Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on cool Volvo cars (Not their SUVs)- The 850 T5R and the newest cool Volvo - the S90 & V90

Recently Volvo unveiled the wagon version of the also recently launched S90. The V90 is a beautiful, beautiful station wagon that is what I remember Volvo cars were like, big, boxy and full of presence. And they were basically cars. There were no SUVs back then, we had family saloons and wagons basically. Both the S90 and V90 are stunning but they are actually very much a three box design with its edges rounded off. This is actually much like the Volvos of the 1990s. An era where Volvos were still popular everywhere in the world including here in Malaysia. 

Once upon a time, Volvo was famed for its safe and utterly box-like or brick-like 240, 740, 940 series of cars. Everyone who was an uncle or a fuddy duddy actually wanted one. It exudes safety through its brick-like shape and Volvo marketed the 'S' for Safety word to the hilt. Volvo marketed safety to such an extent that I envisioned all Volvos to be tanks. This was basically what a Volvo was until the arrival of the Volvo 850. Then they became slightly rounded tanks that were now very fast. But Volvo decided that they had to make a point.

It was in 1994 and this was the very start of Volvo making a point in order to attract the younger crowd. The 850 was the Volvo that was entered into the very popular at the time British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). In fact the people at Volvo did have a wicked sense of humor as they entered the 850 station wagon into the BTCC. People were actually shocked to see it happen, but actually welcomed the rounded brick into the battle with BMW, Toyota, Alfa Romeo and Vauxhall. It brought something different and it actually made the 850 a cool Volvo to have. Especially the wagon. Some of you may remember watching on telly Rickard Rydell driving the 850 on two wheels after flying over the curbs. Never has a brick felt so cool to drive.

In 1995 things really went a up level in terms of coolness. The very slightly rounded at the edges but still brick-like Volvo 850 (especially the wagon) gained an ultimate model. Volvo released an exclusive limited edition race-bred model developed in part with Porsche (quite surprising eh?) which they called the Volvo 850 T-5R. The T-5R was based upon the 850 Turbo which used the 2.3liter turbocharged engine but it had a special ECU, that added 1.3psi (0.1bar) to turbocharger boost pressure, giving the engine an additional 18 hp. The engine produced 250hp and 330Nm of torque in 5 speed manual form and slightly limited to 225hp (240hp on overboost) and 300Nm in 4 speed automatic form.

The car was one of the first few cars that came equipped with the then new Pirelli P-Zero tires. In those days, any car equipped with P-Zeros were considered as serious machines. We used to associate P-Zeros with the Ferrari F40 back then. They were bloody expensive and in the front wheel drive 850 T-5R (the 850 was the first large Volvo with Front Wheel Drive, suffered from serious wear up-front. So we basically knew the people that bought this turbo brick had tons of money. All of the tyre shredding was due to the over 300Nm of torque to the front wheels. Torque steer and massive wheel spin were the main culprits. But the T-5R was really fast for a Volvo, or for any car in the mid-1990s so this was a price you had to pay for the speed and power. The T-5R had a 0-60mph (97km/h) of 5.7 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 14.8 seconds and a top speed electronically limited to 249km/h. Extremely fast for a slightly rounded brick.

Only 5500 T-5Rs were produced worldwide, of which 2000 went to the US. Lucky buggers. The 1995 850 T-5R was limited in exterior paint color choices with the cream yellow and black variants its most famous colour choices. The black T-5R wagon was also nicknamed 'Darth Vader' as it looked like something the Sith Lord would take to the market for grocery shopping. It was manic and it was the first cool Volvo in a long long while. Cool in the eyes of petrolheads, and not hippy type dudes in flannel or cool with the uncle type of folk, okay?

Speaking of uncle folk, the Volvo 850 T-5R was also noted for its safety features. Volvo didn't want to alienate its older 'uncle'-like customers too. It was one of the first automobiles to have four airbags standard. It was also one of the first cars where Volvo introduction of daytime-running headlamps. Remember those Volvos in the late 1990s that had their lights on almost all the time? It actually wasn't something that caught on in tropical South East Asia and was dropped quietly soon after (but now notice that most manufacturers have the LED daytime driving lights in their cars these days!!!). It also also came with the first integrated child booster seat in the rear cabin.The T-5R was also the first sedan to have three-point seatbelts at all five seating positions.

The 850R follows thereafter. This was because the limited run T-5R was only produced for one year. In 1996 an unlimited 850R version was released which continued into 1997. This was the final year of the 850 moniker as Volvo facelifted the 850 and rebadged it in line with its new series numbers. It was called the V70 afterwards. But anyway, the 850R may not have been a limited production model but some say that less than 10,000 were produced making this quite a rare animal too. It still had the dark grey rims (but with a different design - see right above) of the T-5R. I believe the T-5R and the 850r were one the first production cars that actually used gunmetal grey coloured alloy rims. A motorsports cool looking brick.

It wasn't the looks about this car that made it cool. It really had the grunt to pull off its looks too. I remember driving on the North-South Highway in the late 1990s and a red Volvo 850R bombed past me. It was flying through the sweeping corner and it looked extremely planted. I was doing 110km/h at the time through the sweeping corner and the chap was easily doing 150-160km/h. Again I say, never had a semi brick-like wagon looked so utterly, utterly cool. Never had a Volvo looked cool in a very long time. In fact the last cool Volvo I could think of was the P1800 coupe that Roger Moore used as The Saint. A cool and slightly mad Volvo. Something unique at the time. Well maybe the 122 Amazon. But this was around the same time. Both were actually cool cars.

And they've finally come up with a very, very, very cool traditional Volvo again with the S90 and the V90. I mean these cars look superb from the photos inside (Look at that interior! It is all clean and that Birch wood finish and those leather seats look so inviting. Nice Ipad size touchscreen that does everything too - pic above) and out (look at those 'THOR' hammer headlights!!!). And note that these cars are based on the same architecture as the recently launched in Malaysia Volvo XC90 (Whilst the XC90 is helluva good looking, it evokes a more modern Volvo than the sedan and wagon – these hark back to an earlier era where a lot of Malaysian petrolheads can relate to). That SUV is also locally assembled in the T8 Hybrid spec, and there is talk that when Malaysia gets the S90 and the V90 the cars will be getting the same T8 specification.

This means they will have the T8 Twin Engine setup. A plug-in hybrid combining a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine with an electric motor generating a combined 410hp and around 640Nm torque. And boy, it is going to be one superfast super large saloon. And since it should capitalise on the Efficient Energy Vehicle policy, it will be priced to knock the socks out of most of its competition. If the XC90 is priced at around RM450,000, the S90 and V90 would be priced similarly. So much performance and so much good looks at a very competitive price.

Yes. Quite surprisingly boxy Volvo cars are now on my mind.

Rickard Rydell flying in a brick.....

Volvo cool The Saint used it.

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