Volvo T5: Howling Engine, Plain Brown Wrapper

Volvo and Performance are not really two synonymous terms. Volvos have always been (well, until recently) square cars for even more square people.  Tough engines, comfy seats, angular styling - great for hauling the kids to soccer practice, not so great for hauling ass.  Right?  Well, this guy begs to differ:


As it turns out, if you roll up next to a Volvo 850 at a stoplight and it sounds like an angry chainsaw, you probably shouldn't race it if you want to escape with your dignity intact.  Domestic Muscle guys have been learning this lesson the hard way for years. Now, to be sure, Volvo made some quick cars before the T-5 motor came out.  The 740 Turbo wagons in the 80's that could run nose-and-nose with a Porsche 944 come to mind.  But it was really the introduction of the 850 Turbo in 1994 that the world began to think of Volvos as something more than Professor-mobiles.

The T5 has been around for quite a while now, and it seems it's still got some health in it.  It's appeared under the hood of all sorts of performance vehicles, both obvious and not-so-obvious.  For instance, if this pulled up next to you at the timing lights at a drag strip, would you expect it to be able to put out 300 horsepower to the wheels with bolt-on modifications?

Probably not.  But while the T-5 has come wrapped in a series of slightly different plain brown wrappers, it's always been a beast of an engine.  It was a good enough starting point that Volvo started with a wagon like above, and ended up with this in the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) in 1994, with the engineering help of TWR.

The original T5 was a sleeved-down version of Volvo's 2.4L B525 inline-five, which was first introduced in the 850 in '93.  To cope with the heat and pressure of turbocharged combustion, the T5 received thicker cylinder liners that reduced the bore from 83mm to 81mm, while the stroke remained the same at 90mm.  The compression in the T5 dropped a full two points, from 10.5 to 8.5:1.  When this motor first came out, it had impressive power figures: 222bhp at 5200rpm and 221lb-ft between 2000 and 5200rpm, which was a useful bump in output compared to the regular (2.4 20v) 850's 168 and 162.  By comparison, a '94 BMW 325i was making 189, a Maxima had 190, a Taurus SHO had 220, and the Saab 9000 had 200 in Turbo form and 225 in Aero form.

More than just the power output, though, the T5 was a fun, characterful motor to operate.  Because of it's odd cylinder count it had a raspy growl to it that was unlike anything else out there (besides the UrS6, which was on it's way out of production.)  After 1999, the five-cylinder gained throttle by wire as well as variable valve timing on the exhaust cam, and power grew again - to 236 horsepower and 243lb-ft of torque.

Volvo also sold a number of higher-output T5's during the engine's hayday.  The first was found under the hood of the limited-production, ridiculous-looking 850 T-5R sedan and wagon in 1995.  The Bosch Motronic ECU was retuned to allow "overboost" of an extra 1.3psi (11.0 up from 9.7) at wide open throttle for a duration of up to 30 seconds.  It used the same hardware as the normal 850 Turbo/T-5 but power output jumped 18bhp to 240.  Day-to-day driving would not show much of a difference as it only entered overboost in 2nd gear or higher.  The T-5R was 1 or 2 tenths quicker to sixty than a normal Turbo, but while regular models were limited to 142mph, the T-5R was allowed to spin all the way up to 155mph.

The T-5R was renamed the 850R for 96-97, and was mostly the same mechanically.  Regular 850 Turbos and 850R Automatics retained the Mitsubishi TD04HL-15g turbocharger, while manual-transmission 850R's (sadly a Europe-only option) got a larger TD04HL-16t and a remapped ECU good for 250 horsepower, and 285lb-ft (up from 243 in the automatic.)

When the S70 replaced the 850 in '98, the R model got a useful boost in power as well.  Sold in very limited numbers in the US, the V70R AWD was Volvo's first performance 4WD car.  While the 98-99 R AWD used the standard (236bhp) T5 motor mated the XC's AWD system for 98 and 99, the '00 V70R received another engine upgrade to further boost performance.  The TD04-16g was out, and a much larger TD04-19t was in.  Power was up to 261bhp and torque remained at 258 lb-ft, making this the most powerful factory T5 besides the S60R's motor.

