Saab has gone to the dogs.
The Swedish automaker is catering to any animal ready, willing and able to travel in one of its vehicles with its master.
Most automakers pay research firms and marketing honchos big bucks to study, analyze, digest and critique the color of clothes people wear, the food they eat, the architecture of the house they live in, years of education completed, age of each family member and income of each household member and the family in total when deciding what vehicles they think people will buy.
Using a less-complex and far less costly formula, Saab asked for a show of hands as to how many of its owners had pets. Sixty percent responded that not only do they have a pet, but that they also take that pet on their travels. So Saab designed and developed its 1999 9-5 station wagon to satisfy master and masteree.
Saab boasts that it is the first automaker to pay attention to pets and the needs of those who take their four-legged friends with them when they travel.
While Volvo and Mercedes-Benz owners are deciding whether to acquire the optional engine, suspension, transmission, braking, sound or navigation systems, Saab owners receive a catalog detailing how they can get a Batzi Belt ($19.95), which attaches from the dog to the seat belt as a safety restraint; VersaLeash ($49.95), which attaches to the Cargo Track Bolts ($32) in the cargo hold floor to keep the pet in place while motoring; Approach Pack ($62.95), a back pack to strap to the dog to hold the dog’s food and toys when hiking or camping; WAG Bag ($67.50), a back pack for the pet owner that holds the dog’s food and toys as well as up to a gallon of water in a bladder compartment; Travel Bowl ($21.50), which holds the food or water from the WAG Bag or Approach Pack on a break from hiking or camping; and the “Pets Welcome” book ($19.95) that lists hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts that welcome pets and their owners in the U.S.
There also are a variety of harnesses ($24.95 in Italian leather) that can be used with BatziBelt or the VersaLeash, and a Deluxe Pet Carrier ($69.95) of vented nylon so the pet can breathe while you carry him or store him under the seat in a plane.
Other handy items for the Fido-friendly 9-5 wagon would be Cargo Guard ($150), a black aluminum open-grille divider that separates the cargo area where the pet is from the passenger compartment, and the Cargo Space Divider ($135), a black aluminum open-grille divider that attaches to the Cargo Guard to give the pet his or her own space away from groceries or luggage.
A practical option for pet owners, should they have money left after buying the other goodies, would be the Rubber Cargo Mat ($85), whose function is self-explanatory.
While some might ask, why a wagon when sport-utility vehicles are the rage, the pet supplies provide one answer. Some folks prefer the car-like ride and handing of a sedan wit h a large cargo hold for pets.
Unfortunately, many consumers remember a wagon as one of those monstrous slab-sided boxes General Motors peddled in the ’70s or just about any other wagon built since then with the ugly roof rack on top that labeled the vehicle as a functional machine that you couldn’t wait to get out of once the kids came of age.
The 9-5 wagon won’t be mistaken for a roadster, drop top or sports car, but Saab took pains to provide more than tolerable styling to ease the wagon stigma.
And the 2.3-liter, 170-horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is lively enough so you don’t feel burdened by strictly a functional machine when you are behind the wheel. And the turbo 4 delivers a pleasant 19 miles per gallon city/28 m.p.g. highway.
If the 9-5 wagon lacks anything, it’s all-wheel-drive like some of its European rivals, such as Audi.
How can you offer a WAG Bag and Approach Pack for hiking and camping and not offer AWD to get to your hiking or camping site or for all-season motoring assurance in the Snow Belt?
The problem with adding AWD is that in Sweden, where gasoline costs about as much as a Travel Bowl, any system that will reduce fuel economy is looked at skeptically. Saab officials in the U.S. are trying to convince their counterparts in Sweden that motorists here will stop to refill more often if it guarantees their safe travel over and through the snow.
However, officials in Sweden are debating the merits of investing in an all-wheel-drive car or in another new vehicle, sedan or wagon or a hybrid. Stay tuned.
Another noteworthy feature in the 9-5 wagon is the rollout cargo floor. Pull the platform up and it glides out on rollers to extend more than a foot farther than the rear bumper. The platform is sturdy enough so you can stand on it (up to 440 pounds). If your child, for example, gets a kite caught in a tree limb, pull out the platform, hop on and free the kite.
Or, if you carry folding chairs in the cargo hold, pull out the platform, apply a table cloth, remove sandwiches from one of the cargo-hold stowage compartments, grab a can of pop out of the cooled glove box (with its own air-conditioning vent) and you are ready to picnic in the country or tailgate at the ball game.
If you don’t want others to see the folding chairs in the cargo hold, a fold away cargo cover extends from the back seat to the rear window.
Another neat feature are tailgate lights so you can see what you are searching for at night, as well as red warning lights in the tailgate so others can see you’ve pulled off the road to remove something from the cargo hold.
And, if you need lots of cargo room, the second-row seat bottom and back folds flat.
The front-wheel-drive 9-5 wagon starts at $31,850. Standard equipment includes 16-inch, steel-belted radial tires; disc brakes with anti-lock; depowered front air bags and side-impact head and torso air bags; power locks; daytime running lamps; headlamp washers/wipers; dual front and one rear fog light; rear-window washer/wiper; power and heated mirrors; power tilt/slide sunroof; power windows; dual-zone climate control with charcoal air filter; power seats; cruise control; tinted glass; and AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD player.
About the only option you’ll need is 4-speed automatic transmission, which is a hefty $1,150.