The Volvo’s timber inlays are particularly anachronistic – as though plucked from the cast-off bins left lying around from TWR’s Aston Martin and Jaguar work. (The V70 R from 1997 got carbonfibre trim.)
The huge steering wheel can’t escape your view, again contrasting with its sporting credentials.
Perhaps Volvo couldn’t truly shake off its practical default.
There’s no denying the T-5R’s pace and power, though, and it doesn’t take too heavy a prod of the accelerator to push the balance beyond the grip of the front wheels and chassis, and leave the tyres audibly scrabbling for grip.
The turbocharged 2319cc unit in the 850 T-5R road car is very different from the naturally aspirated 2-litre engine in Volvo’s BTCC racer
The automatic ’box of our test car is certainly willing enough, happy to creep towards the redline when it feels you want it to, and it lazily but brutishly delivers its torque.
On smoothly sweeping roads the Volvo works and flows together perfectly well, but on anything less every bump ripples through the chassis beneath you.
The suspension verges on too stiff, but any softer and the understeer would be insurmountable, despite the balance brought by the engine being set so low down and far back in the engine bay.
As a result, the Audi appears so much more in sync with itself than the Volvo does, and that scientist’s ski trips must have been a breeze across the Continent.
The Volvo’s Titan five-spoke wheels are simple but effective
They would have been aided by the four-wheel-drive system’s ability to smoothly deliver traction, too, because there’s never a feeling that the suspension and chassis are anything other than working in unison.
With that comes a confidence that is rather more fragile in the Volvo, which is exacerbated by it being an automatic.
The earlier Audi gives away 80bhp to the 240bhp Volvo – later 200s were closer to 200bhp – and in a straight line there is little contest, but when the roads get interesting the chase gets, well, interesting.
With the Volvo’s cult-hero status set aside and the cars considered equally, the Audi would undoubtedly be the car to take again and again.
The Volvo 850 T-5R shines on smooth country roads