(Tom Hagin believes safety sells cars these days, and knows that all
Volvos have state-of-the-art safety items. His dad Bob says it's ironic
that the new 850 version has the heart and soul of a performance car,
but its major selling point is that it's safe in a crash.)
TOM - Volvo continues to use safety as its main selling feature and
this new 850 comes with nearly every safety device available today. It
has anti-lock brakes (ABS) and side-impact protection, as well as four
airbags in front - two built into the dashboard, and two more positioned
into the sides of the front seats. These are part of Volvo's Side Impact
Protection System which includes steel beams inside each door to
strengthen against forces coming from the side, and if an impact occurs,
the side airbags will inflate within 12 milliseconds.
BOB - Selling a car on its safety features is a lot like selling
life insurance, Tom. Underlying it all is the specter that something
"bad" has to happen before you know it's working. And in the case of the
Volvo 850, dwelling on its safety aspects tends to negate the fact that
this car is really a great performer, despite its dignified exterior.
Our version of the 850 used a transverse-mounted 2.4 liter inline five
cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.
The standard version puts out 168 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque and
comes with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic
transmission. The automatic costs almost $1000 more and has three drive
positions, Economy, Sport and Winter/Wet which locks out First and
Second gears for easier take-offs when the road is slippery. Our test
car had this setup, but I personally would have liked to try the
stick-shift model, just to be able to make a comparison. And maybe the
folks at Volvo will let us try the hot-rod 850 Turbo soon. The power is
pumped up by another 50 horses and I'll bet it's a stormer.
TOM - That car also comes with tighter handling suspension
components to compliment the boost in performance, which is available
with any of the 850s. It's a $700 option and gives more road feel and
lots better handling. The rear suspension is really interesting too, and
also adds a lot to the handling. For lack of a better description, it
seems to be a "semi-independent" system that uses long interconnecting
suspension arms that are almost like the swing axles of those old
British race cars. They allow the rear wheels to toe-in slightly on a
hard turn, which neutralizes the car's natural tendency to understeer,
or plow through turns. It also helps to keep the maximum amount of
rubber firmly planted to the road.
BOB - With all that safety and performance comes a lot of real
comfort. Even the standard 850 we tested came with items like air
conditioning with dual controls, cruise control, power windows, door
locks, radio antenna, and power heated outside mirrors, a tilt and
telescoping steering column, AM/FM cassette stereo, and super plush
upholstery. Volvo also puts daytime running headlamps on all its cars,
plus a rear fog light that's just a bit brighter than standard tail
lights. And 850 buyers can get traction control, which reduces wheelspin
on slippery surfaces such as ice, by using the anti-lock brakes to cut
power to the offending wheel. I'm not sure if these should be considered
safety or performance items, maybe they're both.
TOM - Volvo must be pretty confident of those safety features, Dad.
Besides the usual four-year/50,000-mile warranty, all of its new cars
come with a million dollar "Accidental Loss of Life" insurance policy
that stays in effect for the first four years of ownership.
BOB - Even from its earliest days here with its 444 models in the
'50s, Volvo has made cars that were nearly unbreakable.
TOM - Not according to your friend John Regis. He tells me that you
did a pretty good job breaking the engine of his '59 Volvo 122 you
worked when you were a young mechanic.
BOB - In my whole career, that was the only car I ever forgot to
tighten the oil drain plug on, Tom, and John will never let me live it