Among the wannabe classics out there, the 2.3-litre five-cylinder turbocharged Volvo 850 T5 of the mid-1990s and its T-5R and R offshoots are the real deal.
They were the most powerful cars Volvo had produced at that point in its history, a claim given extra emphasis by the company fielding a pair of 850 estates and saloons in the British Touring Car Championship from 1994 to 1996. Admittedly, they differed from their road car brethren in being powered by a 2.0-litre, non-turbocharged engine producing 286bhp and driving the front wheels through a six-speed sequential gearbox, in place of the production cars’ choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ’boxes.
No matter. They showed that more than just building safe and secure cars, Volvo could build exciting ones as well. To ram the point home, the T-5R road car was available in yellow. Today, in estate form and in this colour with a manual gearbox, it’s the most sought after of the three hot 850s. Naturally, importers have spotted an opportunity and, as this is written, there are a number of 1995 N-reg T-5Rs and the later Rs imported from Japan for sale at prices starting from around £7000.
But all this talk of T5s, T-5Rs and Rs is confusing so, to begin, the T5 was the first hot 850. Available as a saloon and estate, it was launched in 1993. Its turbocharged 2.3-litre five-pot motor produced 222bhp, good for 0-62mph in 7.3sec. A torque limiter in first gear was designed to contain wheelspin (the 850 is front-wheel drive) but even with a steady driving style, you’ll be lucky to get 10,000 miles from the front tyres.
The T5 was quick but, apart from the presence of a discreet boot spoiler, didn’t look it. Not so the T-5R that replaced it in 1994. With its side skirts, sportier bumpers, 17in titanium grey alloy wheels and the choice of yellow paint (it also came in green and black), this is the version that changed people’s impression of Volvo, more so when they discovered its overboosted 237bhp engine could propel estate and saloon versions from zero to 62mph in just 6.9sec.
Porsche helped with tweaks to its suspension and the design of the interior, which featured dark grey leather, synthetic suede and wood inlays. Just 400 examples came to the UK but they were enough to prepare the way for its successor, the even more powerful R of 1995.