The Volvo 850 was introduced worldwide as a 1992 model, but arrived in the U.S. in the 1993 model year. It was sold as a sedan with a wagon model on sale from 1992 in Europe. The 850 was the first Volvo model in the U.S. to feature front-wheel drive and an all-aluminum 20-valve five-cylinder engine. The 850 was Volvo's top-seller in the mid-1990s. In markets outside the U.S. a 10-valve variant of the five-cylinder was popular for its lower cost and better fuel economy.
All U.S. 850s received standard equipment such as dual front airbags, antilock brakes, head restraints and three-point seat belts for all passengers, power windows, door locks, and mirrors, cruise control, and dual zone climate control. Side torso airbags became a world first when introduced as an option for 1995. Some other options during the model run included features such as traction control, leather interior, power glass moonroof, power seats, heated seats, remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, and automatic transmission.
The 850 sedan features a remarkable interior space of 2.80m³ (99cubic ft). This is slightly more than the 2.78m³ (98cubic ft) of the 2004 Mercedes-Benz E-Class even though the car is reasonably compact on the outside. This space is achieved by mounting the in-line 5-cylinder engine transversely (from the left to the right of the car) under the hood. The road-holding and handling are vastly improved over the previous rear-wheel drive Volvos.
The 850 Turbo Wagon is one of the fastest production station wagons in the world, capable of 250+ km/h (160+ mph) when ungoverned. Production models of the wagon and sedan are electronically governed to approximately 142mph (229km/h). In 1996 a "Platinum" edition of the 850 Turbo was available. The exterior paint for these models came in a metallic pearl platinum-color and had special 16-inch (410mm) alloy wheels. The interior was fitted with leather seats and burled walnut accents. Only 1500 of these were imported for the U.S. market.