By on October 8, 2010

Back in 1983, my father, entranced by its idiosyncracy, nearly bought a Saab 900 Turbo. He even would have bought one, but with Detroit showing new signs of life I was on a “buy American” kick (the decade ultimately cured me). So he ended up buying the second-place finisher in Car & Driver’s infamous Baja comparison test instead. Down the road very different qualities drew him to Lexus. Apparently, Saab wants him back. How else to explain the new 9-5?

The new 9-5 looks about as much like a Saab as a car based on GM’s second-gen Epsilon platform possibly could. The rounded nose, curved windshield, and sweeping C-pillar provide clear visual links to that 1983 900 Turbo. No one will mistake it for the related Buick LaCrosse. And yet, not so Saabish: a high beltline, and the evident size of the car. Compared to the antiquated sedan it replaced, the new 9-5 is over half a foot longer (197.2”) and three inches wider (73.5”). It’s a big car, and appears even larger and more massive than it is. Handsome, perhaps, but neither striking enough nor distinctive enough to draw in new buyers the way the 900 did back in the mid-80s.

To Saab’s credit, they’ve clearly worked hard to retain the marque’s defining characteristics within the new 9-5’s interior. Sweeping fighter jet-inspired IP, egg crate air vents, start button between the seats (now keyless)—all present and accounted for. Aside from the aforementioned high belt, brand loyalists should feel at home. But how many are seeking a car this large, and are willing to spend so much for it? How many Saabistas are there at this point, period? Nearly everyone else shopping for a $50,000+ sedan is likely to be turned off by the predominance of black plastic. The leather seats look the part, and the design of the door-mounted upholstered armrests is interesting, but these cannot compensate for the stark ambiance and an IP that would look cheap in a car half the 9-5’s price.

Saabs have been blessed with excellent seats since at least 1983, and the new car’s are no exception. The front buckets are firm, yet comfortable, and provide much better lateral support than the typical GM parts. The back seat is nearly as comfortable and very roomy—as it should be given the car’s exterior dimensions. This is the size the S80, with nearly four fewer inches of rear legroom, should have been. But should the new 9-5 have been the size of the S80?

At launch, the 9-5’s only available powertrain is a 300-horspower turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 driving all four wheels through a six-speed automatic. Even burdened by 4,400 pounds (plus passengers), this engine accelerates the car with no apparent strain. In fact, no apparent anything. Even at the 5,500 rpm power peak the boosted six remains nearly silent. After the drive I popped the hood, expecting to find the engine fully encapsulated. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, but something most certainly is. Partly because of the engine’s almost eerie silence, the car never feels quick.

Given the new 9-5’s size, mass, and genetics, agile handling is out of the question. The active rear differential is no more evident than in other GM applications. On the pavement throttle-induced oversteer will be sought in vain. But understeer is almost equally elusive. For a nose-heavy car, the 9-5 possesses commendable balance and poise, with a tautness you won’t find even in the latest, German-engineered Buicks. The well-weighted steering is firm, especially in “sport mode,” which for once makes an obvious difference. The 9-5 can be hustled along a curvy road, if need be, and will feel better than the current Mercedes E-Class in the process. For better or worse, it just won’t feel like it’s hustling.

As with the engine, the wind and the road have been nearly silenced. Even the clomping of the tires over road imperfections seems faint and distant. The ride is smooth regardless of which mode is selected—if “sport” had an effect on the auto-adjusting shocks, I didn’t notice it.

I still can’t get my head around a Saab that’s so smooth, so quiet, and so large. There were clearly top priorities. But should they have been? Saab’s Swedish cost structure forces it to charge luxury car prices, so it must provide suitable levels of luxury and refinement. It’s also usually easier to get a higher price for a larger car. But unless a Saab retains the idiosyncracies for which the marque is known, why would anyone buy it? With the styling, and especially the interior styling, they opted to make the new 9-5 distinctively a Saab. But, drive the car, and this styling seems a veneer over what’s essentially a very well behaved Swedish Lexus. Though not soft like a Lexus, the new 9-5 manages to be surprisingly silent and smooth, and so insufficiently engaging. The evident charisma of that 1983 900 Turbo has been sacrificed. It’s not just Saab, of course. A Mercedes E-Class is completely soulless, and even BMW has been heading in this direction.

But was this “Swedish Lexus” a viable solution for Saab? Perhaps now would have been the right time to once again buck industry trends and truly do their own thing? We’ll probably never know. With the company striking out on its own and hanging by a thread, even most people who might have bought a new 9-5 now won’t.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

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87 Comments on “Review: 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    So, this is a Lexus with a real, honest to goodness sport package with some Saab coolness thrown in, but done so half heartedly.  If it proves Lexus reliable, people will be interested.  That’s a really big ‘if’.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be a fairly reliable car. The related Buick LaCrosse seems to have few issues so far. It’s early, of course.
      I’d love to have something more definitive. But they have to sell some of these before we can have owners in TrueDelta’s survey!
      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

    • 0 avatar
      JTMav

      Well I returned to Saab 2 weeks ago and bought a 2010 9-5 Aero, fairly well equipped. It is my 5th Saab, 93 9000, 94 900 cvt and 2 9-5 Aeros. I left the brand for Lexus in 2005 and owned 2 SC430s. This new Aero is nothing like a Lexus, it drives all Euro and not Japanese at all. Very tight for a car of this size and weight. I also drove then new Infiniti M37 an M56 and came back to Saab anyway. Didn’t like the high rev Infiniti engine, although their interior was stunning. No question about some GM DNA in this first new 9-5, but it’s no Buick.  The interior will evolve but the later Aeros had no wood and were more Spartan than some would like. Personally with the metal trim I find the interior about right, maybe some carbon fibre look would add a bit but I bought the car for it’s performance and drive. I love the HUD and the NAV and all that goes with it, it is very modern and up to date. If I wanted an A6 or 5 series I would have bought one, I like this because it’s a Saab, and a nice modern interpretation of where the brand may be heading.  I owned an old style 94 900 convertible, loved it but I am glad the brand is moving on.