The ultimate evolution of the T5 (at least with a Volvo badge on it, as we'll see) was found under the hood of the 03-07 Volvo S60R and V70R AWD.  Forget about the 4-C variable chassis, huge Brembo brakes, four-wheel-drive, space-age cabin - the S60R had a monster of an engine.  A full 2.5L, this was the last of the really stout T5 motors.  It had all sorts of tech goodies it's regular cousins didn't - for instance, infinitely variable valve timing on both cams.  The R had a totally redesigned exhaust manifold that flows much better than the original T5 unit (and in fact is a popular upgrade for older T5's) which was important, because the R used a big honkin' Borg-Warner KKK K24 instead of the TD04 unit.  It breathed it's 14.7psi of boost through twin side-mounted air to air intercoolers, past improved hard piping to the intake manifold.  Power output was up considerably: an even 300bhp and 300lb-ft of torque with the six-speed manual, although only 258lb-ft with the earlier 5-speed automatic.

Completely stock, an S60R AWD with the manual would do a 5.5 second 0-60 and 13.9 at over 100mph in the quarter - not quite as fast as an M3, but not as expensive, either.

The T5 gradually evolved into two families over it's lifetime, even though the badging remained the same.  When the new-style S40 came out in 2004, it didn't share much in common with the old engine besides cylinder count.  This new engine had a wider bore (83mm vs 81mm) and a longer stroke (93.2mm vs 90.0mm) and ran lower amounts of boost on a smaller, quicker scrolling turbocharger, making it stronger on the low end and less peaky than the old T5.  Another change was a switch to a turbocharger integrated into the exhaust manifold itself, rather than bolted on - a bit of a bummer if you wanted to actually upgrade your T5, as the stock turbo does not flow a lot of air on these new T5's.  Power output was originally 218 horsepower, although as we will see, later applications made more.  A lot more.

See, Ford of Europe took an interest in the new T5, mainly for platform-sharing reasons.  The 2nd-generation S40, C30, C70, et al shared their basic underpinnings with the 2nd-generation Ford Focus and the 1st-generation Mazda 3.  So when Ford was thinking of what engine to put under the hood of their Focus ST, the natural choice was the Volvo T5 that already fit under the hood.  Of course they called it a Duratec 2.5, but don't be fooled - it's all Volvo there.  The Focus ST (as well as the Mondeo 2.5 Turbo.)  Power output was nearly identical - 217 in the Mondeo, 222 in the Focus ST.

So it's no coincidence that if you read the spec sheet of a 2009 Ford Focus RS, it looks... suspiciously identical to the spec sheet of a 2003 Volvo S60R.  Hmm.

2003 Volvo S60R AWD2009 Ford Focus RS
Engine2521cc Inline-Five Cylinder, Turbo2521cc Inline-Five Cylinder, Turbo
Bore/Stroke83.0 x 93.2mm83.0 x 93.2mm
ValvetrainDOHC 4v/cyl, 20vDOHC 4v/cyl, 20v
Compression Ratio8.50:18.50:1
Torque400nM (295lb-ft) @1950-5250rpm440nM(325lb-ft) @ 2250-4500rpm

The final send-off to the Focus RS was the limited-production Focus RS500, which had an engine upgrade kit engineered by Mountune.  With a larger intercooler, downpipe, high-flow fuel pump, a new airbox, and an ECM retune, the RS500 had an extra 40 horsepower and 14 lb-ft of torque.  Although Ford tried to play it off like the only way you could get this engine was in an RS500, you could just buy the kit from Mountune and install it on your regular Focus RS.  This has got to be the least-exciting looking 40 horsepower I've ever seen.

