Like a phoenix from the ashes, Saab has emerged under supercar maker Spyker’s well funded wing, ready to snatch sales for its sleek and sophisticated 9-5 saloon.
To say its styling is distinctive would be somewhat of an understatement, I for one actually think it’s a bit of a looker. Appreciating if its unusual looks don’t appeal though, there are plenty of other attractions to allure; no expense has been spared to make it most technologically advanced Saab ever. The array of high-tech features include an aircraft-inspired head-up information display (HUD); adaptive headlights (Bi-Xenon Smart Beam); adaptive cruise control; Saab DriveSense adaptive chassis with real-time damping control; keyless entry and starting; dual-zone climate control; dynamic parking assistance, and Saab XWD with eLSD: the industry-leading all-wheel-drive system. Yep Saab are most definitely back and they seem to have a fairly major point to prove and that would be…. We ain’t even nearly done yet!
In a ‘GM, whose GM when their at home’ way, Saab have ensured they have a 9-5 for everyone, there’s plenty of choice in the powertrain department and the all-turbo engine line-up is the widest ever offered by Saab. There is a choice of three fuels – petrol, diesel and E85 bioethanol – and with diesel power, the new 9-5 offers CO2 emissions as low as 139 g/km. Priced reasonably from around the £26,500 mark for the base 158bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel, to almost £38,000 for the range topping 296bhp, 2.8-litre V6 turbo 4x4 Aero, all tastes and power requirement have been catered for.
I tested the entry level 158bhp 2.0TiD turbodiesel engine and Vector SE trim; the OTR price for my test car was a very reasonable £29,235 including the optional extras of Sat Nav and upgraded 18” ‘Rotor’ alloys. It may sound like a small bhp for such a big motor, but the turbocharged unit offers great performance through the 6sp Auto boxes gearing and a 0-60mph sprint of 9.6 seconds, which is none too shabby. It was also pleasantly frugal on fuel; especially taking into account the turbo is pretty much constantly being used. My press car returned an alright 30mpg round town, a great 55mpg on the motorway and a combined economy of about 40mpg, which is more than competitive for a motor of this size.
Most models are (as was my press car) front wheel drive but there is optional four-wheel-drive with the two-litre petrol and higher-powered diesel engines, and as mentioned, its standard with the 2.8 turbo. The fact its front wheel drive doesn’t dampen the sporting feel either, you can actually chuck the big Saab around and cornering at speed it feels planted and stable. Give it a damn good spanking on some twisting country roads and the 9-5 absolutely comes alive, fantastic handling twinned with that turbo kicking in every time you plant your foot into the shag-pile, really is massive amounts of fun. It doesn’t feel or handle like the big car it is, it feeling surprisingly light and agile, but then Saab has never exactly been known for making big heavy buses that don’t perform. Ride wise, there’s evidence of roll if cornering enthusiastically, but it was pleasantly firm and the steering is precise and well weighted. On the road, the diesel engine I tested could sound a little tractor-ish from outside, but I don’t tend to be sat outside the car when I’m driving and the cabin is well insulated from road, wind and engine noise.
Overall it’s a very willing performer nevertheless with decent helpings of low down usable torque and ample power for effortless motorway cruising. The tie-up with Spyker means we’re set to see some great performance cars coming out of the Saab camp, if the space-age looking 9-5 is anything to go by, be prepared for some sub 30k motors that will punch well above their weight and rarely get a bruise.
So just how big is the 9-5? Well it’s over 5 metres long, so it’s bigger than any of the competitors it’s thrown its gloves into the ring with for a start. It’s being pitched against the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and the Merc E-Class, all brilliant cars in the right engine and the right spec. The 9-5 is built on a stretched version of the Insignia platform, which actually makes it almost as big as a 7series beemer. As you’d expect for a car of that size, it’s spacious, comfortable and airy with Saab’s characteristically minimal decoration, superfluous to what’s actually needed for functional purposes, which may make it seem a little less luxurious and well appointed that some of its competitors.
The spec you get for your money is good, but unfortunately not great, Bluetooth, USB, part leather (heated in the front) seats, front and rear parking sensors and auto wipers / headlights were all standard on my car. The standard CD player / Stereo was ok, but you won’t be winning any ‘sound off’s’ at the local Homebase car-park on a Sunday night. Saab have kept the ‘Night’ Switch button on the slab-like centre console, this kills all interior dash and console lighting except for the Speedo (so you can’t use that as an excuse when your tugged at night for speeding!). The only problem being that I personally don’t like green lighting for the dials and dashboard display, it makes the Saab seem a little ‘aircrafty’ and eighties retro at night, but considering Saab’s heritage is building jet’s it’s no great surprise it stayed the way it’s always been.
In all I think the 9-5 is a great everyday motor, its big but fun, handles well and stands out from the crowd. The interior doesn’t feel borrowed from Ikea or GM, yes some of the dials are a throw-back to Saab’s ex GM ownership, but overall you aren’t going to get in the 9-5 and think it’s an Insignia. It’s not cheap, but it doesn’t cost more than most its rivals and it actually bigger than all of them. For those of you without the 30k price tag money, it will be a great used buy in 3yrs without a shadow of a doubt, so keep that cash in your pocket for the time being.