    • 0 avatar
      DBV

      I currently own a BMW 535xi and have owned 3 Saab 9-5′s before that.  This new 9-5 will make me go back to the Saab brand next month.  I have test driven the new 9-5 about 4 times now and am absolutely thrilled with the car, in fact liked it just as much as my BMW, maybe even more.  I think the exterior of the new Saab is very distinct, classic and unique and love the look of it better than any other car I have test driven, including an Audi A6 3.0, Mercedes E350 and the new BMW 535i.  It also has plenty of power and is extremely fun to drive.  It feels extremely solid on the road and I can’t wait to try it out in the snow.
      While test driving the 9-5, some cars have actually rolled sown their windows when stopped at a red light to ask what kind of car it was.  Once more of these are on the road and especially when the cheaper priced 2.0 engine comes out (which is getting better reviews), I think this will be the start of good things for Saab.  Our local dealer is even building a brand new building for the Saab brand!
       

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    I hope that the future smaller Saabs are more sporty. If I had the money I would buy a 9-5 just because it is so rare and unique, but if given the choice I would take a smaller Saab over the 9-5.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      The future?  SAAB?  You’re a very optimistic man.  I give them another two years.  If the Chinese don’t bite, it’ll be good-bye Charlie, or Sven.

  • avatar
    BOF

    “The 9-5 wagon will certainly be missed, at least by some of us.”

    The 9-5 Combi wagon will be coming to the US market next year, I believe.  The larger size of this redesigned 9-5 will be a boon in the case of the wagon and a swell crossover or SUV replacement.

    • 0 avatar

      If it’s a conventional wagon, then it will be the largest we’ve seen in the U.S. since the B-Bodies went away. Could be quite interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      BOF

      As an owner of a B-body Roadmaster Estate, that is my undying hope.  The possibility of a modern large wagon has converted me into a Saab fan, but I love unconventional cars anyway.  I can’t wait to see the Combi’s production specs.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The “wait for the wagon” killed the Epsilon 9-3 among Saab loyalists.  This time there’s not enough left to give a damn.

    • 0 avatar

      CORRECTION: the back seat does fold. I’m not sure how this got into my head. I have driven quite a few cars lately, and strongly recall one where the back seat did not fold. Now I’m not sure which car that was.
      But this wasn’t it.
      One disappointment with the trunk I didn’t mention: it’s deep, but not very wide because of the enclosed conventional hinges. GM did the same with the Regal and LaCrosse.

  • avatar
    discoholic

    It’s interesting to see how downright nasty that IP, which came across as rather sexy and opulent in the carefully illuminated press photos, looks in Michael’s real-life pictures. That slab of flat black plasticrap around the navigation screen and HVAC/nav controls looks particularly egregious – and I couldn’t help notice the absolutely appalling panel fit right next to the nav screen.
     
    I absolutely adored the 900 Turbo (still do, actually), but $50,000 for this? Quite apart from the fact that an E-Series Mercedes is positively compact next to it (sorry, my garage is too small for a car this monstrous), I would still find the lofty price tag rather ambitious for a Saab even if it not only drove like a Lexus but was also built like one. (Which, CLEARLY, it isn’t.)
     
    Have to agree with Michael’s (rhetorical, I suppose) question: How many Saabistas are there at this point? How many are left that haven’t been scared away by 20 years of selling gussied-up GM platforms, the 1990′s Vectra-based 900, and two years of GM’s loud and very public insistence that Saab’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and absolutely MUST go? (Classic case of Let The Buyer Beware, if ever there was one…)
     

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    I expect a Saab to be engaging, whether it’s the 9-3 or 9-5. The last generation 9-5 may have been long in the tooth but it was sporty where it counts. It seems the new gen 9-5 may have sacrificed this aspect in the name of “Lexus-like” smoothness and isolation.
     
    If that’s the case I’ll take the smaller 9-3 SportCombi.
     
    If that 9-5 SportCombi does come to market, you can bet the upcoming 9-4X crossover will be cannibalizing sales.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I feel bad for Saab, no matter how great a car they make, there’s going to be legitimate fear about the solvency of the company.  I remember when Saab cars were on fire sale prices because of the panic.  I was tempted to buy a new one, but bankruptcies are messy.  You could be stuck in a car with zero support with parts.
    I used to own a Saab, but there’s honestly not much reason anymore to have one. If you want a sedan with some sportiness, there’s the BMW 5 series, the Audi A6, or a Lexus GS, all of which are proven platforms from companies that aren’t going anywhere.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Sounds like a good alternative to a Lexus, Buick, Hyundai, Lincoln and Acura, I like, and I do like the looks a lot more than its competition, I think its attractive yet unique.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I have to believe that this vehicle is more GM than Saab.  Rather than a new direction for Saab, it looks like the last direction that GM pushed Saab into.  Now, Saab has to sell this car because this is all it has.

    GM always thought of Saab as a luxury car.  GM was wrong about this.  But a luxury car is what Saab is now stuck trying to sell.  A middling kind of luxury car that is priced too high.  This is not going to end well.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Most Saabs are more GM than Saab: the NG900/9-3 shared it’s guts with the Calibra, the 9-5 with the Vectra (and thusly the Saturn L-Series, and it did so for nearly fifteen years).  The difference is that, back then, Saab had the autonomy to take the basic GM design and make a unique car out of it.  As GM steadily gutted Trollhattan’s autonomy and headcount the cars got more and more soulless, and coincidentally more and more pointless..
       
