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Turbo Terrific: 1996 Volvo 850 R Estate

Although Volvo survived for decades on a reputation for producing safe but conservative vehicles, the company demonstrated the ability to create some potent models. One such vehicle was the 1996 850 R Estate. It took family motoring to a new level as a station wagon capable of topping 150mph. Our feature 850 R is an unmolested survivor needing a new home. It presents well for its age, and it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to lift its presentation to a higher level. The Volvo is listed here on eBay in Reno, Nevada. The seller set their BIN at $7,000 but may be willing to entertain offers.

This Volvo makes a bold visual statement in its original Code 609 Bright Red. It is unclear whether it received any prior restoration work, but the listing suggests any work has been nothing beyond minor chip and scratch repairs. The panels are straight, but the best news is the lack of significant rust. The roof has four small spots, but all are smaller than a quarter. Otherwise, the exterior is clean, and the underside is rock-solid. The trim looks good, and the damage-prone front spoiler is free from cracks or other problems. The glass is flawless, and the Estate rolls on its original factory 17″ “Valon” wheels wrapped in new Bridgestone tires.

If you ignore the enormous wheels, there is little beyond a couple of subtle badges indicating this Estate is anything but ordinary. Lifting the hood reveals the 2,319cc five-cylinder B5234T5 powerplant that, thanks to the addition of Bosch Motronic 4.3 fuel injection, a Mitsubishi TD04HL-16T turbocharger, and an intercooler, sends an impressive 247hp to the front wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. Less than eight cylinders and a front-wheel-drive drivetrain configuration may not sound like the recipe for exhilarating performance, but this classic should storm the ¼ mile in around 14.8 seconds before winding its way to 155mph. If you’ve got a family you need to get somewhere quickly, this Volvo could be the perfect solution to that problem. The 850 R isn’t a one-trick pony because its enormous four-wheel disc brakes feature ABS, while traction control helps the driver avoid turning the prodigious power into useless tire smoke. As we will shortly see, these wagons can withstand incredible levels of abuse without causing grief, but this one has avoided that fate. It has always been appropriately maintained, and the seller says it runs and drives perfectly. It would make a practical daily driver, courtesy of its ability to comfortably return fuel economy figures better than 30mpg.

If this Volvo has a weakness, it comes courtesy of its interior condition. Some components have succumbed to UV damage, including the front seat upholstery, the tops of the door trims, and the dash pad. Sourcing replacement door trims and a pad from a pick-a-part should be possible because the 850 R’s are no different from the rest of the 850 range. The seat upholstery may prove more challenging, and an acceptable solution could be to buy and fit high-quality aftermarket slipcovers. After all, out of sight, out of mind. The rest of the trim looks acceptable, with the back seat and rear cargo area particularly impressive for a family wagon. As befits a European luxury model, this wagon comes loaded with safety and comfort features. The buyer receives a couple of airbags, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power seats, power mirrors, cruise control, and a premium AM/FM radio/cassette player/CD player. Everything works as it should, with no issues or problems.

If you are a fan of Top Gear UK, you may remember a TG Special from 2013 where the presenters attempt to locate the source of the River Nile. Each must use an Estate as their mode of transport, with James May choosing a Volvo 850 R. He cops some flack from his co-hosts over his choice, but it proves to be inspired. The cars receive fearful abuse, and all succumb to mechanical maladies at some point. The exception is the Volvo, with its only problem being a succession of flat tires caused by sharp stones on roads that were little better than goat tracks. That Special demonstrated the resilience of these wagons and why they command serious respect. This one isn’t perfect, but it has no immediate needs. If the buyer wanted to throw a cover over the dash and some slipcovers on the seats, it would require nothing. If an affordable family wagon is on your Wish List, this 1996 Volvo 850 R Estate deserves a second look.


  1. Avatar photo Bick Banter

    I had the same model in the same color combination a while ago. You have to watch out for the PCV systems and timing belts on these. The plastic PCV systems clog and cause pressure to build-up in the crankcase, which will cause oil leaks everywhere!

    He says the timing belt was replaced at a 133,000 miles. Interestingly, he doesn’t tell us how many miles are on it now. Or how long ago that was. So you might as well bank on replacing that asap because if it breaks you’re going to have a $7,000 paper weight.

    And unless I knew it was an OE Volvo belt kit, I would probably just replace it anyway. There’s a lot of cheap junk out there that’s made in China and doesn’t last.

    Also keep in mind that many of these have deferred maintenance. The values are not high and Volvo owners are notoriously frugal. So look at the maintenance records carefully

    Once I sorted out all the deferred maintenance on mine it was a decent car. It rode a bit harshly and it really wasn’t all that fast. Don’t let the R badge fool you. 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds or so. Decent, but pretty underwhelming by today’s standards.

    Parts are still fairly available from FCP and places like that. They can get expensive but mostly, you can get what you need, and the car can be worked on DYI if you know what you’re doing.

    Like 12
    • Avatar photo Slomoogee

      Bick is correct here. I’ve had numerous Volvos from 544s to my current stable of a C70, P2 XC, and my one year only P3 Rdesign V70. Maintenance is key and having the service records to back it up should be there. My Volvos all have an excess of 130,000 and have driven to over 200,000 with confidence.Parts are easy to source IPD can make them handle well and plenty of web support for DIY. If all checks out on this one it’s a steal.

      Like 5
      • Avatar photo FireAxeGXP

        Hey any chance you could post a pic of that Rdesign V70? I’ve heard of them but never seen one. I had a 740 Turbo wagon in the 90s and really liked it.

