Swedes' Automotive Specialness Shows in 1996 Volvo 850 Turbo
Aukofer, Frank, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Swedes are special, especially when it comes to building automobiles.
This sparsely populated Scandinavian country, where the sun dominates in the summer but barely appears in winter, still produces two of the more prestigious nameplates in all of autodom - Volvo and Saab.
Both manufacturers could be likened to ragtime music. There's a syncopation that is always just a tad off the beat of the mainstream.
For example, both carmakers still cling tenaciously to turbocharging, at a time when competitors have largely abandoned the technology in favor of extra cylinders and additional valves.
And Volvo, of course, stubbornly continues to offer cars that look like finely chiseled gift boxes instead of the mobile jellybeans that constitute the design cliche of the day. However, the Swedes do occasionally make minor gestures toward trendiness. Volvo did that a few years back, and to its utter astonishment came up with one of its biggest success stories.
It was the 850 model, thoroughly Volvo in almost every respect, save one. It had front-wheel drive.
That was truly revolutionary. For all of its years, Saab was steadfast in its dedication to front drive. But Volvo was equally determined to direct the power to the rear wheels - in much the same manner as its two hidebound German competitors at BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Somehow, a front-drive virus insinuated itself into Volvo, and the 850 has become its most successful model, accounting for almost 68 percent of its sales in this country.
That is despite the fact that some 850 models cost about the same as the flagship 960, which has rear drive but is a wonderfully refined, modern automobile - equal to and, in some respects, superior to the 850.
So the main conclusion is that American buyers are infatuated with the front-drive layout. But there may be more to it than that. …