      GM has a sick need to make every brand a full line brand.  It’s a delusion borne from grossly misinterpreting Sloan’s “Car for every purse” dictum.  The funny, or sad, thing is that GM is far from being alone in this behaviour nowadays.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul W

      Actually Saab doesn’t have much of a choice. They’re never gonna sell cars in high numbers, so they must have huge margins on the ones they do sell. Their current business plan is actually to make Saab a true luxury brand and even MORE expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      mark93

      The new 9-5 is most likely the direction GM wanted to take Saab, and perhaps that was a mistake, but it is still the best car on the Epsilon II platform and will evolve into something even better.  Give Saab some time.  It has been strangled for the past decade.  The 9-3′s replacement will be the car that really makes people stand up and notice Saab again.

    • 0 avatar
      revjasper

      I’ve been thinking that GM wasted the chance to do a proper Saab 900.  The Delta platform, complete with Cobalt SS 260hp turbocharged motor would have made a nice Saab.  Change the coupe into a hatchback and add a decent interior and it would be almost complete.  Then there could be the $25K Saab.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    these cannot compensate for the stark ambiance and an IP that would look cheap in a car half the 9-5’s price.

    There’s nothing really wrong with “stark” in a Scandinavian car, provided it looks good.  I’m actually disappointed by the amount of chrome baubles in this car.  I was disappointed when the 9-3 and 9-5 grew chrome gauge rings, too.

    Chrome is fine in a Lincoln pr Buick.  It’s expected in a Cadillac.  It’s not entirely wrong in a Mercedes.  It’s heretical in a Saab.

    And yet, not so Saabish: a high beltline

    This car has Bob Lutz’s fingerprints all over it.  Again, fine in a Buick, expected in a Cadillac but wholly wrong for a Saab.

    The only reason Saab ever sold is because it was different.  Trying to make Saab into a mediocre front-drive BMW (re: the Epsilon 9-3) while making it a poor Saab was the final nail in the coffin.  Trying to be a mediocre Swedish Lexus is equally stupid.  Just be Saab**, don’t try to be a full line marque.  As part of GM, this would have been a viable strategy as GM had all sorts of other cars to sell to people who wanted Saabs.

    At this point, there’s not really anyone left to care, but even now I’m still wondering who the hell they expect to buy this car?  Anyone who was a Saab buyer is probably already happy with their Forester or Prius.  Give up, already.

    ** I had a longstanding beef with GM for not making a Saab hybrid.  The brand had the perfect demographics for it: left of centre, educated, accepting of difference to the point of obnoxiousness and relatively well off.  Hell, half the people I know who were Saab owners bought second-gen Priuses.

    • 0 avatar

      Before we blame GM too much, let’s remember what the original Saab 9000 was like. The problems with Saab started when they decided they had to share a platform with someone else rather than further refining their own.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Platform sharing is fine.  Saab did it well with the NG900 and the 9-5.  They did it less well with the 9000, I’ll agree there.  They did a horrible job with the 9-7 and 9-2x.
       
      There’s no shame in leveraging a platform from another marque as it’s quite an expensive enterprise, especially for a non-premium, low-volume marque.  Again, Saab had been able to do it in the past and could have done it again, had GM not brand-managed them into pointlessness.
       
      I don’t think Saab would have ever made serious money, but there was a case for them as a maker of cars that people who would otherwise never touch any GM’s other brands.

    • 0 avatar

      One of the neatest things about the original 900 was the configuration of the powertrain. Can’t have the engine facing rearwards with a shared platform. But perhaps this is a silly reason to not share?
      Subaru so far is sticking to its guns on the flat engines…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I agree that the transmission-ahead-of engine was cool, but Saab still managed to make a unique product even when faced with as unremarkable a platform as the GM2800.
       
      The devil is in the details.  Case in point: the Versa and the Juke.

      As for Subaru: yes, they’re sticking with flat engines, but despite bespoke platforms the cars themselves are getting less distinct and unique. Platform sharing and homogenity of experience don’t always go hand-in-hand.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Michael,
    Here’s what’s happening…the (we) baby boomers are doing the shopping.
    Yes, the ones that still participate on these sights still beg for the sounds and the feel of performance, but the ones that write the checks are getting comfortably numb.

    And sorry to say, I am one.
    OK..so I customized my MKS a teeny bit, adding a black top and other little things.
    But I paid a lot of money to stop all outside noises from entering the cabin.
    This includes engine noise.
    The reduction of engine noise has always been a goal of mine since I think it’s mostly phony and it makes me feel a little like a more sophisticated punk with a better fart pipe.
    I want something more.

    Power is what I want and the ability to take the Ozark hills with gusto and sublime luxury.

    You repeatedly ask WHY would anybody pay this amount for this car…then you actually answer your own question.
    You call it the Saab Lexus.
    Well, that’s why.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    Too big, too expensive, and not even a folding rear seat?  Thanks GM.
     
    See those strakes on the dash that stretch across the IP in front of the driver?  What idiot approved those?  After a few weeks, enough dust will collect there so as to make the car look filthy and depressing.
     
    Here’s hoping Saab can survive long enough to return to pre-GM form, back when they built reasonably affordable, semi-fun, safe, flexible cars.  How’s about a modern, flex- and bend-free 9000, the best car they ever built?

    • 0 avatar

      Those strakes would also appear to be making an appearance in the next-gen Government Motors Malibu (on the passenger’s side) if the spy pics released lately are any indication.

      (Sidebar: why, oh why, is it so damn difficult for a US-branded automaker to design an attractive and high-quality IP?)

