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Saab's luxurious new 9-5 is ready for take off

Saab's luxurious new 9-5 is ready for take off

Published: 11 Oct 2010 15:44 GMT+02:00
Updated: 11 Oct 2010 15:44 GMT+02:00

For Swedish carmaker Saab, its new 9-5 model could not be more important. Contributor David Hooper finds out if it lives up to all of its pre-launch hype, and considers the company’s plans for the future.

Saab’s painful separation from General Motors has been well documented, but with new owner Spyker now in place, financial backing from the Swedish government and the European bank, an engine deal with BMW and a stunning new flagship model now on sale, the next mission in the carmaker’s story is ready for take off.

The aircraft puns are quite unavoidable once you have driven the new 9-5, and for most owners, sitting in the cockpit of this car is as close as they will get to piloting a fast jet.

Sink into the luxurious leather driver’s seat and you are almost there, surrounded by a plethora of switches and dials on the centre console which control the car’s main functions. There is even a touch-screen display to programme your destination into the GPS navigation system, change radio stations, or select your favourite album from your MP3 player.

But for any would-be pilots, Saab has two more treats in store – a head-up display which can project the car’s speed, rev counter, cruise control setting, or GPS navigation instructions onto the windscreen in green lettering, while on the dashboard, the centre dial can display what looks like an aircraft’s altimeter, but actually shows the 9-5’s road speed instead of a plane’s height. It looks brilliant, and I loved it.

As well as doing a good impression of an aircraft, the top-of-the-range Aero model I’ve been testing had yet more tricks up its sleeve. The optional touch screen GPS system will not only take you to your destination, but if your mobile phone is paired to the car via its Bluetooth system, it will even provide the phone number and ring it up for you, so if you’re going to a restaurant, your table will be waiting when you arrive. It’s all clever stuff, but most importantly, it’s intuitive and easy to use.

Saab isn’t known for updating its range of cars too regularly, but I have to say, this new 9-5 has been worth the wait. There are few cars I get excited about driving these days, but from the moment I saw the first press pictures of Saab’s new flagship, I have been looking forward to getting to grips with this one.

In my opinion, it looks even better in the metal than it does in those carefully lit publicity pictures, but you have to give it a close inspection to notice the subtle blue tinges to the light units, and the cleverly-styled Saab badging on its bootlid.

It’s a big car, aimed squarely at the executive market, which provides generous room inside for five people to travel in the lap of luxury, and its huge boot will accommodate plenty of luggage.

The range starts with a 160PS 2.0-litre diesel engined model, while for those who prefer petrol, a high output 180PS 1.6-litre engine is available for a small premium.

Further up the range is a 2.0-litre petrol engine, with the model I have been testing, the 2.8-litre V6, sitting at the top of the tree. Another interesting point worth noting is that AWD versions of the car are available with 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines, as well as the top of the range model, so unlike some of its premium German rivals, slippery winter conditions won’t pose any problems for Saab 9-5 drivers.

There are two trim levels from which to choose, Vector SE or Aero, and of course, a generous options list to make sure you can have your car just the way you want it.

The start button, making its debut in the 9-5, is located in the same position as the key used to be, so will be familiar to fans of the brand.

To drive, the new Saab 9-5 feels as special as it looks. Beautifully put together, there is no hint of a squeak or a rattle, the steering is nicely weighted and provides just the right amount of feedback to the driver. Travelling in this car is as smooth and as comfortable as it gets.

At motorway speeds, the interior is impressively quiet with very little wind or road noise making itself heard, and in the V6 model I tested, the hushed tones of the silky smooth power plant are a delight to hear when you press the pedal towards the plush carpet.

As adept at cross-country sprints as it is on a motorway cruise, the AWD system gives the new 9-5 an in-built feeling of security. Most Saab drivers will never explore the upper limits of this car’s performance envelope, but even with its mighty 300PS fully deployed, it handles in a predictable and assured manner, having despatched the 0-100km/hr benchmark in a mere 6.9 seconds, it is an engaging machine to drive quickly.

The diesel engined cars, although obviously not as potent, are just as capable in the handling department, with any engine noise kept to a minimum inside the car.

