Saab may be an independent car company now, but its ties to the pre-bankruptcy General Motors are apparent in the all-new 9-5 sedan.
The impressively styled Saab 9-5 can't escape its big price tag teamed with a dated interior.
It's like the car was frozen in time before the economic collapse and now has to contend with a market that's more competitive than ever. The other strike against the 9-5 is that, for 2010, it's available only in the top-of-the-line Aero trim level, which is so performance-oriented it sacrifices much-needed ride comfort.
For 2010, the Aero XWD trim starts at $49,165. Next year, the 2011 9-5 line will fill out with a base Turbo4 model ($38,525), featuring a 220-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and a Turbo4 Premium ($43,435), which comes with more standard features. There will also be a Turbo6 XWD ($48,030) with the engine and power of the Aero, minus the ride and handling upgrades.
Before you can judge the 9-5 on its merits as a mode of transportation, its design demands attention. Saab made a serious gamble going with such a distinct look, but it will likely pay off with the one group that may overlook the rest of the car's failings: Saab enthusiasts.
The large rear C-pillar, rounded rear window and high trunklid hark back to the beloved 900 hatchback, even though this is a sedan. The rear also features huge wraparound taillights that look light blue during the day, when unlit, and either red or amber when the lights are turned on.
A stylish black lacquer effect highlights the front A-pillar and the tops of the side mirrors. A jewel-like turn-signal indicator, which also looks blue when unlit, bisects each mirror.
It's a stunning design that might overshadow some of the car's drawbacks.
For the 2011 model year, the Saab 9-5 will be available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and front-wheel drive, or a turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 and all-wheel drive. For 2010, the Aero trim comes with the turbo V-6 and all-wheel drive. The Aero is also available with 19-inch wheels and more aggressive shocks and struts that lower the car 10 millimeters.
While I enjoyed the engine's spirited turbo-ness — whooshing to speed in bursts like a traditional turbo should while still delivering smooth around-town acceleration — the ride was ridiculously harsh. The steering and handling are good, perhaps very good, but that means little in exchange for the quality of the ride. On rough road surfaces, like the concrete highways on which I commute, the ride was nearly unbearable for long stretches.
I'm hoping the non-Aero, 2011 turbo V-6 with all-wheel drive will be more comfortable while still delivering the punch of that engine.
The car feels much lighter than the spec sheet portends. At 4,365 pounds as-tested, it's the portliest among competitors like the Audi A6, Volvo S80 and BMW 5 Series. Even with this weight — which isn't helped by Saab's all-wheel-drive system, designated XWD — it feels as light as the Audi and Volvo and definitely lighter than the 5 Series. The Saab 9-5 is also noticeably longer than those competitors, yet it feels nimble when cutting through flowing highway traffic.
While you can forgive the Aero's ride comfort somewhat because of how the XWD is equipped, the interior won't improve as you move down the trim level and pricing chart. Cheap black plastic makes up a majority of the dashboard, instrument cluster and stack of controls. It's a clear sign that this car was conceived years before GM began putting its best interiors into vehicles like the Chevy Equinox and Cruze.
Luckily, the doors and front and rear seats are decked out in rich-looking and rich-feeling leather, which is an upgrade over other trim levels. The seats overall are on the firm side, but I found them quite comfortable. One taller editor complained he couldn't adjust the seat appropriately for his frame. Other editors, too, said the seat bottom wasn't wide enough. This is why they invented test drives.
The backseat is huge. Its 38.8 inches of legroom bests the competition, and in real-world tests it won rave reviews from passengers.
Two little things that every automaker should emulate are the outstanding cupholders and the adjustable center armrest. The cupholders use a simple tab that folds down to turn the large space — perfect for venti lattes — into the proper size for a can of soda.
The adjustable armrest moves forward and up in a single motion, and it's padded in the same rich leather as the seats. It's also easy to adjust to the perfect height.
While I hope Saab addresses the bulky plastics of the dashboard, it should leave the rest of the interior as-is.
Features & Pricing
All 2010 and 2011 trim levels come standard with leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a cooled glove box, a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity and a nine-speaker sound system.
The 2011 Turbo4 Premium trim and above add power-folding and auto-dimming side mirrors, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry, remote start, push-button ignition and parking sensors.
My test car came with an $825 Technology Package that included a head-up display and perhaps the loudest lane departure warning system I've ever heard. I thought Darth Vader was on my six, it was so loud. Still, that price is pretty reasonable for the head-up display alone.
The stunning 19-inch wheels were another $750, again, a relative bargain compared with what competitors charge for wheel upgrades. Navigation was another $2,395, or about the norm in the luxury space. It's the current GM nav system, which is good overall. It includes lots of features, like the ability to pause and rewind live radio, but the navigation screen is low-resolution and there's no live traffic overlay.
All told, my test car came to just over $53,000 — a significant sum, to be sure.
The Saab 9-5 comes with the standard array of airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and break-away pedals.
As of this writing, the 9-5 has not been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Saab 9-5 in the Market
If you're interested in aesthetics and a sporty ride, the 9-5 Aero XWD would be a logical choice. However, you'd have to be quite overwhelmed by its styling alone to be dissuaded from similarly priced competition like the Infiniti M37 and Audi A6. You'd pay considerably more, though, for similarly equipped all-wheel-drive Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series sedans.
The Saab 9-5 is flawed in many ways, but there is promise beneath its intriguing sheet metal. Once Saab can deliver a quality interior like its neighbors at Volvo, it'll have a total package. For now, only fans of the brand's history are likely to take a chance on the 9-5.
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