  • avatar
    mjz

    Some REAL wood trim on the dash/doors would add a lot. The interior as is does not say this is a $50,000 car.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    All I can say about it is that I like it, but, since I’m 22 and don’t make much, I can’t have it.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I spent more than an hour in the thing at the NYC auto show, taking about 9000 pictures, and the IP didn’t look ANYTHING like MK’s. You can make anything look bad with a quick snapshot; don’t draw too much from it.
     
    I figure that a whole f***ton of detail pictures show a car far better than a few glamor ones. I didn’t try to play anything up with these shots, just took a ton:
     
    http://perisoft.kuvat.fi/kuvat/NYC+Saab+9-5/
     
    For what it’s worth, I want one. From my perspective, the shape is pretty novel – within the constraints of squinty-headlights-swooping-high-beltline design that seems necessary now.
     
    I find it interesting that so much of the review was spent on talking about why nobody would want one, when the actual *car* part was pretty positive. Given TTAC’s saab bias, I expected the review to say all of them should be burned, Trollhatten razed, and Sweden annexed by The Netherlands. Actual compliments? In a TTAC review of a Saab? Hell, for that to happen, the thing must be damn near perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I find it interesting that so much of the review was spent on talking about why nobody would want one, when the actual *car* part was pretty positive

      That’s the problem, really.

      It’s a nice car, but at this price point there are a lot of nice cars and this one isn’t distinct enough to stand out.  It’s not as overtly sporty (or outright weird) as the TL or Maxima.  t’s got a turbo and AWD, but so do others. It’s got pretty nice seats and a pretty nice dash and a competent drivetrain. It’s a good car. So what?

      It used to be that you could at least point to the hatchback body, outre ergonomics, therapeutic seats, rear-wheel-steering and/or rotten fish-paste dispenser, but this car, like the 9-3SS at it’s initial release, has nothing but “pretty good” to it’s credit.

    • 0 avatar

      The car in your photos has a different, textured trim plate that I’ve also seen in other photos. The same piece in the car I drove was not textured. Euro-spec vs. U.S-spec cars?
      Anyway, the car you took photos of is not the one you’ll see at dealers.
      For what it’s worth, I actually drove this car a few weeks ago. And both of the ones they had then are still there. Probably the one in the showroom as well.

    • 0 avatar
      NorthwestT

      Apparently they had a supplier flake on the IP.  The one from the autoshow had to be replaced for production on short notice.  I expect this will be fixed…but who knows. 

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Muller has already said that they want to look at upgrading the interior soon (though one wonders if he runs the risk of the Osborne effect).
       
      On another note, here’s a question to TTAC writers: Why is it that out of five Audi reviews I checked, none mentioned Volkswagen? If I’m not mistaken, isn’t Audi’s A4 based on VW platforms? But, not a peep. Audi gets a complete pass.
       
      But in one Saab review, we get:

      “GM’s second-gen Epsilon”
      “the related Buick LaCrosse”
      “typical GM parts”
      “other GM applications”
      “German-engineered Buicks”

      So, how is it that five Audi reviews at least pass without mentioning VW at all, but you guys just can’t resist twisting the knife five times in eight paragraphs about a Saab, when the Saab is far, far less like its platform mate than the A4? Why the free pass for the Germans?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      If I’m not mistaken, isn’t Audi’s A4 based on VW platforms? But, not a peep. Audi gets a complete pass.

      Audi doesn’t get a free pass from everyone, but I do agree with you that they do get such a pass far more often than Acura, Saab or Volvo do.  Part of this is that they play in a little higher league (eg, A8, the S- and RSs, and the R8) and have for a longer time, but another part of it is sheer marketing.

      Audi has, to it’s credit, upped it’s game, or rather upped it’s and lowered VW’s, to separate the two a little more.

      It would help Saab’s case if it hadn’t pissed the last fifteen or more years away.  Ditto Acura and the last five.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      The B8 platform of the current A4 is used on the A4, A5, A8, and Q5.  No Volkswagen-branded vehicles use this platform.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    The truly sad thing about the new 9-5 is that it suffers from the same thing that has plagued all recent Saabs: it’s a good car, but not good enough. $50k is a killer segment, and any customer sitting in a 9-5 after looking at the the E350 and 535i will be hard-pressed to chose it over either German competitor.
    I have always had a soft spot for Saabs though; I’m still drawn to the first 9-5 facelift (body-colored grille, ’02-’05) before they uglified it with a terrible clip-on second facelift. Though hardly the epitome of solidity, their pre-2004 convertibles were handsome and unique-looking cars, something that was lost in the rather bland execution of the latest cab.

  • avatar
    Nick

    I’d pay this much for a SAAB if they somehow incorporated access to Sweden’s pool of blondes, otherwise forget it.

  • avatar
    bikephil

    As a former (un)happy owner of a 1986 9000 Turbo, and a 2000 9-5 Wagon, I can honestly say that Saabs are the absolute worst, most unreliable cars I have ever owned.  Would never even think about buying another.  The 9-5 would routinely refuse to start after being driven and then shut off for a short period of time.  Then it would suddenly start again, and would drive fine.  Then the Turbo blew.  Twice.  Terrific engine and transmission, but the electrical gremlins and turbo woes just killed it for us.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Yes, the “charisma” of the 83 900 that some pine for is what killed Saab in the first place.
       
      Resolving those issues with a $50k car isn’t the way to restore the brand.  This car is too late.

    • 0 avatar
      abgwin

      Refusing to shop a current vehicle because of the (un)reliability of a car made by the same maker 24 and/or 10 years ago is foolish.
      Judge the current vehicle by recent years or related models.
      Would you refuse to consider a 2010 Hyundai Sonata because of the 1986 Excel?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Refusing to shop a current vehicle because of the (un)reliability of a car made by the same maker 24 and/or 10 years ago is foolish

      Yeah, well, it’s a little different for Saab because they pretty much made the same vehicle for twelve years and the reliability was iffy for the entire run.  Take the last 9-5 (12 years, longer if you include when the platform debuted), the GM900/9-3 (ten years) or the 99/900 (fifteen years, possibly quite a bit more).

