ROCKLEIGH, N.J. -- Exciting is not a word people normally associate with Volvo, a car company best known for safety, durability, and longevity. But, exciting was the word which summed up the reaction of automotive journalists throughout Europe when they attended the introduction of the new 850 GLT in Gothenburg, Sweden. The 850 GLT is a totally new front-wheel-drive, mid-size Volvo. It is an extremely efficient package and has been designed to satisfy the car enthusiast in everyone.

Joseph L. Nicolato, President & CEO of Volvo Cars of North America, Inc. stated that the newest member of the Volvo product line would have a significant impact on the image of Volvo in North America when it arrives this fall.

"The lively performance and excellent handling of the 850 GLT will definitely bring new customers to the Volvo showrooms," Nicolato explained. "The decidedly sporty character of the 850 will appeal to a group of people who would never have considered a Volvo previously!"

There are a myriad of new developments in the 850 GLT, but three demand special attention -- the drivetrain, the rear suspension and the safety systems. In each of these areas Volvo has pushed the envelope of automotive technology. Volvo established the initial parameters for the new car project in the early eighties and turned it over to the engineers In 1986. By the time the project was completed, many unique design solutions and four patents would become part of the newest Volvo.

The drivetrain of the 850 GLT is unique and was developed to satisfy a combination of packaging, performance and safety objectives. To achieve the best interior space utilization while reducing exterior dimensions, front wheel drive was chosen. Mounting the alloy engine transversely produced a desirable 60/40 weight distribution, and allowed the engine to help distribute the energy from an offset frontal crash across the width of the firewall.

To achieve the desired level of performance, a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder could easily be placed transversely in a front-wheel- drive car. But, this would not have delivered the smooth operation they were after. A 5-cylinder, 20-valve engine was the ideal powerplant in terms of output and smoothness. Volvo developed such an engine as a part of a modular light alloy engine family which included inline 4, 5, and 6 cylinder variants. The compact 5-cylinder powerplant produced 168 hp @ 6200 rpm. With the help of a variable inlet manifold, the engine has 90% of its maximum torque available from 2000 to 6000 rpm.

The transverse mounting of the engine posed other engineering challenges. The combination of the inline 5-cylinder engine and Volvo's demand for a short turning circle left little room for a transmission. So, the engineers set out to develop an ultra-short 5-speed manual and a similarly short 4-speed automatic transmission. The design solutions they came up with are unique in passenger cars. The manual transmission uses three main shafts instead of the traditional two. This design is employed in some exotic race cars because of its compactness and inherent strength. The 5-speed manual transmission is built by Volvo in their own factory. The electronically controlled 4-speed automatic also employs an extra shaft to achieve its compact dimensions. Equipped with sport, economy and winter modes, the automatic is built in Japan by Aisin-Warner. The compact transmissions allowed the Volvo engineers to keep the turning circle down to 33.5 feet. The Volvo engineers also wanted to eliminate "torque steer," an unpleasant characteristic found in many front- wheel-drive cars during hard acceleration. This goal was also attained thanks to the use of equal length outboard driveshafts. Most people driving an 850 GLT will not be able to tell it is front-wheel-drive.

At the rear of the 850 GLT is another unique development, the Volvo patented delta-link rear suspension. The name comes from the geometry of the two major components in the system, which resembles the Greek letter delta. The suspension system is semi-independent and combines the advantages of a live axle with those of an independent system. It is comfortable, quiet, and stable.

The rear wheels are mounted on the ends of two long trailing arms which are joined at their forward end by two parallel transverse arms. Over bumps, the wheels can work independently with virtually no changes in camber. The anchorages for the trailing arms are two large elastomeric bushings which provide controlled movement of the axle in response to cornering forces. This gives a very responsive driving feel and excellent stability under hard driving conditions. In medium and high-speed cornering, the effect is similar to four-wheel steering without the complexity. An innovative and technically elegant solution from Volvo.

The area of safety has its own news in the 850 GLT. As in all Volvos, the basic unit body is all welded steel with a robust safety cage surrounding the occupants and energy-absorbing structures front and rear. These systems are designed to help absorb or dissipate the forces of a crash while keeping the passenger compartment as intact as possible.

The 850 GLT has been designed from its inception to incorporate Volvo's patented Side Impact Protection System. This advanced design utilizes reinforced Bpillars and reinforced roof rails and door sills, as well as tubes running through the front seat cushions to resist side impacts. When a side impact does occur, the crash forces are spread throughout the vehicle structure and passenger compartment intrusion is minimized.

All five seating positions in the Volvo 850 GLT are fitted with three-point inertia reel belts. The front two are equipped with another unique design, a self-adjusting reel which is located vertically in the B-pillar. Its spool is about twice as wide as the width of the belt, allowing the belt to automatically adjust to the height and seat adjustment of the occupant. This means that the belt is comfortable, convenient, and effective. The 850 GLT will have pyrotechnic seat belt tensioners and air bags for both driver and front seat passenger!

'The most distinctive aspect of the new 850 GLT is the most difficult to describe on paper,' according to Nicolato. "It's the way the car drives! You don't need to drive it very far to realize this is a truly exciting automobile. I believe it will appeal to many people who previously would never have considered a Volvo."

Both as a whole and in the smallest detail, the Volvo 850 GLT is a car designed and developed with the driving experience in mind. It is spacious and efficient. It provides an outstanding level of safety, and it is a pleasure to drive. In other words, it is exciting! The 850 GLT is truly a car for the nineties and very much a Volvo.