The Swedish automaker Volvo AB doesn’t make a minivan. With its 1995 Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon, it figures it doesn’t have to.
Based on a controlled test by Motor Trend magazine of the 16 fastest cars under $50,000 sold in North America, the turbocharged Volvo wagon was the eighth quickest.
Its top speed was 152 miles per hour. That not only makes it the fastest station wagon sold in North America, but maybe the fastest sold anywhere as a mass-production vehicle.
“Our buyers are generally those who owned sports cars in the ’80s,” said Ward Lamon, Volvo specialist for Tom Wood Volvo. “Now they have need for a minivan or a station wagon for family reasons, and the 850 turbocharged station wagon gives them their sports car performance.”
What makes this 850 so unusual it that a wagon design generally is not associated with performance motoring. And the station wagon body shape is hardly the epitome of aerodynamic air flow.
Nonetheless, Volvo’s Turbo Wagon is a “haulin”‘ set of wheels. You could understand its 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds time if a five-speed manual gearbox was on board, but a four-speed automatic is the only way this thing comes.
In addition, the seven cars that were faster were two or four passenger sports cars. And with the exception of the Mazda RX-7’s turbo twin-rotary engine, all were six or eight-cylinder powerplants that were bigger than the 850’s 2.3-liter five-cylinder engine.
The Turbowagon is a derivative of the Volvo 850 Turbo Sedan, with ensuing body modifications to make it a station wagon. With the squared- off back end of a wagon creating what must be considerable air drag, it is not hard to visualize what the heart of this vehicle is doing in the way of developing power.
The engine is an in-line 5 that carries twin-overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The 2.3-liter engine is actually 2,319 cubic centimeters, or 141.4-cubic inches, not exactly monster size when compared to the 350-cubic inch V-8s the wagon was up against.
Volvo rates the engine at 222-horsepower. According to Lamon, a limited-edition T5R model is rated at 240-horsepower, “and by making a little change in a (computer) chip it goes to 270 (horsepower).”
For all its power, the engine demonstrates a relatively flat torque curve, with the acceleration coming on from as low as 2,000 rpm engine speed. That’s not a whole lot above idling speed, so the wagon will lean you against the back of the seats when leaving a stop light.
While the Turbo Wagon is a bonafide fire breather, driving the thing in a normal manner is just as simple as driving an economy car.
There are three driving modes, economy, sport, and winter, where the automatic starts in third gear under slippery conditions. Select your mode. Then just put the thing in Drive and steer.
The suspension on the Turbo Wagon leans a little towards the firm side without being stiff. With the turbo boost up, pinpoint accurate steering keeps the vehicle going in the right direction. And at urban speeds, the ride is quite comfortable.
Volvo hasn’t neglected the utility or comfort and convenience aspects of this wagon. There is plenty of room for five adults. And the back seat not only has shoulder harnesses and headrests for the passengers but also splits 60/40 and folds completely flat for added cargo capacity.
Total cargo space is 58-cubic feet. So while the Turbo Wagon may be a rocket ship it still performs yeoman duties.
The wagon is also a well-lit vehicle, both front and rear. In front is a daytime running light; in the rear is a fog light plus a pair of taillights that extend from the roof to the bottom of the rear cargo door.
The real safety feature, however, is standard side-impact air bags that complement the frontal dual air bags. “This is the only car in the world currently in production that has side-impact air bags,” Lamon said.
The bags arefitted on both the driver and front passenger seats, and their effectiveness is not dependen t up the position of the seats.
Pretty much everything is standard equipment on the Turbo Wagon: air, power, cruise, and the like. If you want to get fancy, you can order burled-walnut instrument panel trim, leather upholstery, an eight-way power seat with memory, a cold weather package, and electronic climate control.
But those extras will not make you go any faster. All you need for that is the basic factory model.
1995 Volvo 850 Turbo WagonBase price: $33,090Type: Front engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, station wagonEngine: 2.3-liters, DOHC in-line 5, 20 valves, fuel injected, 220- horsepower, 221 foot-pounds of torqueTransmission: Four-speed automaticMileage: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highwayAcceleration: 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds (6.6 seconds in T5R mode)Top speed: 152 mphWheelbase: 104.9 inchesLength: 185.4 inchesWidth: 69.3 inchesHeight: 55.7 inchesCurb weight: 3,387 poundsOptions: Leather, Nordic weather package, headlight washers/wipers, traction control, 8-way power seat, burled walnut trim, electronic climate control, sport suspension