Above all, it should be noted: in a 1991 Volvo has been well maintained, it will run forever. If maintenance has been shoddy, all bets are off. That said:
I love this car. This thought runs through my head all too often while driving - whether because of surprising uphill pulling power, filling the back of the wagon with an astonishing amount of stuff, or the general comfort of the ride. That's saying a lot, the 240 is not really anyone's idea of a comfortable, powerful car, but from the correct perspective it is nothing short of a treat - nothing about the car should inspire confidence or excitement, but the 240 is full of surprises.
Right off the line, the 240 is a bit of a lazy beast. 1st gear gets the car moving, and you have to wonder if the 4 cylinder is up to the task. The 5 speed hits its stride around 35 though, with plenty of big, lazy power. This car will never spin its tires, but it keeps up with traffic perfectly well. A 25 year old wagon has no business going 100mph on the interstate, and it only adds to the confusion that the 240 is so stable and assured at that speed. Fast highway cruising benefits, no doubt, from the 3000 lb curb weight. It feels heavy and european, like a poor man's Mercedes. This heavy comfort applies all around - cruising the main strip, a weekend jaunt on curvy 2 lane highways, you are reminded that this car is definitely NOT a sport coupe and yet...and yet...it feels so *good*. Heavy, smooth, surefooted. Strangely like a very low pickup truck, but somehow different. Better. The rear wheel drive is great, absolutely amazing in snow. This is where half of the TANK comes from.
The other half is pure build quality. The car is solid, overbuilt to hell, full of big clunky metal parts. It isn't unfair to say the car is full of simple 1970s engineering, but here it is a compliment. In our modern era of puffy plastic lozenges, a spare, hard, pure steel box stands out both for its unusual, utilitarian appearance and brilliant security. This car will take a thrashing, and come out running like a champ. Volvos have saved countless lives - yes, safety technology has come leaps and bounds since 1991, but these are the cars that safety standards were once measured by. You know someone (or at least someone who knows someone) who not only lived through a horrific wreck in a Volvo, but walked away. Repairs are easy for even the most rudimentary shade tree mechanic - with a Bently manual and a metric tool set in hand, almost nothing is off limits. I replaced my own timing belt in an hour and a half in a parking lot - thanks to more smart, simple Swedish engineering, a broken timing belt does not ruin the engine. It's nothing more than a nuisance, a protracted inconvenience.
On the downside, these inconveniences increase with age. The legendary engine may run for upwards of a million miles (and beyond, again, with good maintenance), but in that time plastics become brittle, electronics corrode. The fuses are idiotic in placement and execution, the tail light contacts require almost monthly upkeep to avoid a ticket, some relays will burn out and introduce a cascade of electrical gremlins. As a tall person, I take some issue with the size of the cockpit. I fit, I've become used to it, but there isn't a ton of room. The 3rd row seat, while novel, is in the rear crumple zone - a significant rear-ending may not limit the Volvo's ability to limp home, but it may easily kill anyone seated in the way back.
But the bottom line is that if you are patient, your expectations are realistic and you have a AAA card on hand, a Volvo will be your friend for a long, long time. We have a hyundai for quick jaunts to the store. Its fast & easy, but has been in the shop far more than the old beast.
My 1991 240 has 195,000 miles. It has reached the point where I wonder every day whether it will even start when I try to leave for work. Recently, it simply stopped running and left me stranded on a rural highway. I've used up all of my AAA tows for the year and it's only June! In the past month alone, I've spent over $1200 in major repairs, with more to come (that I know about.) I'm trying to survive on part-time work due to unemployment and I can't afford this car.
Power windows still work (today)
Since it hasn't been manufactured since 1993, this seems rather pointless
This is the fourth 240 I've owned and the first wagon. I love the car. It's comfortable, safe, reliable and it drives well. I got this one from a doctor that owned since it was new and he had the engine replaced in June of 2008. The reason I bought it was because the engine he had put in came from another 240 and had only 31k miles on it (certified). When I picked it up he had put 8k on it, so it's a 1991 240 wagon with a 240 engine that has only 39k miles on it. I'll be driving it 20 years from now. I also have an all wheel drive 2002 Passat that I use when it snows heavily, but when I have a choice I choose to drive my 240.
Sure she's slow to speed up, but once she's at or above 55 she flies with the best of 'em. I have 250,000 miles on my '91 240 and will probably put another 250,000 on it. Never left me stranded, still getting 25 mpg and this old girl is holding up with the garbage streets of New York. The paint still shines like it just came out of the dealership. Added a hitch, will drag a trailer with no problems. I don't believe there has ever been a tank built to match the 240. Way to go Swedes!
Heated seats and ice cold AC
Driver's right side arm rest. Vehicle needs a cup holder.
I love my wagon. Easiest car to work on. Plain and simple. I've driven it 300K miles and its still going strong. Yes, its not the fastest car on the road, but how many Ferraris have enough miles to encircle the earth over 15 times? None. How many Porsche's have 375K mile and are roomy enough to go camping in? none. For some one who wants a reliable car that has utilitarian attitude, the Volvo 240 wagon is THE car.
TIGHT turning radius; tight enough to turn around on a residential street without backing up. Reliability that is legendary. Easiest car I have ever worked on. Would be a great first car. Very comfortable.
Honestly the only things I would improve are technical things about the engine.(camshaft, belt driven fan, etc.) but those are easily changed. Same with the suspension. Volvo designed it to be comfortable, not sporty. Can be made sporty easily. Look for rust when buying on the east coast. Thanks Tom