        Like 0
  2. Avatar photo Derek

    I had a dark green metallic manual one; was a T-5 but not an R. Leather interior and well over 200k miles. I wish I’d changed the timing belt; still kicking myself…

    Brilliant car, indecently fast for something so cavernous. The acceleration – foot to the floor – from 40-odd mph in second gear made me giggle.

    Like 3
  3. Avatar photo Dan L

    Lots to like here but one thing to consider is ride quality. I had a same year 850T wagon with a sport suspension. That thing rode so hard on all but the smoothest roads that we used to joke the car came with the Swedish Conestoga package. The R will be even more of the same.

    Like 3
    • Avatar photo Bick Banter

      I’m glad it just wasn’t me! It rode harshly, even after I put OEM replacement springs and shocks on it. I recall thinking that was very unbecoming of a Volvo product that, again, was not blisteringly fast.

      Like 1
    • Avatar photo $ where mouth is

      Ride quality, is a simple factor of tire quality and psi. Any car will ride harsh with psi too high. Im driving my V70R today and have had a Volvo most my life. I find the ride to be exceptionally smooth. If you have quality tires, NOT the stupid narrow and short sidewalls that for some senseless reason became a trend, try 38psi front and 36 rear. If your carrying people and cargo, increase rear to 40. Put some rubber on those wheels and get the XLs ;)
      Volvos are not the only ‘interference’ motor cars, neglict the belt, damage the motor.
      Volvo is the brand that started the whole recommended service intervals and from my years of Volvo-ing, and all the enthusiasts i know and have known, actually some of the lesser frugal car owners. They bought a Volvo intentionally and care to maintain it.
      So, typically a Volvo owner will keep records, its a Volvo tradition.
      The sport suspension is just that, so saying a Porche has harsh suspension is not a thing, nor should it be here. Speaking of Porche, these Rs were co-designed by them and built in their Belgium plant. These engines are easy to increase power and 5 cylinders are ideal reciprocating mass.
      Parts are plentiful and delightfully Euro made; if your a principle based consumer. The irony of this is Ford sold Volvo to china in 2010. Now more and more blue box parts are made there. In the 850/V70 world the aftermarket parts tend to be improved designs and Euro made.
      Those seats are part of the charm of an R, and that drivers seat is yucky. The upoltery comes off the seat fairly easy, so reupholstering isnt that big a deal.
      For a red 95, thats in exceptional condition.
      The power band is high, and the boost isnt off the line, it kicks in around 25mph, and from 25 to 100 its fast, and handles great, thanks to that tight suspension.
      Its for a connoisseur and spirited driver, not so much a family car.
      This car is all Euro built and parts, towards the end of one of the best car companies that is now gone.
      If you have the money, and like red, you cant go wrong here.

      Like 6
      • Avatar photo Bick Banter

        Well it certainly seems you know a lot about these. I mean, I just have a different opinion. I have owned and driven many performance cars. My 850R wagon rode about as harshly as any of them, and it was not tire pressure. I realize It is a sporting car but I just felt that was very surprising and of out of place. Just my personal view.

        You can get more power out of the engine by increasing the boost true. IPD and others offer an ECU to swap in and do just that. I would probably attend to the timing belt and PCV system first though.

        Like 2
  4. Avatar photo Martin Horrocks

    The 850 wagon was effectively raced in the UK’s Touring Car Championship. It was a marketing exercise which engendered huge publicity with good enough racing results as well, ensuring that the 850R is still remembered 30 years on.

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo Derek

      Aye, the joke thenabouts was that the Swedes had misheard and thought that they were entering the Towing Car Championship.

      Like 0
  5. Avatar photo douglas hunt

    I would love to have this as my backup/grocery hauler/bad weather daily instead of the beater minivan that currently serves that purpose …..

    Like 0
  6. Avatar photo MarveH

    The auto box is a complete buzz kill on this. I had an S60 R with the six speed manual, great car, would love to have another one but wouldn’t consider it or this with an auto.

    Like 0
  7. Avatar photo Stan

    155mph will get you to the ski 🎿 hill in a hurry, for 1st chair 💺. ❄️

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo dave Graham

    Any chance you could look at the history to see if the car was first sold by a Volvo dealer in Scottsdale AZ? I was the sakes manager there and we did the same wood dash that this car has. Thanks, Dave

    Like 0
  9. Avatar photo Bobdog

    This Volvo has 221000 miles on it (you can see the odometer it one of the photos) so if the belt was changed at 133K that’s 88K miles ago – I think they recommended to change the belt every 60K, but not sure. I wonder if the turbo has been changed, I’ve heard of these going out after 100K.

    Like 1
  10. Avatar photo seth

    current recommendation is 10 year or 100k miles.

    Like 0
  11. Avatar photo Bick Banter

    All 850Rs with this color interior came with this light birch dash trim. If the car had black interior, it came with a dark walnut wood trim. This is stock as mine at the exact same trim.

    Like 0
  12. Avatar photo Mitch

    A Volvo is a Volvo.
    The common problems i have seen on this old are
    The door retaining straps tear off the A-pillar, rusted away from
    the inside and their hinge springs for the straps break. (VW
    had that problem too on some models) To fix it weld the squared
    sheet metals that breaked out with a new and refit the hinge for
    the retainers on the a-pillar.
    But, this problem exists on many brands.
    Bright red is in general very sensitive to UV radiation. The paint
    becomes dull. Also seen on many brands. The 4 cyl is here the
    better choice.
    And 250 hp is fairly enough. The could be an upcoming classic
    as it lacks too much electronics but still built in fair quality.

    Like 0
  13. Avatar photo theGasHole

    Sold on “Best Offer Accepted”

    Like 0

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