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The Volvo 850R Was the Lesser-Known 1990s European Performance Sedan

Here’s a fact for you: Volvo made a high-performance luxury sedan in the 1990s with the same horsepower as the BMW M3. That’s hard to imagine today, as Volvo would have to be making a 450-hp version of the S60, but back in the 1990s, they did it.

Admittedly, this was more a function of the M3’s unusually low hp rating at the time (240) than some ultra-fast Volvo. But I still like thinking about a mid-1990s Volvo that was fast, fun, exciting and largely unknown.

The Volvo I’m talking about here is the 850R, which was sold from 1995 to 1997. Actually, it was sold from 1996 to 1997, because Volvo called it the “T5R” in 1995. Generally speaking, it was the same vehicle with the same powertrain and only some cosmetic differences. And in my opinion, it was very cool.

Here’s an overview: The Volvo 850 came out in 1993 as Volvo’s first front-wheel-drive car. It was a new time for Volvo, and the manufacturer intended to enter a different league or class of vehicle, given the amount of money they spent developing the 850. In 1994, Volvo debuted the 850 Turbo, which had unprecedented power for a Volvo: 222 hp, which was 30 more horses than the top BMW 3-Series at the time.

For 1995, Volvo upped things even further, debuting the T5R, which later became the R. Both had 240 hp and around 220 lb-ft of torque, and both had subtle but welcome modifications to their exterior styling that gave them a handsome, sporty look. The 850 was always a bit hamstrung (at least in terms of performance) by its FWD roots, so it never competed with the E36 M3 on a race track. But it was still a cool and special performance luxury sedan from the same era — and I always liked it.

If you, like me, are interested in these things, there always tends to be one or two listed for sale on Autotrader. Find a Volvo 850 for sale

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  1. “…so it never competed with the E36 M3 on a race track.”
    Not quite true. Volvo competed against BMW and other makes in the British Touring Car Championship from 1994 with an 850 estate and won the championship in 1998.

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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