Success for the new Saab 9-5 range seems assured. Beautifully designed and built to standards befitting a premium brand, I feel that like me, the company’s loyal customers will struggle to find much to criticise in what is arguably Saab’s most important new model ever.

But will it be enough to ensure the carmaker’s future? As excellent as it is, this is a large executive car, the market for which is shrinking the world over as we motorists are encouraged to switch to smaller, greener, more fuel efficient vehicles.

The rest of Saab’s range is long-in-the-tooth and beginning to show its age, so if the company is to ensure its long-term survival in a fiercely competitive global market and thereby secure Swedish jobs, it needs to follow up its undoubted success with the 9-5 with a smaller, more affordable, greener vehicle – and fast!

If it can do this, then the foundations for Saab’s future will be built on so much more than a wing and a prayer.

The company’s association with General Motors, however, isn’t quite over yet. Creating new cars is a long-term and ongoing project, so July next year will see the launch of the estate version of the 9-5, the Sportswagon, followed by a new 9-4X Crossover model.

In 2012, an all-new 9-3 range is in the pipeline, which as well as the saloon and Sportswagon, will renew one of Saab’s greatest successes, the 9-3 Convertible.

Victor Muller, who owns Dutch firm Spyker, has declared his desire for a small car, while at the Paris Motorshow, which runs until October 17, the Saab stand will be showcasing an all-electric prototype, based on the current 9-3 Sportswagon.

As for the company’s long-term future, a deal with German carmaker BMW to supply its 1.6-litre petrol engine has just been signed at the Swedish company’s headquarters in Trollhättan. This is a big step in the right direction, which I expect will lead to further co-operation, perhaps in the form of a small diesel engine.

A Saab spokeswoman explained how the company is working on strategic partnerships with other companies and is currently in the process of rebuilding its global sales network. It is also busy developing new markets in countries which could not be more diverse than the Swedish firm’s homeland – China, Russia, India and Brazil.

Saab then, certainly has the ambition to succeed – if it can translate that ambition into sales, then its long-term future, and that of its predominantly Swedish workforce, will be assured.

As a long-standing fan of Saab, I wish them well.

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Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

16:17 October 11, 2010 by Baldric
I really wanted to love the new 9-5, being an owner of the previous generation. Also, the design is absolutely stunning.

However, much to the dismay of myself and my wife, we did not quite approve of the new version.

First of all, we both simultaneously whacked our heads against the roof above the doors when entering the car. While a minor inconvenience, the first thing the car did was thus to hurt us physically. Not a good start.

Then I found that the front seat felt cramped what with the bulbuous center console. I realize that this is some kind of design intent - that the seating is supposed to wrap around you like the cockpit of a jet fighter, and that a humongous center console it is also somewhat of a prerequisite for housing 4WD mechanisms (that will be used by - what? - 1% of the cars?) - but this is not a jet fighter and I want some space, thank you.

Then we strolled over to the back and checked the boot. Nice except for a major detail - its threshold is level with my wife's chest. She did not like this as it will cause a strain when handling heavy stuff.

Last but not least, it took us four hard tries before the boot lid closed. The first three slams it just bounced up again. I suppose they may adjust this but all in all we got so annoyed that we dropped the new 9-5 off our list.

I suppose you can get used to the narrow doorframes and I am tall enough that the boot threshold is not a major issue, but if I am to shell out a minor fortune on a new car I want my wife to be perfectly happy with it, not have to bend around inconveniences.

This aside, I do hope that SAAB has a success on their hands, and I hope that these flaws do not stop other buyers.
21:34 October 11, 2010 by swedish_gang
SAAB is not swedish anymore :(((
23:13 October 11, 2010 by GLO
Who cares, just build a great car at good price.
04:16 October 12, 2010 by millionmileman
I test drove this new 95 in Ohio, at the US Saab Convention. This car is is a milestone and a benchmark. Go and test drive it and feel the difference.
08:25 October 12, 2010 by orangecake
...following the sale of war planes to saudi, this no longer is a choice for me. I'll stick to Volvo.
09:33 October 12, 2010 by Nemesis
I wish the workers of Tröllhatten luck and hope the launch is a sucess.

