Torque talk

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First impressions of our long-term Volvo 850 T-5 are much as we expected. Some might not call it pretty, but beauty is more than just bodyshell deep

The Volvo 850 T-5: a top speed in excess of 140 mph, a power band wider than the Surrey section of the M25, 0-60 mph in around seven seconds and now appearing on loan from Volvo UK as a part of the Motor Sport fleet.

I first fell for the T-5’s charms over a year ago. It’s not so much the outright statistics which appeal, handy though they are if you want to see the eyebrows of inquisitive passengers hit the roof-lining. It’s the extraordinary tractability of one of the world’s finest Q-cars which appeals most. Only the wheels of our metallic aubergine test car, the first T-5 estate we have driven, look even remotely funky. The rest is just Sweden’s familiar, angular and functional finest, the self-same silhouette which still attracts sneers and jibes from those who think a Volvo is closer to a truck than a performance saloon. The words ‘misguided’ and ‘preconception’ spring to mind.

Bereft of the optional, factory-fitted TRACS, which curbs a not unnatural tendency for 225 bhp to provoke wheelspin below 25 mph, you do have to be delicate with the throttle. Apply the power e-e-eever-so-gently and avoid trampling on the pedal until the car has settled on its way out of a corner. There is a means of traction control. It’s called your right foot.

The front end’s capacity for waywardness – and we have, on one gruesomely soggy occasion, experienced wheelspin in third gear – is really the only germ of complaint. And even that can be easily contained, without having to resort to the aforementioned traction control device beneath your right shin. Thanks to the breadth of the torque spread (it sustains 221 lb ft all the way from just below 2000 rpm to just above 5000), you simply shift up a gear. Wheelspin in second? Use third. Wheelspin in third? Use fourth. Either way, it will pick up smoothly and pitch you forward with suitable urgency. And a lovely noise, to boot. When pressed, the in-line five sounds fantastic, in much the same way as similarly-cylindered Audis used to.

If a front wheel does briefly lose traction, it doesn’t feel terribly dramatic from the cabin, though such a moment did prompt a bus driver to flag me down and report that he thought the nearside front wheel was loose, which it wasn’t… One presumes a pattering front left looks more alarming than it feels.

Thus far, our custodianship of the T-5 has been nothing other than a cruise. The only problem at the first (3000-mile) service was that somebody had parked a stolen Ford Transit across the entrance gate at Tamplins Croydon’s service reception, which necessitated some creative use of the pavement. Lesser 850s don’t need to be seen until 10,000 miles, but the T-5 requires a couple of precautionary checks. The oil is changed and the manifold re-torqued, and the cost is all covered by warranty. The cost of servicing won’t become apparent until its next scheduled visit, at the 10,000-mile mark, which should be achievable within our six-month tenure.

Obvious plus points include the extreme comfort of the cabin, with its (optional) leather seats, the efficiency of the (standard) air conditioning unit and the usefulness of the central rear armrest which converts into a child’s seat. It’s simple enough that a three-year old can operate it, and owners of small families won’t need reminding of the convenience of not having to lug extra seats from car to car several times per week.

Fuel consumption fluctuates noticeably. London traffic’s negative effect on economy brings weekly use down to around 20.7 mpg; throw in a couple of lengthy motorway trips and it rises to about 28.8. In theory, it should easily be possible to cover around 450 miles on one 16-gallon tank, but urban necessity has thus far restricted me to around 350, at best. As partial consolation for its city thirst, it does at least run on cheaper unleaded fuel.

Thus far, the T-5 has done nothing to dispel the hugely favourable impression we gained from our initial road test (February 1994). Fast. Discreet. A nice place to be. And financial outlay over the first 3000 miles has been minimal: £10.58 to repair a slow puncture, and, just in case. £46 on a set of snow chains, in response to an unsubstantiated rumour started by Radio Five…