      When I see the same switchgear in a 2009/10 9-5 (not this car) that I saw in my 2002 9-3 and, consequently, in a 1992 900, I feel justified in my prejudice.

      I also feel justified in being just a little concerned about this car, what with it’s being the last gasp of a bankrupt brand from an ADHD-afflicted company with it’s own serious money problems that’s not been transferred as what seems like more of a money-laundering operation than a real enterprise.

    • 0 avatar
      rune

      psarhjinian,

      You should contact the Germans, because they do not seem to share your views on reliability. (http://www.saabsunited.com/2010/08/saab-reliability-ratings-from-germany.html)

      Reading your comments in this thread in one go is an interesting exercise. You are extremely critical. Apparently making a good car is not good enough. It would be interesting to know if you are this critical towards other brands as well. What’s more important? The way a vehicle handles on the road or the management of the company making the car? Do you also study VW’s owner structure? (now, if you want ADHD, check out the feud between Porsche and VW in the recent past)

      Saab tends to make the best cars for winter conditions. It takes a lot of effort to get stuck with a Saab. They also make the safest cars. This is reflected in real world statistics such as the ones Folksam publishes. From the 9000 onwards, their cars have been noticably safer than any German car. It is always interesting to observe a BMW trying to overtake a Saab 9000 when the road conditions change from merely ‘bad’ to ‘worse’. (My observation is that a gust of side wind or a big puddle of water, and the Beamer will reconsider and drops half its speed)

      Personally I think the new 9-5 could have used more power under the bonnet. The dashboard panel is certainly less interesting than what they presented a year ago. But even so, the drive itself is silky smooth. It is a very nice place to spend four hours on the road.

  • avatar
    Alexdi

    A very nice car, but not for $50K. I’d cross-shop it with something like the Genesis, which is about $15K less. The refinement is appealing and they’ve done well with the seats, wheel, and ergonomics, but that center stack has that buttons-on-a-slab look from cut-rate Fords. It would also benefit tremendously from contrasting colors. The interior ambiance of Subaru’s Legacy with the Premium package is more impressive at half the price.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    They just reviewed this car on Swiss TV, and the reviewer also commented about the size and the solidity of the vehicle.

    The impression that I had from the parts of the video that I paid attention to was that the front overhang was much shorter than on the US-market vehicle pictured in this piece … it had the effect of making the front-end look attractively stubby … could it be that the overhang for the US-vehicle is longer due to US bumper or crash standards (or was it some kind of optical illusion on my TV)?

  • avatar

    Funny this was published today as I just drove one this morning at Lund Cadillac/Saab here in Phoenix. 

    It is very obvious inside and out that this car was made out of the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu.  The proportions and hardpoints inside and out are identical.  It even drives very similarly to it’s platform siblings.

    What struck me most about the car is that it is gigantic for a Saab.  Also that it drives very American in my mind.  It’s very softly sprung, completely quiet and pretty vague to steer.  Like a Buick or a Cadillac.  But with Saab styling inside and out.

    The interor and powertrain I found disappointing.  The last Saab I drove (and liked) was the turbo 9-3 when it came out many many years ago.  I liked that car so much that I nearly purchased one.  It had a sense of urgency to the acceleration with no strain even though it was a four cylinder.  This new 9-5 has none, in fact you don’t really feel anything when goosing it.  It just moves forward, like a big jet.  But it lacks the performance that Saab enthusiasts will probably expect and that used to be a hallmark of the brand a decade or more ago.

    The interior is cheap.  The only thing that’s really nice for the price point is the leather they trimmed it with.  Other than that the entire inside is GM’s part bin with snot green lighting. 

    Overall, I can’t see this car changing Saab’s situation.  It’s overpriced by at least ten grand if not more.  If the pricing doesn’t alienate people than the styling and interior of it probably will.  You’d have to be daft or really really want to be different to buy this at MSRP over an equivalent car you can get for the money (and less in many cases) from virtually any other manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar

      Did you alter the modes while driving the car? They don’t affect the suspension much, but they have a large effect on the steering.
      I had a LaCrosse for a week recently, and didn’t think the Saab felt like it. The Saab felt more polished and composed to me. I had issues with the way the Buick rode–insufficient damping.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    Why would anyone buy this instead of a…well, just about anything else?
    Is SAAB going to exist by the time the buyer finishes paying for it?
    I did a quick Autotrader search of year old luxury cars. Jaguar XFs, Audi A8s, and Lexus LS460s are priced between 50-60 thousand as well.

  • avatar

    Good to read a balanced article about Saab from TTAC, Michael, without the catchy stuff.  A few points to note for both yourself and commenters….
    The Aero price is near $50K at launch for the 2010 (it’s $47.5K) but they’re just about all done and dusted because the 2011 range will be landing very soon.  That 2011 range includes a 2.0T that’ll start under $40K.
    The interesting thing about the 2.0T is that it makes the car a heck of a lot lighter at the front end, making it feel smaller on the road and, from my experience at the launch in June, quite a bit more nimble and fun.  Not as powerful as the V6, but still pretty decent in the right gear and more smiles in the twisty bits.
    The dark interior can look a bit …. dark for some.  There is also a Parchment and Cocoa interior, which looks fantastic.
    When this car was first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show (and subsequent shows around the world) the dashboard did have a textured panel on it, a-la the photos shown in PeriSoft’s comment.  This dash panel is not in the production car, I believe due to problems with the supplier.
    And yes, the wagon is big and quite sexy :-) . It’ll come mid-late 2011, after the Saab 9-4x.

