The Swedish Sleeper Sedan: Volvo 850 R

The premise of this weekly column is that it’s fun to search for cars on a limited budget.  Since many consumers find themselves looking in this price range, I’m here to help you spend your money.  

The only rule here, is that there are no rules — (just kidding):

  1. The car must be listed on or,, or
  2. It must be for sale by the time this article comes out or not.
  3. It must be under $5,000, or it might be more.
  4. Bonus points for enthusiast cars and Volvos.
  5. It must be for sale in the United States (local in DC is best).
  6. Creativity (I know it when I see it) is welcomed or you can be boring, it is just not as fun.
  7. I’m open to submissions,, but I’ll probably ignore them.

NOTE: Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware.  This is not an endorsement of this particular car for sale.  I have not driven it nor do I know the seller.  Especially if it’s a Scandinavian car, I hold no responsibility if it breaks down. 

I grew up in a small town in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.  So small in fact if you are from a neighboring town, you might not know that it exists.  Owning a wagon from Sweden was common to people in my town, but if you grew up elsewhere a Volvo might be foreign to you.  Just like my little town was unknown to even those nearby, the Volvo 850R is a daft sports car that many people overlook.

The Volvo 850 R is a car nerd’s dream come true.  It checks all the right boxes: practical (four doors), racing heritage, quirky styling, comfortable seats, sporty suspension, turbocharged five-cylinder engine, and you can convince your spouse that it is a smart buy because it’s “Volvo safe”.

The Volvo 850 R definitely checks the sporty box.  Its front mounted 2.3-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder engine put 240 horsepower to the front wheels.  That’s close to the horsepower output of Ford Focus ST, but Volvo was doing this twenty years ago.  Every car nerd needs a Scandinavian sleeper that annihilates all automobiles at traffic lights.


The Volvo 850 R was a punk rock superstar.  It was different, if you drove one in 1996 you where either an English professor at Bard or the CEO of a organic orange juice company.  Buying a Volvo 850R in 1996 showed that you wanted to be different, but you also wanted a car that had an racing edge.

The Volvo 850 R had a racing bloodline.  Ask any enthusiast about the Volvo 850, and the first image that comes to mind is a Volvo 850 station wagon in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship on two wheels going around a corner.  It’s an iconic image and bold statement from Volvo.  Don’t underestimate a Volvo wagon.  It gave every oxford comma obsessed east coast english professor street credibility.

Volvo BTCC on two wheels

Twenty years later most english professors have sold their Scandinavian sleepers, and have become bargains in the used car market.  The bad part is the second owners were not english professors, they were young kids who always dreamed of having a hotrod Volvo.  Finding one that is well cared for is a challenge.

This weeks winner I found on Craigslist, and you can see it HERE.  It is a 1997 Volvo 850R in Burke, Virginia, close by if you live in DC, if not they aren’t super hard to find on your local used automotive website, yet.  The seller says he is the second owner and he is asking $4,100.  So it meets our 5,000 dollar budget and gives you $900 when something goes wrong.  Because something is bound to go wrong with a twenty year old Volvo.  It has been “modded.”  It looks like the owner cranked the boost up to increase horsepower, upgraded the suspension for better handling and even improved the brakes.  With those upgrades that makes this a Serious Swedish Sports Sedan.