Saab's first solo flight. Click here for full review.
The past year has been a soap opera for Saab, to say the least. After being shown the door by bankrupt companion General Motors, it fell into the arms of a wealthy knight in shining armor named Koenigsegg. The Swedish boutique builder of multimillion-dollar supercars proclaimed its intention to save its compatriot from the executioner’s ax, before having a last-minute change of heart and leaving it at the altar, the way rich playboys often do.
Then, moments before joining Pontiac and Saturn in the annals of automotive history, another suitor stepped forward in the form of obscure Dutch automaker Spyker. It was a match made in quirky car heaven. Spyker’s decidedly unique $200,000 exotics relying heavily, almost comically, on aircraft-inspired design themes -- just like Saab!
Sadly, this relationship, too, was over as soon as it began. The deal crumbling within days of the engagement party amid rumors that cash from the Russian mob was paying for the wedding. Saab was again put on a fast track to exile, and a period of mourning ensued on the campuses of liberal arts colleges across the globe.
But the owner of Spyker, dashing international businessman Victor Muller, was not to be deterred. After shuffling the investment team, and securing additional backing from the Swedish government, by the end of February Saab was his once again. Signed, sealed, delivered.
Well, along with the factory in Trollhattan, Sweden, and a shell-shocked dealer network, Saab came with a rather nice dowry: the fully-completed 2010 9-5 sedan. Mr. Muller merely needed to flip the switch on the assembly line to put the company back in business.
The all-new 9-5 is the largest car Saab has ever made, and longer even than the ill-conceived Chevy Trailblazer-based 9-7X SUV. Built on the same basic platform as the Buick LaCrosse, the big mid-size four-door sedan is, nevertheless, 70 percent unique to Saab. The top of the line V6-powered, all-wheel-drive Aero is the first model to hit showrooms, with more basic versions following it across the Atlantic in 2011.
Despite criticism that GM sucked the essence out of Saab over the years – how dare they stop producing poorly selling hatchbacks! – it did a fantastic job with the look of the 9-5. The exterior is outfitted with all of the expected aeronautical cues, including blacked-out windshield pillars creating the appearance of a cockpit windscreen, head and taillight housings that mimic the shape of wings, and smooth flanks which Saab refers to as the fuselage.
Stick a couple of actual wings and a tail on it, and the long, narrow 9-5 would give a Gulfstream G5 a run for its money on the runway. This is one sleek executive cruiser.
The interior also tries to convince the driver that he is, in fact, a pilot. The control panel-style dashboard, complete with a button that shuts off all superfluous illumination in an effort to aid night vision and lessen distraction, is pure Saab. An optional package that includes a head-up display and blindspot warning system further enhances the feeling that you need to check in with the tower upon approach.
Rich leather abounds on the seats and steering wheel, but a deficit of wood or metal trim in the cabin makes for a slightly dour atmosphere when it’s dressed in black. Or is it just trying to emulate those endless winter nights back home above the Arctic Circle? Either way, it’s better to go with the beige upholstery. Rear seat passengers are well looked after in the legroom department, and the trunk is a capacious 18.2 cubic feet, although huge gooseneck hinges and a couple of floor intrusions create a slightly awkward shape for the compartment.
Powering the 9-5 is an all-turbo engine lineup, again tapping into Saab tradition. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder coming next year will run on E85 and is expected to deliver 34 mpg on the highway, but not at the same time – ethanol gets about 30 percent worse fuel economy than gasoline. Today’s 27 mpg 6-cylinder is a 2.8-liter 300 hp unit that you may recall from the Cadillac SRX, though Saab would surely prefer that you associate with its own TurboX sports sedan.
Mated to a six-speed automatic, the motor is smooth and hushed, with just a touch of the turbo lag that no correct Saab should be without. There isn’t an overabundance of power compared to many cars in the class, but 300 hp is more than anyone living in an authoritative country that discourages enthusiastic driving -- or Sweden, for that matter -- needs, and is certainly enough for the majority of 51-year-old, well-educated ‘affluent progressives’ that Saab holds dear.
All-wheel drive or, in this case, Cross-Wheel Drive (XWD) is standard. The unique system is able to dole out power both front to rear and side to side at the rear for added traction on poor surfaces, or increased performance. Combined with Saab’s three-setting DriveSense controller, which adjusts the suspension, steering feel, throttle response and transmission to suit your style of driving, the 9-5 is reasonably nimble for such a big beast. Through a slalom course, or Europe’s famous ‘moose test’ -- where you drive at high speed through a gate, head directly at a wall of traffic cones, steer completely around it, then out a slot on the opposite side -- the 9-5 comports itself very well.
On the road the ride is firm but very forgiving, and the difference between the Comfort and Sport settings is not as dramatic as the names might suggest. As is typically the case with technologically advanced cars these days, however, it’s best to leave it in Intelligent mode and let it figure things out for itself.
Aside from tri-zone climate control, infotainavigation, and a rear seat entertainment system, options on this most loaded of 9-5’s are few. Next year the list will include a parking assist feature that can’t steer the car into a space, but will tell you if you’re going to fit before you even try, then guide you in, just like Steve McCroskey in Chicago Air Control talking Ted Striker through the landing of Flight 209 in “Airplane!” Active cruise control joins it for the 2012 model year.
For now, the price of entry is $49,990, about 10 grand more than the 4-cylinder models are expected to sticker at, and perfectly aligned with its competitors from Germany. The 9-5 may not be better than any of them, but Saabs rarely are. Instead, they represent an emotional purchase that can’t be summed up by a simple bottom line, much like marriage.
For the Saab faithful looking for a vehicle to fill with a growing family, the 9-5 should turn out to be a match made in the heavens.
2010 Saab 9-5 Aero XWD
Base Price: $49,990
Type: 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive, 4-door sedan
Engine: 2.8-liter turbocharged V6
Power: 300 hp, 295 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG (est): 27 hwy
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