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Volvo 850 T5 buying guide (1993-1997)

Volvo 850 T5 buying guide (1993-1997) Classic and Performance Car
Volvo 850 T5-R buying guide Volvo 850 T5-R buying guide Volvo 850 T5-R buying guide Volvo 850 T5-R buying guide Volvo 850 T5-R buying guide Do you love Q cars? If so, the Volvo 850 T5 will be right up your street because when it comes to stealthy performance cars, few can compete with the boxy Swede. Famously campaigned by Volvo in the 1994 BTCC, the 850 T5 and T5-R achieved miracles in transforming the Swedish company’s reputation.

Packing a Porsche-designed five-cylinder engine that produced a tyre-shredding 225bhp and 221lb ft of torque, the 850 T5 was as understated as they come. Yet here was a car that could despatch the 0-60mph sprint in just seven seconds – and it could also get from 50-70mph in top gear faster than a Ferrari 512TR.

Things got even hairier with the even more powerful T5-R. This special edition was even more powerful and hence even quicker, but apart from a set of 17-inch alloys and some more noticeable spoilers, there still wasn’t much to give the game away.

All that power going through the front wheels takes it toll though. Tyres don’t last long and fuel consumption can be pretty horrific if you wear lead-lined boots. Servicing and insurance can also be costly – although classic cover can slash the cost of the latter if you shop around.

Which one to buy

The estates are ultra-practical and even more understated than the saloons; they’re also the ones most likely to have been used for towing caravans and trailers or carting stuff about, so be particularly wary if you take the five-door route.

The T5-Rs are more sought after (and much rarer) than the T5s, and while they’re not really any quicker in the real world, as the ultimate incarnation of the breed they’re also the 850 variant with the most potential for collectors in the long term.

All cars came with a decent array of equipment; even entry-level S models got a six-speaker radio/cassette, five head restraints, headlamp wash/wipe, heated door mirrors, remote central locking and electric front windows. The SE adds electric rear windows, the GLT comes with leather trim, traxction control and an electric glass sunroof while the CD features a trip computer and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat.

Tech spec - Volvo 850 T5 estate

Engine 2319cc,5-cylinder
Power 225bhp @ 5200rpm 
Torque 221lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Top speed 149mph
0-60mph 7.2sec
Consumption 30mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual

What to look for

• Volvo wrote the rulebook when it comes to rustproofing, so don’t expect corrosion anywhere. However, poorly repaired crash damage is another matter, so check all panels gaps very closely, especially at the front end.

• Also check the car’s underside, particularly if you’re looking at a T5-R. These sat 30mm closer to the ground than the regular T5, so a scraped underside is a distinct possibility; scrutinise the exhaust system especially.

• Engines are tough, but turbos can fail, especially if oil changes are skipped or the blower hasn’t been allowed to cool down before being switched off. Look for blue smoke emanating from the exhaust and on the test drive see if there’s a push from 2500rpm; maximum boost should kick in at 3000rpm.

• The electronic throttle module can fail, resulting in misfiring and a lack of power. Rev the engine to 4000rpm then release the throttle; if the engine doesn’t fall smoothly back to idle, the module needs to be replaced.

• Make sure the timing belt has been replaced within the last five years. It’s not a difficult, costly or time-consuming job if you do it on a DIY basis.

• The top engine mount can fail, but it’s not hard to replace. If the car has been driven for ages with the mount having failed, further damage might have been caused, but otherwise it’s just a question of seeing if the powerplant moves around a lot under load, then replacing the mount.

• Look for signs of lubricant leaking from the back of the engine, as the main oil seal can fail. Seals are cheap, but replacing it means splitting the engine and gearbox, so the labour bill can be high.

• Many of the cars available have the four-speed automatic transmission. It’s a competent gearbox, but doesn’t add anything to the driving experience as it’s not especially slick. It is reliable though and cars with this gearbox tend to have better engines as they haven’t been revved as much.

• The manual gearbox produces a better driver’s car and it’s a strong transmission too. You’ll pay more for a manual T5, but not much more and any premium is worthwhile because it’s so much more fun to drive.

• The suspension and brakes have a hard life as the 850 is a heavy machine. While there are no weak spots as such, drive these cars as intended and it’ll take its toll on pads, discs, dampers and springs.

• Time can also take its toll on the self-levelling suspension (where fitted), so load the car up and see if the suspension reacts as it should.

• Worn tyres are a fact of life for T5 owners, so see how much tread is left; you’ll be doing well to get much more than 10,000 miles out of a set of front tyres.

• Most T5s have air-con but it was optional on the earliest models and it’s a must-have feature. It also needs to be working; some systems have packed in by now and can cost £1000 to fix, so check everything works as it should. The condenser sits in front of the radiator and can get punctured by stones.

Model history

1993: Volvo 850 2.3T launched, with 225bhp 2319cc five-cylinder engine. There’s a choice of four-door saloon or five-door estate and five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearboxes.
1994: The 850 T5 is launched, with the 2.3T engine and a choice of trim levels (SE, GLT or GLE). The 850 T5-R saloon and estate also makes their debut, with 240bhp. Just 200 come to the UK, with either yellow or black paintwork.
1995: The trim levels are amended so they’re now S, SE, GLT and CD. The 850R appears, with 250bhp, traction control and (on estate cars only) self-levelling suspension.

Key clubs and websites


Words: Richard Dredge
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Last updated: 22nd Apr 2015
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