    • 0 avatar

      Good to see you here, Swade. I’ve been wanting to check out your own impressions, but wanted to wait until after I wrote mine up.
      $47.5k is the base before 825 dest. Also add the nav and Tech Package on the tested car, and you end up at $51,610. No doubt they’ll give someone a discount of at least $10k to move it.
      Just this evening I saw a beautiful blue 9-5, and was amazed that someone might have bought it. I guessed that it was a manufacturer car, and when I got closer this was confirmed–had manufacturer tags.
      It is a shame that the three the dealer stocked were all boring colors–silver, dark gray, and black. The blue looked very good on the car.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Kudos to the upcoming 2.0T, at a much more Saab-like $40k.  The wagon would be cool.
    Once the 9-3 is replaced, the 9-4 arrives, and the (9-2? 9-1?) MINI-based car is here, it’ll be a very reasonable line-up for a near-luxury maker.

    While I know deep down my 9-3 Aero is just a pretty Epsilon, Saab has made it their own.  I can slap it around, it goes like stink (thrust is tremendous when turbo spools up), and it is a gorgeous car with the top down.  Pushing it, I chickened out at 120 on late night on a barren stretch of road.

    I’m the first in line to piss on GM for their overall stupidity (and starving Saab of decent product for the last 7 years….although I thought the 9-2x was an improvement for Subaru, and a natural fit in the line up) (and for mediocre products by some of the most excellent engineers; and for DRLs, the bane of my existence….I’ll stop the list there).  But I also can’t help but think (like Ford with Jaguar) the marquee would have disappeared in the country or perhaps permanently without a helping hand from a major company.

    Meanwhile, I look forward to the wagon……
     

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      You guys are price-comparing a loaded top-end 9-5 with stripper competitors. If you option equivalently, IIRC, the Saab comes out ahead – sometimes by a lot. TTAC itself did a nice apples-to-oranges comparo linked here – a bare metal Volvo vs. a loaded Saab, and pronounded Saab more expensive despite it having 5+k in options. Not sure why there’s such vehement anger to the marque – is GM ownership alone enough to turn TTACers into such obvious anti-fanboys?

    • 0 avatar

      The price comparison I linked to was one I wrote, and was correct based on the information at the time. I now notice that they cut $1,600 from the base price between when the pricing was announced and the cars actually arrived. So all of the price differences in the piece do need a $1,600 adjustment in the Saab’s favor.
      It looks like both cars.com and edmunds still have the higher, incorrect price. Someone from Saab might want to let them know.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      …is GM ownership alone enough to turn TTACers into such obvious anti-fanboys

      Depends.  The opinions here seem to vary from “Good car, but not good enough to deal with the company’s questionable status” to, yes, GM bitterness.

      I have to say I’m in the latter camp, at least a little.  I thought they were good cars with a potential for a comfortable and profitable niche and it’s a shame to see how horribly mismanaged they were under GM. If you were, say, a Commodore Amiga owner (I was) you’d recognize the feeling: one can only take so much abuse.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Hah! In 1993, at the age of 15 or so, I’d made a chunk of money programming a little LCD bar graph thingy in assembly. So, I was able to get a computer… I alllmost ended up with an Amiga. I really liked the graphics potential, and I was aware of the stuff it could do that nothing else could gamewise… but as a guy who was stuck with an inherited NCR Decisionmate V back in 1985, I was painfully aware of what happens with proprietary, incompatible machines.
       
      Something gave me cold feet about the Amiga, even without knowing the state of Commodore (it’s not like I could look online and find out…). I got a 486. I made the right choice.

  • avatar
    IGB

    The Saabista are masochists. I’m one. I’ve been burned often. It was finally when my great local dealership was sold that I threw in the towel.
     
    This car could draw me back in. I’m getting older, fatter. I don’t yearn for torque steer like I used to. I could don a pair of asbestos gloves and take one more stab at the fire for this really excellent looking car.
     
    $50,000 for a cheap plastic dash is part of the Saab mystique. You missed that, Michael. It’s part of the plan. Each of those vents costs $450 when they break…and break they will.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    A few points:

    1. The crap instrument panel (and no sunroofs!) is a 2010-only issue, and all 600 2010′s that are coming to the US are here. As someone mentioned, it was a supplier issue. 2011 and forward will have a variety of finishes available, all of them much nicer. Frankly, given that the factory was shut and liquidation started when the sale occured, it is a miracle that there are any 2010s at all.

    2. The 9-5 is related to the Opel Insignia, which is the same car as the new Buick Regal, not the LaCrosse. The Saab is on a longer wheelbase version of that platform.

    3. In the classic 900, the engine was not behind the transmission, it was bolted to the TOP of the transmission, the top of the transmission case forms the oil pan. Made for a very easy to change clutch, and a long tradition of transmissions not up to actually transmitting the power of those turbo motors.

    As a Saab owner and fan, I quite agree that this is not really the right car for Saab, but it is what they have and they have to make the best of it. I think if GM had any brains they would have launched the WAGON first, then the sedan. The wagon will have a lot less competition in it’s price range.

    Saab has a long history of dong good things with other companies mechanical bits – I have high hopes that Victor and company can liven things up going forward.

    • 0 avatar

      Quite right that it’s amazing these cars got built at all.
      The LaCrosse is also related to the Insignia/Regal, but like the 9-5 is on a longer wheelbase version of that platform. In fact, the wheelbase for the 9-5 and LaCrosse is exactly the same, 111.7″. Coincidence?
      The transmission might be below and to the side of the engiine, but isn’t the clutch (or torque converter with the automatic) ahead of the engine?
      As noted in an earlier comment, the price is $1,600 lower than the one originally announced. An adjustment for missing content? 

