Highly reliable, sporty luxury sedan
Front driver's side brake rotor warped around 149,000 miles.
Brake squeak developed in the last 2000 mile.
Wheel rub due to bumpy terrain produced minor, but very noticable wheel abbrasions.
Four tail light bulbs burned out in a week (Coincidence?)
Driver's seat belt latch failure (Stuck in locked position)
Passenger side hood latch shattered near 150,000 miles.
Front passenger window motor failed once due to faulty wiring.
Dome light switch broke. Needed to replace entire upper console.
Speaker rattle appearing in both rear doors (Getting worse with time)
Transmission mode selector wiring failure. Transmission stuck in "Sport" every so often (Not really a bad thing)
Oil leak due to cracked cover around 145,000 miles.
Engine support bracket found shattered one day a few months back. This may or may not have occurred in my ownership.
Ignition cable disintegrated when changing plugs. Replaced with Bosch OEM parts for $80.
While the list of problems developed during my ownership seems rather severe. On the contrary, it's actually incredible how *few* problems it developed.
My parents purchased this car for $100 as a temporary substitute for the Dodge Caravan we had (up until its lease expired) from someone who will be, for the sake of this review, called "The Destroyer of Vehicles". In the last ten years, he has gone through three or four vehicles, had his license revoked (or nearly revoked at least twice), and generally been incredibly demanding on his cars. Where he destroyed other cars in months, the Volvo 850 lasted some five years.
Now, if I were to list all of the problems I had found with this car at the start, I'd end up reviewing the three other cars the last owner had sideswiped and rear-ended. In short, there are spots of paint all over, as well as a shoddy spray job covering the entire front end area, which was apparently damaged somewhat well in an early collision. But given that the shocks were shot, the oil had not been changed for some 30,000 miles, and that the engine was running on a single motor mount and three mis-matched tires, I'd say it is probably the most sturdy car I've ever driven.
Lets start with the interior. The cabin of the 850 is, of course, blocky and boxy, as in traditional Volvo style, but it very comfortably seated four adults, or two adults and three children. The front seats are simply the most comfortable I've ever had the pleasure of sitting in (Well, Second to those in a Saab Aero-S), and the tilt/telescope steering wheel allowed both me and my mother to drive comfortably (She has shorter legs, so needs to be closer to the pedals).
For me, the power moon roof really made the car. I got it with a broken A/C system (The evaporator on these cars has a tendency to leak and fail), and with a broken driver's window, I could only get air from up top. But boy, is moon roof amazing. The extra headroom is always nice, too.
Speaking of windows, the visibility on the 850 is superb. There is a minuscule blind-spot in the usual place, but for the most part, I had eliminated it with the proper mirror configuration. The roof-mounted rear view mirror offered a much better visible range than any windshield mounted one ever did, and was much more sturdy feeling (After breaking the last one off the mercury, I fear them :-) ).
Now, for the engine. I love this car's engine. While some people complain about the "Buzzy-ness" of it, I feel there is just enough at the upper levels to really give a good feeling of speed. The torque is OK at lower RPMs, but it starts hauling near 3500. There is a near-constant increase in power as the engine revs higher, leading the passengers to feel as if the car is truly flying at reasonable speeds. Personally, I think it's a great feeling.
While driving at high speeds, I always felt as if the brakes and steering were right at my command. They'd respond exactly as I'd expect them to do, and sometimes better! I'd say it handles like it's on rails, but the tires I have on it right now are god awful, and I've actually had situations where the cheap rear tires let go in turns, throwing out the back end to the point of nearly hitting barriers when lightly loaded. But this is not the car's fault.
One last note: One, dare I call "Undocumented Feature" of the car is the ability to relocate a number of switches and buttons. This is simply due to the nature of all of the dash/console switches being the exact same size and shape, with most of them popping right out with a slight tug. Because of this, I was able to reconfigure the layout of the switches to one I thought was much more convenient (Placing seat heater switches closer to the armrest, moving broken transmission mode switch next to the transmission (Later fixed, though), sunroof switch moved to an isolated section, and the headlight switch moved far out to the left side. Props to Volvo for an easy to work with interior! (Although points off for the bad steering wheel material).
I love my 850. I always will. Sadly, it did not pass inspection recently (Engine mounts were damaged by the engine running with one support bracket, I believe, and too much other general wear and tear that the last owner never noticed), but in the last year and a half, it served me well. Got great mileage and was a pleasure to drive. Yes, it leaked oil, and yes, it wasn't exactly fast, but it worked in all the right areas. In the future, I just may buy a T5-R. A Datsun 280ZXT is going to replace the 850 as a college car, but boy, was it a fine vehicle.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 30th June, 2003