By on October 21, 2013

Susan writes:

So I found a 2011 Saab 9-5 that I just love. I have never owned a Saab. Do they break a lot? I don’t want to spend thousands on car repairs. Been there done that. Please let me know what your honest opinion is on whether I should buy this car or not. Thanks for your time.

Sajeev answers:

Run like hell. That’s the short answer. More to come. :)
Sent from my iPhone

Susan answers:

Hahaha ok
Sent from my iPhone

Sajeev concludes:

Here’s the thing: I truly adore it when readers make no pretense to their mechanical prowess (I can do this, I think I’d be willing to do that) and instead get to the point with a Yes or No question…with past experiences in mind. That makes my answer far more accurate. Why?

Consider these:

  1. Turbo Saabs are chronically below average in terms of reliability, durability and repair costs.  While a 2011 model may be far superior than older models with unobtainium non-GM parts and (possible) questionable upkeep from previous owners, while parts are available via the “Saab Secure Program“, only certain parts of the country are truly Saab friendly when it comes to service and support. Not so compared to other luxury marques.
  2. Saabs aren’t for everyone and like any niche, plenty of folks appreciate such quirkiness…and are willing to deal with non-Lexian levels of quality.
  3. The final Saab 9-5 is a rather beautiful and unique automobile, even with the Chevy steering wheel and underlying GM architecture.
  4. Saabs (and Volvos) probably have the best seats in the business, for decades. But what are those seats bolted to?

We know enough to make a sound judgement against a pretty vehicle with serious concerns: if one readily admits to being repair-averse, don’t even consider a Saab.  Hell, maybe you shouldn’t consider anything from Europe (without a very extended warranty) these days.  Make your life easier, there are plenty of alternatives out there. Just go test drive them, Susan!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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49 Comments on “Piston Slap: Escaping The Land of Lotus-Eaters...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Having owned a previous generation Saab I considered the newer style. It is a unique shape standing out in today’s three box design of some other cars, The center console layout reminds of the first Old Aurora, a black sheet of plastic with radio and HVAC buttons on it and the price! I can get a CPO Opel based Buick for similar price new providing longer warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I agree, whenever I see a last-gen 9-5 (have only seen silver and white) they stand right out. The blacked out trim at the front making it look like the roof is only attached at the back is nice too.

      But then you notice how the emblems have already started peeling, and how the trim here and there isn’t straight, and you have to frown.

      But then the next day I’ll see a well-kept ’94 9000 with Aero wheels, and forget all bout that newer 9-5.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Buy a Camry.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I don’t normally recommend a 3-series…

  • avatar
    oldowl

    I owned two SAABs, a 99L and a 900. Recently I saw a 900 Turbo fastback (or whatever they called the two-door). I salivated, sighed heavily, and moved on.

  • avatar
    jeremy1001

    If you could fix it, where would you find the parts?

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Easy, China parts. GM sold most everything to China so parts are plenty and pennies on the dollar.

    • 0 avatar

      http://www.saabparts.com/en-us/usa/the-company/news/latest-news/news-column/2013-01/saab-automobile-parts-na-launches-saab-secure-program/

      Supposedly they got you covered. And if you mess up the steering wheel, just grab one from a Cruze.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Oh low blow! You could get some parts of a Cadillac BLS probably too.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The door handles and locks are from most of the car-based GM models produced in or after MY2010, like the Sonic, Cruze, Verano, Volt, Malibu, Camaro, LaCrosse and Regal (and possibly the Gen-II CTS). The key is clearly a variant of the one used in recent Cadillacs and later examples of the C6 Corvette (after the C6 stopped using the STS’s key). The navigation-based stereo was fundamentally shared with post-bankruptcy GM models produced between 2010 and 2012. The gauge cluster looks like the one from the 9-4X and pre-2013 SRX. Switchgear like the steering-column stalks, headlight dials, gear-selector, and seat controls is obviously GM. The 2.8-liter turbo V6 from the 9-5 Aero was definitely used in the SRX for MY2010 and part of MY2011, as well as the 9-4X. The 2.0-liter turbo from the cheaper 9-5 Turbo4 probably the older LNF engine from the hi-per Delta I models (Cobalt SS, HHR SS), and hi-per Kappa models (Solstice GXP, Sky Red Line), the current Regal and Verano turbo models, and even as a generator in the Karma. It is not, however, the newer LTG 2.0-liter turbo in the Malibu Turbo and base ATS and CTS. And yes, variations of that steering wheel are in the 9-4X, Cruze, Sonic, Malibu, Volt, Verano and Regal Turbo. Then again, the fact that the non-turbo Regal gets the four-spoke wheel from the Equinox, Terrain and LaCrosse would suggest that all of those wheels are interchangeable anyway, if the airbags are the same.

