A year of refinement for the luxury Swedish sedan.Cosmetic makeover on the outside (it sure looks like a Volvo 960) with slimmed-down grille, different headlights and taillights and new front bumpers; and the inside adds new window switches, an adjustable steering column, cupholders, remote locking for the doors; and a new V-6. On the surface, not much to write home about. But it's been a while since we ventured into Saab territory and it proved rather pleasant-or at least a lot better than we anticipated. The other Swede, Volvo, doesn't have a lock on safety equipment, as evidenced by the 9000 CDE's dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. All standard. As an added safety feature, the 9000 CDE offers daytime running lights so others can better spot you on the roadway. The lights go on/off when you start/stop the car so you needn't worry about leaving them on and having to enlist a battery jump after work. A new 3-liter, 210-h.p., 24-valve, V-6, the first V-6 in the 9000 series, propels the full-size luxury sedan and does so rather quietly and with decent fuel economy considering the car's size and weight (3,300 pounds). The sedan is roomy and comfortable. There's ample space in back for guests and a huge cargo hold in the rear for luggage or golf clubs. Though certainly pricey at $38,995, about the only added charge other than tax, title and license is $470 for freight. The 9000 CDE comes fully equipped and you won't need to spend hours with the salesman debating the merits and cost of options. Noteworthy features include a rear fold-down armrest that hides a pair of cupholders, a computer readout of distance to destination and average speed, coin and cassette holders in the center console, heated seats, adjustable safety belts and a most forgiving suspension system. But though this is the year of refinement for the 9000 CDE, Saabstopped short of offering total motoring pleasure. The gripes are minor, to be sure, but aggravating. The biggest annoyance proved to be the controls, such as the power window buttons between driver and passenger. They are difficult to see, reach and use, especially at night, and even more so when you are wearing a bulky winter coat. The buttons all have a raised edge that's supposed to make them easier to use compared with last year's when all buttons sat flat and you had to fumble around to determine which was which. Trouble is, they all now have the same raised edge, which still requires fumbling when trying to open or close one in a hurry, to pay the toll or put a layer of glass between you and the sudden rain or snow. A larger driver-side button would remedy the problem. (Those of you who use the Illinois Highway 60 entrance/exit ramps on the Tri-State Tollway can disregard the comment about paying a toll because so many of you-especially those Cheeseheads at morning/evening rush hours-never bother anyway.) And do you really need 15 controls to provide hot/cold air and to set the desired temperature to heat the feet or cool the dome? One word describes what you need to decipher the controls and get some heat when starting out in the morning: help. The steering wheel also serves to block some of the buttons in the dash, such as the heated seat and traction control off controls. And, a word of warning if you're afraid of spiders: Test drive the 9000 CDE at night to see whether the third brake light shining through the rear window triggers your arachnophobia. It gives off a weird pattern that takes on the appearance of a black widow on steroids dancing on the rear parcel shelf. 1995 Saab 9000 CDE
Wheelbase: 105.2 inches
Length: 188.7 inches
Engine: 3-liter, 210-h.p., V-6.
Trans mission: 4-speed automatic
EPA mileage: 18 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway
Pluses: Dual air bags, ABS and traction control standard. Quiet operation. Very roomy and comfortable. New V-6 fairly peppy. Very smooth suspension. Daytime running lights for added safety. Huge trunk. You won't have to spend lots of time on picking and pricing options.
Minuses: Finding/using controls will drive you whacky, especially at night and especially in the winter when wearing a bulky coat that hides the controls even more. Reflection off third brake light in rear makes it look like a spider on steroids is riding in the back seat.
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