Car reviews - Volvo - 850 - GLE 5-dr wagon
Safe, solid, roomy, comfortable, practical, durable, good to drive
Room for improvement
Thirsty when pushed, parts and servicing can be expensive
23 Jul 2003
VOLVO has always been known for the solidity, reliability and safety of its products.
The 122, 144, 244 and 740 and 760 series cars all shared these qualities but along with the positives there was a common criticism - lack of excitement - which caused Volvo cars and their owners to become the subjects of a generation of motoring jokes about hats, pipes and tweed jackets.
Even competition success, including winning the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1986, did little to dispel the dull image of the marque.
Realising an image change was necessary if the company was to capture a larger share of the prospering younger market, Volvo designed an all new model, the 850.
Radically different to previous models in many areas, the 850 represented a new approach - a fun to drive model that would appeal to less conservative buyers.
The 850 is a mid-sized car, available in a variety of models ranging from the 850 CD sedan and sportswagon, through a bewildering range which is topped by the 850 AWD (All Wheel Drive) five-door sportswagon.
The middle range 850 GLE Estate is powered by a 2.4-litre, five- cylinder, transversely-mounted, twin overhead camshaft engine which drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.
The car is built on an all-new platform which cost Volvo an investment of about $4 billion.
The suspension is also a departure from the past with MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front and Delta links - a complex system of trailing arms attached to a transverse sub-frame which acts like a torsion beam - and coil springs at the rear.
Brakes are discs all round, ventilated at the front, with an ABS anti-lock system. Steering is by power-assisted rack and pinion with 3.2 turns lock to lock.
The body shape of the 850 is a logical evolution of the 740 model but with a rounder and smoother shape.
The front incorporates the traditional square Volvo grille and the bonnet line is low. The wagon was designed as an individual vehicle, not an adaptation of a sedan.
The tailgate is hinged at the top and the rear lights are clustered in the rear corner pillar, high up to stay clear of road dirt.
Inside, the Estate has five seats. A rear-facing seat for two children can be added in the rear compartment.
All seats can be folded flat to form a large carrying area and the seating can be set up for one, two, three, four or five occupants. Rear seats have 60/40 rear split fold-down backs.
A safety net which prevents loads flying forward can be pulled out like a roller blind behind the rear seats. A steel version is also available for heavy duty protection.
Dash and instruments are clearly laid out with heater and radio controls in a cluster in front of the centre console.
Seats have lumbar adjustment and plenty of fore and aft movement for tall drivers. The steering wheel is fully adjustable and the trim is plain but serviceable.
On the road the 850 Estate is similar to its sedan equivalent in terms of ride, handling and performance.
The five-cylinder engine revs freely and is very quiet at highway speeds.
Performance is good but the engine needs to be kept spinning above 2500rpm for best results.
Handling shows the usual front-wheel drive understeer characteristics but the car is easily controlled in tight corners.
Ride is comfortable but the suspension is a little unsettled at most speeds, offering a slightly juddery ride.
Economy is quite good with an average of 9.5L/100km in a mixture of suburban and country driving.
Volvo is the world's largest maker of luxury wagons and the 850 GLE is a good example of why these vehicles are popular.
Plenty of interior room, seating for seven if required, good performance and handling, and a high level of safety make it a good choice.
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