So, the Mountune... uhh... tuned RS500 was the most powerful production T5 produced, and in fact the most powerful 5-cylinder engine put in a production passenger vehicle.  (Take that, Audi!)  After the Focus RS leaves production, the T5 is being basically abandoned as a performance engine, taking up that middle-range spot in the new Volvo S60 between the turbo 4 and T6 motors.  Ford is moving on to it's own smaller EcoBoost 4-cylinders, which have comparable power output with less consumption and emissions.

So, with the T5 gradually losing it's relevance in the marketplace as a "hot" motor (the S40 and relatives have their T5's tuned to run a lot like the old 2.4L "low-pressure-high-torque" motor), where does that leave the enthusiast that wants a heaping helping of juicy turbocharged 5-cylinder power?  Why, the aftermarket, of course!


As you can see, a stock T5 is fast.  A T5 with a Garrett GT35 is insane.  The 5th gear pull in this car is just plain alarming.  And just for reference, this one's a wagon.

The big name in Volvo tuning has been, and I figure will continue to be, iPd USA.  iPd has been making aftermarket and maintenance parts for Volvos since the 60's, and they're still the best in the business.  A good first performance step for the T-5, as with an fuel-injected turbo engine, is an ECU "reflash."  As I'm sure you know, an ECU reflash changes basic engine map parameters to make more power.  In the case of the T-5, iPd ups the boost from 10psi (stock) to 15psi on the stock turbo and injectors, as well as fiddling with timing and injector values.  Combined with an exhaust, they claim a jump in power from 236bhp to 285bhp, and 243 to 290 lb-ft of torque - not bad for a box full of electronics!  They also have a bunch of other goodies on offer, including a 3" stainless downpipe with high-flow catalyst, heavy-duty ignition coils, heavier wastegate springs and boost control solenoids, MSD ignition coils, etc.  The real whammy is the iPd Stage III upgrade kit, which is a comprehensive bolt-on performance kit that produces some serious power. (Shown above).  iPd's Stage III demonstrator also had some other performance goodies, including an S60R exhaust manifold, the Reverse Intercooler Piping Kit, water/methanol injection, and a fully reworked chassis.


The main part of the Stage III kit is the larger TD04HL-18T turbocharger off the European-market R model.  With the 3" downpipe and the iPd exhaust as well as a custom-tuned Stage III ECU, the kit is good for 300+whp on stock internals, injectors, all that.  iPd also has a slew of other individual upgrades for a T5, including phenolic intake manifold spacers, a 30% larger drop-in intercooler, a reverse intercooler piping kit (which lower intake temps at the throttle body by 12°C and allowing more boost on the same timing), a polyeurothane top motor mount... you get the point.  If you're looking for one-stop shopping to make your T-5 quick, iPd is a good place to start.

Tuning house EuroSport also offers upgrades for Volvo T5's as well, including Forge BOV kits, dowpipes, exhausts, RICA tunes, intake setups, and a snazzy carbon-fibre valve cover (geez!)  VMS (Volvo Motor Sports) offers additional upgrades for the T5, including heavy-duty shot peened H-beam connecting rods for old or new style T5's, a choice of big intercoolers, and a big damn GT3076R turbocharger with an internal wastegate for making serious power.

If you want more info on tuning a T5-engined Volvo, there's a great write-up on the Turbobricks Forums.  Forum support for Volvos is one of the upsides of owning one, as they have a large and highly fanatical fan base that knows every in and out of these cars.  Also check out the forums at Swedespeed, Volvospeed, VolvoForums, and of course The Brickboard.


While looking for suitable T-5 videos, I came across the user JCViggen1 on Youtube.  Despite the Saab user handle, he has a track-prepped 850 T-5R that he flogs fairly reguarly on the Nurburgring.  Check out some of the "fast" machinery he's passing on this wet track day at the Nordschliefe.  And people think Volvos are slow!  Just listen to that monster spool up.

Hopefully this trip through T-5 land has helped to brush aside any preconceived notions that Volvos are for boring old people.  Then again, hopefully it hasn't.  More sleepers for us!


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