ROCKLEIGH, NJ -- Surveys show that when you ask the typical driver what words he associates with the name Volvo, they are safety, durability, and longevity. In the not-too-distant future, this vocabulary will be expanded. The introduction of the Volvo 850 GLT this fall is likely to evoke words like sporty, agile, exciting, and even fun to drive!

The 850 GLT is not simply a new Volvo, it is an entirely new kind of Volvo. It is new from bumper to bumper. And, it is also about eight inches shorter between those bumpers than its stable mate, the Volvo 960. It is front-wheel-drive and its responsive 168 horsepower, 5-cylinder engine is mounted transversely. The transverse mounting provides optimal weight distribution, safety, and plenty of interior space. In order to accomplish this, Volvo engineers were forced to design both an ultra short automatic and manual transmission. They rose to the challenge, producing a pair of innovative new designs. Even the rear suspension of the 850 is a patented Volvo design unlike anything else found in cars today. Its semi-independent design combines excellent ride characteristics with outstanding road holding and performance.

The 850 is definitely a very different kind of Volvo. Yet, its appearance masks some of its radical nature. As you walk towards it, there is no mistaking the fact that the 850 is a Volvo. But, it is noticeably smaller, sleeker, and more aggressive.

The characteristic Volvo grille is somewhat reduced in size and neatly integrated into the forward sweep of the hood. The bumpers are body colored and flow into the overall body design. An expansive glass area allows excellent visibility and keeps the car's appearance light and airy. The wheels and tires are mounted very close to the surface of the body adding to its taut appearance. Even the wheels for the 850 are new. Cast of aluminum alloy with a six-spoke design, they complement the other sporty elements of the 850's styling.

When you open the door to enter the 850, you will notice that the door skin is a one-piece stamping. It is smooth, solid, and very well finished. Sliding into the driver's position, you are greeted by one of Volvo's famous, orthopedically- designed front bucket seats, power operated, of course. Sitting in the driver's seat, one immediately notices the "cockpit like" feel of the interior. Large round gauges with white numerals on black backgrounds are well located and easy to read. All switches and controls fall easily to hand. One simple lever allows the tilt and telescope steering wheel to be positioned exactly where the driver wants it. The control for the power seat is easy to use and needs to be set only once. After that, your personal driving position may be entered into one of the seat's three memories.

Turning the key quickly brings the 5-cylinder, 20-valve, Volvo built engine to life. Its idle is smooth with extremely low levels of noise and vibration. From an engineering standpoint, an inline 5-cylinder design has much more in common with a 6-cylinder than it does with a four, this contributes significantly to its smooth operation. Volvo engineers have mounted their new engine on hydraulic engine mounts in a separate subframe to minimize the transmission of any vibration into the passenger compartment.

Press in the clutch and slip the 5-speed manual transmission into first gear, and you are ready to go. It's at this point, when the 850 starts to move, that you know for sure you are in a very different kind of Volvo! its acceleration is brisk and it pulls strongly through all of the gears. This is due in part to Volvo's variable inlet system which utilizes a dual path intake manifold to keep the engine's torque output relatively constant throughout an extremely wide range of engine speeds. The passenger compartment is not absolutely silent, but the sounds that enter are pleasant and muted.

Approaching a corner in the 850 is a joy. This is a car that wants to be driven, A light touch on the brake pedal quickly and effectively adjusts your speed thanks to four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering provides precise road feel and keeps the steering effort under control. As you start to corner the 850, its unique Delta-link rear suspension system comes into play. The Delta-link system includes a pair of deformable, elastomeric linkages which allow the rear axle to shift in response to the cornering forces. This movement of the rear axle makes the car very willing to turn. Its effect is highest at the beginning of a turn and diminishes as the turn continues. It is not a complex four-wheel steering system, but rather a mechanically elegant design which simply and effectively gets the job done.

The ride quality of the 850 GLT has a notably European flavor. It is firm but not jarring and allows the driver to have a good feel for what is happening on the road. A fifteen minute drive in an 850 will convince anyone that this is a truly new Volvo. Its sporting character is unmistakable. For all of those people who believed that Volvos were dull and boring, a short ride in this car will remove those preconceived notions forever. One has to ask, however, what did Volvo give up to achieve this level of sportiness? Has the company traded away safety engineering, durability, reliability? The answer can be summed up in one word, no!

The 850 is without a doubt the most advanced safety vehicle Volvo has ever produced. In addition to energy-absorbing structures in the front and rear, the unit body of the 850 was designed from its inception to include Volvo's Side Impact Protection System. SIPS helps to direct the energy of a side impact across as much of the car's body as possible, limiting passenger compartment intrusion and reducing the forces reaching the occupants. In the 850, two tubes run transversely through the front seat cushions. In the event of a side impact, these tubes transmit the force from the door across to a SIPS box located in the center of the car. This structure will absorb more of the crash forces. Depending upon the severity of the impact, the crash forces may then be transmitted across the opposite seat and out to the far door of the car. These transverse tubes in combination with the robust Bpillars and reinforced roof and doorsills provide a fully integrated side impact protection system. The 850 already meets the side impact protection standard which will be required in all cars sold in North America in 1997.

All 850s will be equipped with both driver and passenger side air bags, and front seat occupants will be restrained by three-point seat belts with pyrotechnic tensioners. Another unique development in the 850 is the B-pillar mounted seat belt retractor reel which automatically adjusts the shoulder belt height to suit the occupant. All three rear seat positions are equipped with three-point self-adjusting seat belts and head rests. The center seating position has an armrest which quickly converts into a booster cushion for children of 50 - 80 pounds.

You might ask why a front-wheel-drive Volvo? Volvo engineers asked the same question. When they developed the design parameters for a new Volvo, two of the key criteria were to build a smaller overall automobile and to give up no interior space. Virtually the only way to accomplish this is through the use of frontwheel drive. But Volvo engineers were not really front-wheel-drive enthusiasts. Over the years, they had developed a series of handling parameters which would allow cars to be very predictable. Volvo cars are designed to behave at the limit of their performance in very much the way they do during normal driving. While Volvo engineers were well acquainted with achieving this in rear-wheel- drive cars, they wondered if it could be done with front-wheel drive? After a great deal of work, the answer turned out to be yes. When you drive an 850, it is likely that you won't be able to tell which end of the car is driving. The steering is light and responsive. There is virtually no torque steer. And the understeering characteristic associated with so many front-wheel-drive cars is not apparent in the 850.

You might ask, if the 850 is so different, who is likely to buy it? The sporty nature of the 850 will probably make it attractive to people who are somewhat younger than today's Volvo buyers. Its front-wheel drive should make it attractive to owners of Saabs, Audis, Acuras, and other front-wheel-drive cars. Also, Volvo's research indicates that the 850 should appeal to people older than today's Volvo customers. These people are the "empty nesters" who no longer need the roominess of a Volvo station wagon. It would appear that the 850 can really enhance Volvo's business base in North America.

The one element not mentioned thus far is price. Volvo intends to make the 850 GLT competitive in price as well as performance. At its introduction late in October, the 850 GLT will be priced in the mid-twenties, offering an exceptional value for the money.

Agile, exciting, sporty, and fun to drive? If you are still having trouble using these words in the same sentence with the word Volvo, it is time for a test drive. A trip to your Volvo dealer this October may provide the most interesting ride you can have outside of an amusement park!