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      On the classic Saab 900, the clutch/flywheel or torque converter/flexplate is bolted to the end of the crankshaft like any other car. But from there a BIG ASS duplex chain takes the drive down to the input shaft of the transmission, which is under the engine. The differential ends up at about 2/3s of the way towards the front of the engine, which as noted is “backwards” in the car with the belts up against the firewall.

      The inertia of that chain does the shift quality no favors at all – early model 99s had gears and were much better. All in all, a serious dead-end in powertrain evolution. The clutch is easy to change, but everything else is miserable – changing the alternator in my ’92 was one of the least fun car repair jobs I have ever done. Not helped by the fact that this setup was engineered in the mid-60s for a tiny 1.7l single-cam engine with no turbo, no ABS, no power steering, no A/C, and a shaft driven waterpump. Add all that stuff on and the engine bay turned into a 3D puzzle.

      One other advantage is that this setup resulted in equal-length drive shafts, so C900s have very little torque steer, even in turbo form.

    • 0 avatar

      GM used a similar setup with the original Toronado et al, except that the engine faced forwards. The torque converter and the transmission were connected by a chain strong enough to handle 350+ foot-pounds of torque.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    I followed one on the road here in Oakland County at night… it’s got cool taillamps.
    Other than that, the Chinese had better BUY BUY BUY!

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    @Perisoft

    Platforms are a slippery concept at best. In the past, the VW Passat was based on the Audi “B” platform (Audi A4), but the current one is not. The Audi A3 IS essentially a VW Golf with a sexier body and interior, as is the TT. The VW Phaeton is kinda-sorta a version of the Audi A8 and Bentley platform. Quite different, but close enough to spread development costs I would think.

    But to specificly answer your question, no, the A4 and A6 are NOT based on VW platforms. But VW and Audi are essentially the same company, so does it really matter? VW is NOT a maker of cheap funny little cars anymore.

    To put this in a Saab perspective, while certainly, for example, there are some common parts between the Malibu and the 9-3, the reality is the cars are so completely different that they cannot be made in the same factory. That is really, really stretching the idea of shared platforms. The 9-5 and Opel Insignia/Buick Regal are on the same platform in much the same way.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      …Which is exactly my point. Even this review makes it seem like the 9-5 is one step above a facelift. Earlier reviews as good as said that the 9-5 was a Chevelle with a new bumper. It’s bizarre.

    • 0 avatar

      The review implies little more than that the use of the second-generation Epsilon platform dictated a high beltline. In my mind, Saabs should have large windows. I’ve always preferred the previous 9-5 to the current 9-3 for this reason.
      Beyond that, I feel the review suggests that the car is the way it is because Saab made it this way. Note that I make no comparisons to how the GM cars feel in the review, and in the comments assert that it does not drive like a LaCrosse. Buick should figure out how to make the LaCrosse drive this well.

  • avatar
    rune

    “The active rear differential is no more evident than in other GM applications. On the pavement throttle-induced oversteer will be sought in vain. ”

    The first sentence does not really say much, but I assume the reviewer suggests that other GM applications do not noticably let the active rear diff come into play.

    Which is strange, because the purpose of said rear diff is to counteract under- and oversteering.

    So… Which is it… Is the active rear diff noticable or not..? The reviewer’s own comments concerning understeering seems to suggest that it very much is.

    In Comfort mode, on a rainy day, pushing about 50-60 kph in a roundabout, I managed to get my 2.0T Aero XWD to understeer because the ESP kicked in. I probably should have switched to Sport mode. Would have been nice if the reviewer covered the basics IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      A more aggressively tuned active differential would produce oversteer (ideally gradual and easily controllable) when accelerating in a turn. This would give the 9-5 some of the feel and greater flexibility of a rear-wheel-drive car. The clearest case of this is probably the Acura TL SH-AWD.
      Earlier I had a 9-3 Turbo X with the same drivetrain for a week. The above behavior was only evident on unpaved surfaces.
      GM clearly had a different purpose in mind for the active rear differential. Perhaps it is tuned to bring the attitude of the chassis back to neutral from understeer, and no further. And perhaps it does this so well that it’s impossible to detect. This is what I meant by its operation not being evident.
       
      .

    • 0 avatar
      rune

      Michael, Saab have and always will be the leader when it comes to cars made for the winter.

      The last thing you want to mess with, on any road surface when the temperature creeps under the freezing point (or a few degrees above freezing, around +4 Celcius), is oversteering.

      Especially important if you have loaded your car with all your holiday gear and your entire family.

      So no, XWD w/eLSD should not let you induce oversteering. XWD is designed to save your family from a certain disaster. It is not designed to allow you to show off on a track.

      I am very surprised to learn that the TurboX did this. OTOH, its target audience is slightly different. But then again, maybe they had not fine tuned eLSD as much? (Or you had simply turned off traction control on what is a lighter car than the 9-5…)

      (Kinda reminds me of the silly discussions I would have with Ovlov fans in the mid-80s. Especially funny considering that Ovlov dumped RWD a few years later when they finally decided to make better cars)

  • avatar
    dp118

    SAAB owner since 1986. 

    Test drove new first-batch 9-5 for two hours and must agree with all Michael’s points.  Overall, I enjoyed the test drive.  The overall feel and dynamics of this vehicle far exceed my present 9-5, which is to be expected.  We are also Lexus owners and I make that connection with the new 9-5 as well.  Without regard to the overall value of this vehicle, some additional personal observations, albeit nitnoys.

    First, rearward visibility is absolutely atrocious, especially when backing up, due to significant slope of rear window.  I needed the backup camera when I reversed twice into two parking spaces during the test drive.  Without it I’d be backing up almost blind.

