 and 1996, DriveTribe reports. And it wasn’t particularly successful, finishing 8th overall in its only season.
But the aerodynamic lessons learned helped the sedans finish 3rd in 1995 and 1996. And while its racing-spec 2.0-liter five-cylinder wasn’t turbocharged, it still produced 290 hp, DriveTribe reports. And that’s with a catalytic converter—which was a first for a BTCC race car. Oh, and it redlined at 8500 RPM, DriveTribe reports. All this in the only wagon out on the racetrack.
Getting one today
Finding a Volvo 850R or 850 T-5R wagon can be somewhat difficult. Only 1000 850Rs were sold in the US, Car and Driver reports. And if you want a manual model, you’ll have to import one. Though quite a few 850R owners have swapped in 5-speed manuals into their cars, Bring a Trailer reports. Luckily, 2020 marks 25 years since the start of T-5R production, as does 2021 for 850R production. Which means you’ll be able to freely import both wagons soon.
While these wagons are rare, they’re not necessarily expensive. In 2016, an 87,000-mile 850R sold on BaT for $4000. And as of this writing, there’s one T-5R listed on Autotrader for $9000. However, low-mileage manual examples do command a premium. In 2019, Bat reported several European models were available for about $24,000.
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