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1995 Volvo 850

Driver training guru Charlie Goodman points out that if your

car goes 0 to 100 km/h three seconds quicker than his, you'll

get to Montreal three seconds before he does.

(You all obey the speed limit, don't you?)

Practical guy, Charlie. As are most Volvo owners. Which

suggests the 850 GLE (introduced last year) is a brilliant

marketing ploy by Volvo Canada.

By substituting a two-valves-per-cylinder, 2.4 litre,

five-cylinder engine for the 20-valve unit in the GLT, and

trimming equipment levels here and there, the company can offer

an 850 sedan or wagon for almost $7,000 less.

Canada only, I should add. The U.S. offers a base-level 850

without the GLE designation, but with the 20-valve engine and

different levels of equipment.

To see whether this strategy produces a car you can live with

in the cut and thrust of realworld driving, I tried 10 and

20-valve 850 automatics back to back, plus a manual gearbox

10-valve. (We were unable to round up Volvo Canada test fleet

models so our thanks to McMillanSaunders Volvo in Rexdale for

handing over the keys — brave, weren't they?).

The GLE produces 138 horsepower at 5400 r.p.m., versus 168 for

the GLT. The torque differential is even smaller — 152

poundfeet at 3600 r.p.m., versus 162 at 3200.

The ample torque, plus crisp throttle response and an

automatic transmission that lets the engine spool up quickly for

better than expected off-the-line grunt, gives the lesser engine

surprisingly good subjective performance.

A well driven manual gearbox car would be quicker on a

dragstrip, of course, but you need not fear freeway ramps even

in the automatic.

You'll want the three-position slushbox in sport mode most of

the time, which hangs on to lower ratios longer for quicker

full-throttle acceleration. (Economy and winter are the other

two options.)

The 20-valve is a more relaxed car to drive. Stoplight Grands

Prix are easier, onramps require less white-knuckle

concentration and you'll be on the throttle pedal less, which

may result in better fuel economy.

Indeed, Transport Canada fuel consumption figures give the

more powerful engine the nod.

But $7,000 buys a lot of gas.

The GLE is still a well equipped car, with heated seats,

headlight wipers, power locks, windows and mirrors, dual bags

and anti-lock brakes. The wagon comes with an integrated child's

safety seat.

The GLE has manual air conditioning versus automatic on the

GLT; steel wheels in place of alloys; manual height-adjustable

drivers seat, versus power; an 80-watt stereo rather than 100.

GLE options include a manual steel sunroof, as opposed to a

glass power roof that's standard on the GLT.

The GLE has undoubtedly stolen some sales from the pricier

GLT. But it gives Volvo an opportunity to land a customer they

might otherwise have lost to Camry or Accord.

That can't be a bad idea from their perspective, anyway.

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