It is practically nothing short of a miracle that the car pictured above ever made it to my driveway. Here at The Garage, we waited with baited breath on the future of Saab. Owned by General Motors, Saab was for sale-and without a suitable bid GM was going to shut Saab down. Long neglected, and seemingly misunderstood by their owners, Saab’s product line had gone stagnant in a hyper-competitive market. Enter Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker, a tiny manufacturer of exotic cars. Although it was tense and drawn out, Muller eventually was able to buy Saab from GM.
And for good reason. when GM came begging to the US Congress for a loan, Saab’s new 9-5 was ready for production, but at the time no one knew if we would ever see the car. Rumors swirled that GM might let Saab die and keep the 9-5 for itself and rebadge it as a Buick. Thankfully that never transpired, and as a former Saab owner and enthusiast myself, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the slick new 9-5 being delivered to me.
And slick it is. The new 9-5 is every inch what you would want in a modern day interpretation of Saab style. I’m proud to report the 9-5 remains distinctly Scandanavien, with a design language unique to Saab, and not at all derivative of the German competition. Unique touches like the blacked-out A pillars and painted black capped side-view mirrors offer a cool, wrap around sunglasses look. An aggressive front end wraps around to a tight, clean and tastefully done body, ending in a distinct rear end with a unique tail lamp treatment that adds up to one impressive package.
Any Saab-phile will feel instantly at home behind the wheel of the 9-5. Familiar elements like egg-crate air vents controlled by joysticks and green-lit instrumentation are present and accounted for, but the starter button the left of the shifter doesn’t seem as weird as when you had to insert a key into the center console, as you did with Saabs of yore. In typical Saab fashion, the seats were supremely comfortable (you feel better just sitting in the car). While there is no denying you are sitting in a Saab, the interior is full of reminders of former parent GM, which is a mixed blessing. Some controls lack the quality feel of a comparable BMW or Audi. On the other hand, working your way through the GM-sourced audio and navigation touch screen is far easier than what the 9-5’s German contemporaries have available.
That said, the interior of the 9-5, overall, is a quality piece. The feel and smell of the leather far exceeds anything from the General, and the restrained, tasteful bits of wood trim go a long way to make for a warm, comfortable environment. The 9-5 is a big car-longer than a BMW 5-series and Audi A6-and you see that in the rear seat. Legroom is almost on par with a limo, and available features like rear seat auto climate control and DVD entertainment only sweeten the pot. Add to that an enormous trunk, and the 9-5 makes one compelling car for the luxury sport sedan buyer with a family, but not willing to go the crossover route.
The Saab 9-5 offers two drivetrains. First is a direct injected, turbocharged inline four rated at 220hp. All four cylinder 9-5s are front wheel drive, and are available in either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The 9-5 is also available with a 2.8L turbo V-6, rated at 300hp. All V-6 9-5s come standard with all-wheel drive, and are available only with the six-speed automatic. Our test car was a four cylinder with the automatic. You would think the size of the car being motivated by only 220 horses would make for one slow ride, but that was not the case. Saab claims a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 149mph. It’s no rocket, but from seat of the pants, the 9-5 felt quicker than that, and passing power on the highway was plentiful. EPA fuel consumption estimates of 18/28 MPG city/highway are impressive, given the size of the car.
I realize I keep referring to the size of the 9-5, but on the road, it feels much smaller than it is. Our Turbo4 Premium test car rode on 18″ alloys and delivered a creamy, stout ride that delivered great handling without ever punishing the passengers. Handling was always sure-footed. The 9-5 is at once both fun to drive and engage, yet is also content to play the cool as a cucumber interstate cruiser.
The 9-5 is offered in four trim levels. and our 9-5 Turbo4 is a step up from the base 9-5. With that, Saab heaps on a healthy dose of standard equipment, including 18″ wheels, dual zone climate control, power heated leather seats, panoramic sunroof, as well as other standard features you would expect on a car of this class. Our test car included the optional Harmon Kardon audio system, Navigation, and Technology package which added Head-Up Display (distracting), lane departure warning, advanced park assist, and bi-xenon cornering headlights. As delivered, our 9-5 came with a price tag of $50,140USD. At first glance, that sounds like an enormous premium for a car sporting 220hp four under the hood.
But to dismiss the 9-5 for that is missing the point. Saab has never matched, car for car, with a BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-Class. To do so, would be, well, un-Saab like. With the new 9-5, Saab has once again delivered on the promise of what made the first ‘large’ Saab, the 1986 9000 such a success-by staying true to the principles of what your brand stands for. The 2011 9-5 carries the spirit of the first 9000. Using that car as a yardstick, one appreciates what Saab has in the 9-5, and taken in that context, the car makes a lot more sense. Saab has prided itself on being a little left of center, a unique brand, and not for everyone. With the new 9-5. we’ve been shown that Saab has, again, embraced its legacy and reputation for being a bit unconventional without making apologies. If the 9-5 is any indication on the future of Saab, we have a lot to look forward to.