The button didn’t do much. This is a mid-’90s Volvo, after all. Sport mode only allowed the engine to rev higher than usual, so you could get more power out of the engine before the transmission would shift into a higher gear. But being a 16-year-old boy in a car with a sport button is like having a button that adds an extra two inches to your manhood, and I was dead-set to ring all 168 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque out of that engine. It was a far cry from a track car (though the 850 wagon was moderately successful in BTCC during the ’90s), but for a boy in rural Wisconsin with a license still warm from the printer, the 850 performed above and beyond the rest of the high school parking lot.

For a boy in rural Wisconsin with a license still warm from the printer, the 850 performed above and beyond the rest of the high school parking lot.

The car’s weight — what some would consider to be a weakness — actually made it great for driving shenanigans. Handbrake turns, a staple of entry-level hooning, are easy to do in a heavy car like the 850 — pull into an empty parking lot, turn off the TRACS traction-control system, pull the handbrake and let the car do a near-complete 360. In the winter, crank the wheel all the way and step on the gas: instant snow donuts. Find a long stretch of road and the car could hit 60 mph in 8.7 seconds. This kind of hooliganism isn’t exclusive to the 850, but it was easy to do in that car, and all the while mom and dad knew you would be safe in the event of a wreck because you were driving a damn Volvo.

And that is what made the 850 great. Not only does a sensible Swedish car keep both parent and child satisfied, it gives the car a hint of understated cool. The 850 hides its attributes behind a family car facade, but it doesn’t keep those aspects entirely secret. In other words, it isn’t a try-hard. Teens hate try-hards. A municipal, mildly luxurious, safe car that belies its inner recklessness: that’s the recipe for a teen dream.