@ orangecake

SAAB cars and SAAB aerospace have been seperate companies for decades.
11:51 October 12, 2010 by millionmileman
@orangecake

Saab cars have nothing to do with the aircraft division. Only the name is the same. this separation occurred when GM took over some 20 years ago and the car division is now part of Spyker cars.

Likewise for the record Volvo trucks are separate from the cars but manufacture the jet engines for the Saab Gripen.
11:57 October 12, 2010 by rahpor
@orangecake:

Saabs are still build in Sweden and the company itself is Swedish again, under the new ownership, although the owner is Dutch. Saab is fully operated under a Swedish CEO, with its international headquarters in Trollhattan. More Swedish then the Chinese Volvo you fancy.
12:36 October 12, 2010 by orangecake
Fair enough. I didn't do my homework. :)

Anyway I fancy a new Audi :)
02:11 October 13, 2010 by montahue
@Baldric Im almost 2 meters tall and when i tryed the drivers seat of the new 9-5 i never hit my head once. I agree with you that the boot threshold sucks when ones whife happens to be extremly petite. The solution might be to replace the whife with a new taller one. Just thinking out loud.
19:42 October 13, 2010 by russellouten-coe
SAAB is more Swedish than Land Rover or Jaguar is English, who cares - I test drove the 9-5 at the weekend and was blown away - just let the months until we replace our awful C Class fly by (bought as a stand in for our old SAAB and a terrible mistake) then we can get our hands on one!
01:03 October 14, 2010 by rumcajs
@orangecake

SAABs are great cars. Car testers in the the TV keep saying that it don't do this like an Audi or that like a BMW, but I've been into cars ( living from it sometimes ) for longer than I can remember (maybe my mom does) and met a lot of really crazy drivers when I was younger (including myself)............ and you simply have to be stupid to do the stuff these guys talk about outside a pro testing track.

BMW, Audi and co. are only good to show how much money you can spend. They are a waste of money if you don't wanna kill yourself. And if you ARE a racer in fact,..... you buy an EVO or a Porsche.
14:58 October 14, 2010 by Baldric
I forgot to admit that I never actually test drove the new 9-5, I'm sure it is fabulous.

I just wanted to point out a few minor negative aspects, because all reviews I read overflow with histrionics that make them sound suspiciously more like advertising than consumer advice. It's like all the journalists are eager to bolster the sales by using superlatives just because they like SAAB. But the absence of criticizm subtract from their credibility.

I would still like a new 9-5 and personally I can live with its small warts, but I'm not about to shell out a minor fortune on a new car that my wife is less than extatic about.
11:59 October 15, 2010 by gotyboy
MY GOD MAN!! never let a woman tell you what to drive!! ;)

Now that Saab are in the hands of a truly exotic car manufaturer, i think its going to really take off. Saab have always had uniquely styled cars and now that they have new styling dudes from companies like Ferrari and Lamborghini working in there, i think we are going to see that the new 9-3 is going to be awsome!! Cant wait to see what they come up with :)

The 9-5 looks OK and drives good, id say well done to GM for leaving them this, but its up and up from here...fingers crossed for al the Trolly Trolls!!!
19:46 October 15, 2010 by Emmaboda
Saab is only going one way, that is UP, UP forever. Great vehicles, just keep them coming, we need more cars like SAAB here in the States.
10:02 October 17, 2010 by DaisyCutter
@ gotyboy

There are no ex-Lamborghini 'styling dudes' at Saab. The new Design Director has worked at Pininfarina and Bertone.
17:07 October 20, 2010 by Rick Methven
After 30+ years of only owning SAAB cars, I am going eco and just bought a Citroen C4 most of the goodies that the new 9-5 has got but half the fuel consumption of my current 9-5 Aero. Will always have a soft spot for SAAB but with 5 years free road tax and around 5l/100km The C4 will save me 1,000kr per month
22:00 November 16, 2010 by Alberto22
Let's be objective. Is and has Saab been the best selling car in Europe? In Sweden? In Japan? In America? No! Is and has Saab been the best selling luxury car in Europe? In Sweden? In Japan? In America? No! .. Not even close. Maybe the problem has been that the brand has been selling cars that the customers really don't want!! They may look good and I wish the company well, but in truth they just don't sell (or at least historically it hasn;t). So who's fault would that be?

Un amico di Italia!!
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