        So, yeah, it’s full of GM parts that can probably be replaced.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Hey hey hey! She can still get parts/service for the Saab’s equally unreliable GM siblings. Go for it. Gm needs you now more than ever..

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I once owned a Saab. It left me with a real bad taste in my mouth that I can’t seem to wash out. Now I don’t trust european cars (never had one that didn’t have an expensive electrical malfunction, including old vw) but I also don’t trust european car mechanics. So far the overwhelming majority of advice has been good but someone will be out there who thinks it’s good for 40mpg and 300kmiles between oil changes.

    Listen to Sajeev, Susan.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      I also once owned a SAAB. It was a sturdy 1985 900S and was comfortable and fun to drive and had tons of utility. But it also forced me to learn to repair lots and lots of things, which at the time made it quite interesting. Overall it was a good experience, but one I wouldn’t recommend to a non engineer type.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Being a new model that sold very few cars before Saab went bankrupt, this 9-5, I would think, would be the absolute worst model Saab to buy. There are probably a number of unique parts in this car that are in very limited supply. It would be better to buy an older 9-5 or 9-3, which have been essentially unchanged for a number of years and are far more likely to have parts available, either new or from salvaged vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Yep. It’d be like buying a Sterling for a DD. Except worse.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      True. The underlying parts are all GM and were used in many different models. But body and cosmetic pieces are going to be difficult to find. It may also be more likely to get declared totaled after a collision due to the scarcity (and therefore high costs) of said parts.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “Being a new model that sold very few cars before Saab went bankrupt, this 9-5, I would think, would be the absolute worst model Saab to buy.”

    The 9-4X would like a word with you.

    That said, Saabs aren’t for the feint-of-heart. They fit inbetween Jags and Lexi on the reliability chart. I will say in 46k miles my 9-3 has only needed work on the convertible top mechanism (under warranty thank you Benevolent One).

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      They built so few 9-4X’s before SAAB defaulted that it’s almost a non-existent model. I think it’s a great alternative to the Cadillac SRX with which it shares a platform, but the 2.8-liter turbo V6 in either of them is horrible…

  • avatar
    vvk

    Utter nonsense.

  • avatar
    albert

    “Turbo Saabs are chronically below average in terms of reliability, durability and repair costs.”
    that is just nonsense.
    What may have been true for pre 1993 Saab’s 900 is no longer true for the after 2002 Saabs.
    SAAB 9-3 scored better reliability than Opel Insignia. And how is the Buick Regal doing?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I have to go to Biggy for the answer:

    Frank White push the sticks on the Lexus, LX, four and a half
    Bulletproof glass tints if I want some a**.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      By the same logic:

      “Pimpin H*s that drive Volvos and Rodeos…”

      I love all of the car references in 1990s rap, back when the Mazda MPV got some love (Biggie, Tupac, Wu-tang), Acura was hot stuff, and any sort of SUV was impressive enough to include in a song (Ice Cube’s “two tone Ford Explorer”).

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    As much as I like new Saabs a quick craiglist search makes me skeptical, countless of the GM-Saabs on there with broken engines.

    Sent by my PC

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Having owned 7 saabs (still have # 7), I’d say Mr. Mehta’s conclusion is totally correct – but has totally wrong reasoning.

  • avatar
    Tostik

    Recently, I had to get approval from my neighborhood association to put in a new driveway. The covenant approval guy drove up in a brand new Subaru Outback. I asked him how he liked it. He said, great, good reliability, great AWD, and great gas mileage. Then he looked at me with longing eyes, and said, but I used to own a SAAB 9-5. He clearly loved, and missed, his SAAB.