    Second, why metal foot pedals?  Come on, this is a $50,000+ luxury automobile.  If I want chrome pedals, I’ll buy a street racer.  At least offer normal pedals as no cost option.

    Third, the left front footwell is more restrictive than any vehicle I’ve driven.  There’s limited space to rest that left foot and at least on my test vehicle, no pad to rest it on.

    The huge trunk latches do restrict access to trunk, more so than I’d thought beforehand.  More so than any SAAB I’ve owned.  Is this trunk so massive to require these?

    Instrument Panel:  The speedometer expands markings towards the top end, for European speeds I presume.  That means the area between 40mph-90mph is squeezed and harder to read with precision.  Why they went for chrome rings around the speedometer, tach, etc is beyond me.  This is distracting.  Go back to the traditional all black functional backing.  The fit of the panel surrounding the nav system on my test vehicle was not precise enough for a vehicle in this price range.  Saab needs to fix this in the next batch.

    Inside the engine compartment I noted a huge aluminized heat abating panel behind the engine.  I presume this V-6 Turbo gets mighty hot under certain conditions.

    I might purchase a new Saab 9-5 but not the model I tested at the price they are asking.  I’ll wait for the 2.0L Turbo and see if they deal with some of the fit and finish issues.  The dealer was offering leasing deals but the “Residual” was around 45% compared with 60%+ for BMWs and Mercedes.  Supports current contention regarding steep depreciation on these vehicles.  No real surprise here.  

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    I would buy it if i was looking for a big sedan.
    It feels solid and is the individualists choice to “ze germans”

  • avatar
    TravisTheChimp

    Terrible review!
    As the owner of a 1993 Saab 9-3 convertible I can tell you the things that drew me to that car:  safety, safety, safety, and safety.  It looked unique, was well built, and was not a BMW (everyone had the beemer – none of my firends had the Saab).
    The car was great in the snow, not much of a performer, but great to drive.
    This new car is: (1) likely to be great in the snow (thnaks to the all-wheel drive); (2) looks unique, and (3) is not a beemer.  So it has all of that going for it.
    What is the safety record going to be for these new saabs?  I don’t know.
    How does it compare to a 30-year old car?  Who cares?
     

  • avatar
    mark93

    Saab couldn’t do “it’s own thing” with this car.  I’m sure it would’ve done if it could, but the design was locked in during the GM era when it had much less freedom to be creative.  I’m sure future Saabs will be far more interesting.  In fact, I think you can bet on that!  But that being said, the new 9-5 is still a very good car even if it isn’t quite the sort of car the new Saab might have built if it could design the car again from scratch, without GM observing every move.  Keep watching Saab.  You’ll be surprised….

  • avatar

    Interesting article Michael but I think your basic premise is flawed: the 9-5 clearly wasn’t intended to be the 900′s spiritual successor. Think of this as the heir to the 9000 (as I believe it’s intended) and its size and manners make much more sense.
     
    As someone who spent a very happy couple of years owning a 9000 I’d have one of these in a flash… were I in the market for another large luxury car… which sadly I’m not right now. I really hope enough people prove to be though, and that the new Saab can make a go of things long enough to show us what a real modern successor to the 900 (a new 9-3) would be like.

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    I have to agree with Michael’s point in the review.  Some Saab fans– whose income has grown with the car’s dimensions– may be drawn to it, but under GM, Saab slid into being a marginal brand as far as non-loyalists are concerned.  It’s become the Mitsubishi (or maybe the Isuzu?) of the up-scale European marques available in the US. 

    Most buyers are indifferent to Saab’s heritage.  To make real headway with them, I think Saab needs to offer up its heritage in far more distinctive and compelling way than what’s described in this column.  Going forward, I wonder if Saab/Spyker is too hamstrung to be able to pull the brand back into market viability.  I hope so, though: I had a ’92 900 that I loved, an ’00 GM’d 9-3 that I was disappointed with, and I would love to be drawn back to Saabs again.

  • avatar
    JTMav

    Well I’ll give you credit for something original but to say Saab is viewed as a Mitsubishi or Isuzu, with all due respect, is just absurd. Misunderstood and ignorant by most Americans, depending on where you are, but I don’t think Isuzu. Of course here in New England Saabs are looked at as different, safe and sporty cars. I’ve put about 1500 miles on my 2010 9-5 Aero and love driving it more each day. This is my 5th Saab and my 3rd 9-5 Aero, and it’s clearly a much more advanced car than the model it’s replaced. All the bashing of the car is being done mostly by people who haven’t seen it in person never mind drive it for more than 15 minutes. The car drives very European and not Japanese at all. I came from a Lexus SC430 and the Aero out handles it significantly. Sure there is GM DNA in the car, but it was designed and built in Trollhattan, and for me at least it drives like a true sports sedan.
    I think the marketing plan should be to just get people to test drive the car, remember the old ads that said most people who test drive a Saab end up buying one. With a fully funded 3 year business model the company should make it till the new 9-3, which most people view as the new “all” Saab will be released. Saab has almost always shared technology with competitors. The 2.3 found in the 1ts gen 9-5 was an old Triumph engine. Apparently the new 9-3 may have a BMW engine.
    I’m happy to be back in a Saab after 5 years with Lexus. Lexus is a fine brand, reliable, well built and in the end quite boring and sterile. There’s more in common with the Lexus ride and Buick than any Saab IMHO.
    So far nobody has asked me how I liked my new Isuzu.
    JTMav

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    The reference to Mitsubishi and Isuzu was an analogy.  The meaning was that AMONG ITS PEERS (in this case other European, up-market vehicles), it has slipped into being a marginal brand in the US market.  Loyalists to the brand may not like this, but the sales #s over the past 15 years don’t lie– even in New England, I suspect. 

    Sorry if the meaning of the prior post wasn’t clear.


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