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By Jim Flammang
September 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Saab’s front-wheel-drive 9-5 midsize sedan and wagon earned subtle changes for the 2002 model year by gaining styling updates to enhance their sporty character. The Swedish automaker also renamed its models Linear, Arc and Aero, and each has an exclusive powertrain, wheel style and interior trim.
For 2004, the Linear model is available only in sport wagon form. At the same time, the Arc sedan and wagon exchange their V-6 engine for a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder that produces 220 horsepower, which represents an increase of 20 hp; it teams with a standard five-speed-manual transmission. Color-matching body trim is now standard on the Arc, which may be equipped with 17-inch Sport wheels. The high-performance Aero models also get a sportier exterior appearance. Bi-xenon headlights are offered as a separate option for the Arc and Aero.
Exterior The 9-5 sedan and wagon are easily recognizable as Saab models. Smooth bumpers wrap back to the wheel openings. An integrated grille sits between clear-lens headlights. Saabs are always aerodynamically oriented, and the automaker claims the 9-5 sedan has a coefficient of drag of just 0.29.
Each body style rides a 106-inch wheelbase and stands 57 inches tall. 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 standard 16-inch rubber.
Interior All 9-5 sedans hold five people. Chairlike, upright seating in a taller-profile vehicle permits a comfortable posture. Scandinavian design themes emphasize natural materials. Leather upholstery is wrinkled rather than high-gloss.
The 9-5’s interiors range from fundamental leather and wood in the Linear to an industrial, high-tech feel that complements the Aero’s sporty nature. The Arc model emphasizes luxury touring and includes metallic-finished dashboard trim and ventilated power front seats with a memory adjustment. Sedan trunks hold 15.9 cubic feet of cargo. With the rear seats folded, the wagon can carry 73 cubic feet of cargo.
Aero models get leather sport seats, a 240-watt Harman Kardon-tuned audio system, and an automatic-dimming inside mirror with a compass and integrated garage door opener. GM’s OnStar communication system is standard.
Under the Hood The Linear sport wagon uses a 185-hp, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. A turbocharged 220-hp version of the 2.3-liter engine now goes into the Arc. Performance-packed Aero models contain a high-output, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder that cranks out 250 hp. A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard; Saab’s optional five-speed Sentronic automatic transmission permits manual gear selection by using steering-wheel controls.
Safety Antilock brakes, traction control, an Electronic Stability Program and Saab’s active head-restraint system are standard. Side-impact airbags protect the heads and torsos of front-seat occupants.
Driving Impressions Sheer excellence is evident during the first moments behind the 9-5’s steering wheel. The 9-5 sedans deliver an appealing and sophisticated highway experience that stresses comfort.
Despite its firm suspension, even the Aero produces a largely absorbent ride. Each model handles with precise control and runs with alluring quietness. Performance in the Linear version won’t set records, but the Aero takes acceleration to a lofty level. Automatic-transmission operation is close to flawless, and the manual gearbox glides between each ratio.