20 September 1996

NEW 850 TDI IS FAST AND FUN TO DRIVE TOO

In this months Country Car Andrew Faulkner mixes

it amidst the family set in Volvos TDI estate while David Cousins drives the impressive Peugeot 405 replacement, the imaginatively badged 406.

We also look at the various options in the pick-up sector

PANIC! Car in front stops suddenly; brakes on; rubber squeals; impact inevitable; and – wait for it – BANG.

As metal kisses metal, given the choice, a fair chunk of motorists would probably name Volvo as their ideal home. Safety and the Scandinavian firm have become almost synonymous in recent times – in fact so much so, that some of its lesser known engineering trumps go almost unnoticed.

Take the 850 TDI, launched earlier this year. For years, diesel diehards among the Volvo set have had to put up with the lethargic, indirect injection engine, still found in the 940 TD. With the 850s Audi-sourced diesel, these diehards now have a rather more fiery alternative.

Stepping from 940 into 850 really is a giant step. Though still available, the 940 TD now looks sadly outdated with its archaic live rear axle and indirect thumper of a diesel motor. It may have the edge on price over the 850, perhaps a soupçon more room, but thats about it.

Suspension set-up and front-drive alone give the 850 a completely different feel. Where the 940 is wallowy and vague through bends, the more sure-footed 850 is firm, positive and belies its estate car body. Add all that to the five-cylinder Audi diesel motor – well, theres simply no comparison.

So impressive in the six-speed Audi A6, the German direct injection engine loses little in the more spacious 850: Top speed of 125mph; fuel returns of 40mpg+; and a max torque figure of 214lbf ft – just 3lbf ft off the petrol-powered Volvo T5.

Transfer from Audi donor to Swedish recipient has not been completely painless, though. Engineers have had to turn the motor through 90 degrees to slot it into the Volvo bays transverse set-up and that, along with different approaches to insulation, may account for the big Swedes extra noise at low revs.

It also loses out through the driveline. The Audis six-speed is smooth and gives a complete match of ratios across the accelerating band, along with a long-legged top. With only five slots on offer the Volvo feels less urgent.

The verdict: A genuine flier, the 850TDI puts past and present Volvo diesels to shame. It retains traditional shell strengths such as safety, space and high mileage comfort, but adds real driving pleasure.


VOLVO DATA


&#8226 Model: Volvo 850 TDI estate.

&#8226 Price: £22,500 to £27,350.

&#8226 Engine: 140hp, five-cylinder turbodiesel.

&#8226 Top speed: 125mph.

&#8226 0-62mph: 10.1secs.

&#8226 Test fuel consumption: 39.7mpg.

&#8226 Insurance group: 12/13.

Hybrid vigour, diesel-style. Volvo 850 TDI packs Audis 140hp diesel under its hood to give 125mph top speed and returns of 40mpg+. Inset: Distinctive 850 back-end dons the TDI badge. Prices range from £22,500 to £27,350.