Back in the early 1990s, the car was Sweden's most expensive industrial project.

Three decades after its launch, the Volvo 850 still stands out as a testament to the Swedish company’s commitment to innovation. First unveiled in 1991, this model not only marked a departure from traditional Volvo design but also introduced groundbreaking technological features that set new standards in the automotive industry.

Welcome to Timeless European Treasures, our weekly look back at cars from the European market that defined a motoring generation.

Why do we love it?

And that’s exactly why we love it. With the 850, Volvo, known for its emphasis on safety, took a bold step, introducing a sleeker and aerodynamic design that departed from the boxy aesthetics of its predecessors. The car's overall appeal was further enhanced by its innovative features, including an advanced chassis design, new inline-five engines, and new safety systems. 

Looking from today's perspective, the 850 is exactly the type of car we miss so much. Take for example the 850 R - a large wagon with a five-cylinder turbo engine and enough space to carry everything you'd need on a long trip. Robust mechanicals, timeless design, and mid-class comfort. That's all we need in a car, honestly.

When was the car launched?

The 850 was officially launched in 1991. It acted as a successor to the successful 240 model series and was produced in Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Indonesia, Philippines. The car remained on sale until 1996 when it was replaced by the even sleeker S70 and V70.

Interestingly, the development of what would become the 800 series first began in 1978. The so-called Project Galaxy ultimately resulted in the 850 and new manufacturing technologies were introduced. When development had finished, Volvo had spent the highest sum in the history of Sweden on an industrial project. 

Where did it sit in the brand's lineup?

The Volvo 850 was positioned as a midsize executive car. It bridged the gap between Volvo's flagship 900 series of models and the more affordable S40 and V40 compact cars. The 850 was a key player in redefining Volvo's image as a brand that could cater to a broader audience without compromising its core values. 

When it was launched in the United States in 1992, the 850 became the first FWD model in Volvo’s history to be available stateside. The automaker also held a patent in the US for rear axle bushings that compress under load, giving the 850 passive rear steering.

Two other major innovations were the integrated side impact protection system and the self-adjusting belt reel. In fact, the 850 was the world’s first production car with side airbags. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the car as the fourth safest on the US market at the time.

What engines did it have?

One of the standout features of the 850 was its introduction of a transverse five-cylinder engine, a departure from the longitudinal engines commonly used by Volvo at the time. This innovative engine configuration allowed for better space utilization and improved handling, and paved the way for the development of the company’s future engine designs. The 850 was available with a wide range of engines, including turbocharged variants, and power of up to 250 horsepower. The 2.5-liter diesel, meanwhile, was regarded as one of the most durable engines at the time.

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Did it sell well?

A total of 716,903 cars from the 850 series were sold during the vehicle’s six-year production run. Just 2,039 of those had all-wheel drive with only 309 produced with the steering wheel on the right side. Interestingly, the sedan and wagon models had an almost equal share of the sales.

The Volvo 850 remains a beloved youngtimer in automotive history, celebrated not only for its sleek design but also for the technological innovations it introduced. From its transverse five-cylinder engine to its commitment to safety, the 850 set new standards for Volvo. Standards the firm kept evolving during the next decades of making cars.

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