Saab says the 2002 version of its midsize four-door sedan and its sport wagon companion promise to be more contemporary, more appealing and more sporting to drive. Changes are subtle, but front and rear styling has been updated to enhance the 9-5s sporty character. The Swedish company, which is owned by General Motors, has renamed its models now called Linear, Arc and Aero. Each model designation denotes a specific powertrain, wheels and interior trim.
The performance-oriented Aero gets a power boost to 250 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque. Those output figures now apply to models with either a manual gearbox or a new five-speed adaptive automatic transmission. A new Electronic Stability Program, intended to enhance handling and driver control, is standard on Arc and Aero models. Thicker stabilizer bars aim to produce flatter cornering. Dual-stage adaptive front airbags are installed, and newly optional bi-xenon headlights promise 60 percent greater light spread.
Like all Saabs marketed in the United States since their beginning in the 1950s, the 9-5 has front-wheel drive. Of the two Saab models sold in this country, the 9-5 is larger than the compact 9-3.
GMs satellite-based OnStar communication system is standard. Premium OnStar services include voice-activated, hands-free Personal Calling, as well as access to e-mail, customized news reports, stock quotes and other Web-based information. All scheduled maintenance will be provided at no charge for the first three years or 36,000 miles of ownership. Saab sells about 39,000 of its 9-5 models each year, and the company hopes to push Aero sales beyond the current 15 percent.
Unlike some midsize models, 9-5 sedans and wagons are easily recognizable as Saabs. We decided to stay close to the basic appearance on the outside, says Chief Designer Simon Padian. Smoother bumpers have been extended forward by nearly an inch, wrapping back to the wheel openings. An integrated grille sits between clear-lens headlights. Always aerodynamically oriented, Saab claims a low coefficient of drag of just 0.29 for the sedan.
Sedans and wagons share major styling themes. Each rides a 106.4-inch wheelbase and measures 70.5 inches wide and 57 inches high. The 9-5s overall length has increased slightly, to 190 inches, which is about the same as the Mercedes-Benz E320 or BMW 5 Series.
As in the past, the high-performance Aero edition has a firmer suspension and 17-inch tires on 10-spoke alloy wheels, while the Linear and Arc models ride on 16-inch rubber. Bi-xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers and parking assistance will be grouped in a Touring Package for the Arc and Aero models.
All 9-5 sedans accommodate five passengers. Chairlike, upright seating in a taller-profile vehicle permits a comfortable posture. Scandinavian design themes emphasize natural materials, and each version has model-specific upholstery and interior features. The leather is natural and wrinkled, rather than high-gloss.
Forms range from fundamental leather and wood with a luxury ambience in the Linear, to an industrial, high-tech feel that complements the sporting nature of the Aero. In between, the Arc model emphasizes luxury touring with such features as three-speed, ventilated, power front seats with memory adjustment. The Aeros sport seats have extra bolstering, and its dashboard features metallic-finish trim instead of wood.
Model designations appear on each sedans stainless-steel doorsill. The trunk holds 15.9 cubic feet of cargo. A cassette/CD audio system is standard in the Linear, while the Arc and Aero sedans get a more powerful Harman/Kardon-tuned stereo unit.
Under the Hood
The Linear model uses a turbocharged, 185-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. An asymmetrically turbocharged, 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 goes into the Arc edition, and the performance-packed Aero contains a high-output, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder that cranks out 250 hp. Saabs new five-speed adaptive automatic transmission is standard in the Arc; it promises improved launch acceleration and increased economy and includes sport and winter modes. A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard in the Arc and Aero with the automatic offered as an option.
Saab emphasizes active and passive safety features. New dual-stage adaptive front airbags are designed to vary inflation force according to crash severity, seat track location and seat belt status. Antilock brakes, traction control and Saabs active head-restraint system are standard. In a collision, the head restraints move up and forward to reduce the chance of whiplash. Side-impact airbags protect the heads and torsos of front-seat occupants. Saabs balanced forces safety system is said to direct loads to areas where they are less likely to cause occupant injury.
Sheer excellence is evident in the first moments behind the wheel of the 2002 9-5. From the rich aroma of its leather upholstery to the energetic response when pushing on the gas pedal, Saabs larger sedans deliver an appealing and sophisticated highway experience, stressing comfort for the long haul. Nearly everything about this trio of satisfying sedans qualifies as super smooth, including the interior layouts, which are subtle but elegant.
Despite its firm suspension, even the Aero produces a largely absorbent ride. Each model handles with precise control and runs with alluring quietness. The seats are outstanding firm but exceptionally inviting. Backseat headroom is abundant and toe space is good, but legroom lags a bit. While the rear seat is basically comfortable, it forces some riders knees high.
Performance on the Linear and Arc may not set records, but the Arc is vigorous enough to suit nearly any driver. As the highest-end model, the Aero takes acceleration to an even loftier level. Automatic-transmission operation is close to flawless, while the manual gearboxes glide between each ratio, working adeptly with the easily engaged clutch.