Used 1997 Volvo 850 Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

The Turbo is now known as the T-5. GLT models get a new engine that makes 22 more horsepower than last year, and peak torque at a low 1,800 rpm. Base and GLT models meet Transitional Low Emission Vehicle (TLEV) regulations this year.

Vehicle overview

Somebody in Sweden loves you. This must be true; why else would the people at Volvo spend so much time guaranteeing passenger safety? The 850 boasts an impressive array of standard equipment that is designed to ensure your safety: daytime running lights, antilock brakes, optional traction control (TRACS), dual airbags, side-impact airbags, fog lights, fixed head restraints, an integrated child-seat (wagon), and a wet weather automatic transmission system are just some of the goodies that Volvo included in this car to keep you and your loved ones out of the emergency room. Indeed, all of these safety features can leave passengers feeling as if they are cruising around town in a well-appointed tank.

The driver, however, will know that the 850 is anything but tank-like. Steering is snappy and responsive. Braking is so effective that it takes some getting used to. Gauges are easy to see. Unlike many of this Volvo's American and Japanese competitors, there is nothing extraneous about this car. Even back seat passengers will enjoy the luxury of the 850; there is plenty of room for two six-footers. Cargo space in the sedan is cavernous, liftover height is low, and the trunk includes a handy pass-through to the passenger compartment that nicely accommodates a pair of skis. The wagon's cargo area is so huge that it could easily carry all of the possessions of a new college graduate. Our problem with the 850's interior? Dashboard controls appear to have been placed according to some obscure automotive chaos theory. Either that, or stylists were enjoying Finlandia shots during interior design day.

The 850 is available in four trim levels. Base models are the only ones that can be equipped with a manual transmission. Uplevel GLTs receive a much needed boost in power for 1997, thanks to a new 2.4-liter five-cylinder that Volvo has wittily termed the High Torque Low Rev engine. Breaking from tradition and shattering brand equity, the Turbo model has been renamed the T-5 this year. Finally, the limited-edition R model returns for an encore. All trim levels can be applied to sedan or wagon.

When decked out in R trim, the 850 becomes something more than mechanical. Zero to 60 times in under seven seconds are unusual in a mid-sized sedan. Seventeen-inch tires should never be standard equipment for a family hauler. Indeed, Volvo has broken all of the rules with this sportster, including that dictating tastefully understated wood interior trim. The bleached-blond look of the R's Scandinavian Birch dash is horrifying. Pity the Mustang GT owners who are get dusted by "mom's taxi" in the stop-light drags.

For 1997, Volvo leaves well enough alone. Aside from the Turbo name change and the sweet new motor under the hood of the GLT, it is important to note that base and GLT models meet TLEV standards in California, Massachusetts, and New York. We have a question, though. The new GLT engine comes in two versions: one passes TLEV, and one doesn't. Both are the same size, have the same power, and offer the same torque. EPA mileage figures are identical. Yet, only California, Massachusetts and New York get the TLEV engine. Uh...why?

The Volvo 850 is a very nice car, particularly when its price tag is compared to other European vehicles with the same features. We think that anyone interested in safety, quality, and performance should take a long look at the 850, especially the newly stout GLT model.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.