  • avatar
    gsf12man

    The last 9-5 was a stunning design, inside and out. A non-mechanic owner should have a good (repeat, good!) independent shop available to care for his or her Saab. The shop I used in Phoenix worked on just about anything, did very good work, and weren’t cheap. But European cars are definitely divas; if you know that going in, you’ll be fine.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I would agree, but the poster says ” I don’t want to spend thousands on car repairs. Been there done that.” Does not sound like a good candidate for Saab ownership.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    Sajeev is dead on with the regional aspect of Saab repair. Here in the Twin cities, no problem. Other parts of the country, you may as well be looking for Yugo repair shops

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    what a bunch of grouches!

    If you like the car, buy it. I’m sure it will be fine. Find a competant mechanic, and smile! People tried to talk me out of my Golf, but i bought it anyway, and I’m glad I did. Let them drive their “reliable” boring cars.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Your presumably unreliable Golf is still a production nameplate and can still be serviced. You have to join the Saab cult club to keep a 9-5 on the road now.

      And it’s a bit snooty to think other makes can’t be interesting to drive, but I’ve seen this attitude with many other owners of German cars.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Sure there are other cars that are interesting to drive, just very few of them are Asian. The Focus hatch is as good to drive as a Golf, but the Golf is a better all-around car in my opinion. Just more refined and premium feeling. It is, after all the standard by which that class of car is judged the world over.

        In fact funny how German cars of all types are considered the gold standard all over the world. Except among a number of commenters on THIS site. Odd that.

        Back to the original question. Ultimately owning a NG9-5 will not be much different than owning a top of the line Pontiac. Either way, they are GM cars through and through. Bound to be some hassles, but nothing like trying to run a 25yo Mitsubishi, as an example. Or evidently restoring a Panther, based on the comments of a couple days ago.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You forgot to add: get off my lawn!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Here in NYC there are a few Saab repair shops and former dealers who do repairs and stock parts. I do wonder what cars former owners gravitate to after their cars give up the ghost. I was thinking Subaru due to it’s awd capability but I could see former 900 and 9-3 owners liking the new VW Beetle since it is a comparatively sized 3 dr hatch with a similar upright seating position, FWD and available turbo. Even the optional rear wing looks like a older 900 hatch.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Count me as one who agrees with Sajeev but for completely different reasons. I don’t think there will be any particular issues with the car itself, or with getting parts or service. It is about 85% the same car as a Buick Regal afterall. BUT it certainly will be a hassle, and if I am plunking down real money for a car I want a real warranty, from the manufacturer.

    Now if the price was right and I liked the car, I would have no issue with owning a car with limited/no factory support, but that is me. Afterall, I can’t trot over to the local Triumph dealer, nor could I zip on down to the Alfa store to get my oil changed. If you can’t turn a wrench and the thought of paying for repairs makes you squeamish, this is not the car for you at all. But they do seem to be VERY good cars – being in the Saab club I have a number of friends who have NG9-5s and I can’t think of any issues with any of them, other than the guy whose car got drowned by a flood when it was 5 days old. He got another one to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      >> Afterall, I can’t trot over to the local Triumph dealer,

      What about britbits.com in Rye, NH? They seem to be awfully close to being a fully functioning Triumph dealership. I like to ride my bike from Rye to Nubble Light and back and usually make a stop there. They always have something interesting on the lot.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    If you have to ask if a Saab is right for you, it probably isn’t.

    That said, I’m frequently surprised by the number of NG 9-5s I see around Toronto, although we also have two or three Saab specialists still, so it’s not a terrifying prospect.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Oh what the hell!

    • 0 avatar
      invara

      SAAB- Sven’s auto always broken. I love them, but they break your heart. I have a 04 9-3 with low miles and lots of shop time for stupid things- windows regulators, seat adjustment cable, seatbelt retract, water pump, keys and lots of strange warning notices on the dashboard. Unless it is dirt cheap and you love supporting your local mechanic…. run.

      • 0 avatar
        bill h.

        Definitely a YMMV situation. We’ve got four Saabs in our family fleet (six over the past 25 years). Bought both new and used, including one that had 120k miles when we got it (as 2002 model, now with 185k miles). Haven’t had problems like any of yours, nor any issues with turbo related failures, Sajeev’s cautions notwithstanding. We’ve replaced our share of ignition cassettes, done a couple of fuel pumps, a head gasket (120k miles) and a couple of clutches. No transmission failures, but the automatics are Japanese and only need regular fluid changes. And our newest one, a 2009 9-3 wagon, is the best/most reliable car we’ve owned of any make, with nearly 50k miles and no issues since new.

        The Saab parts company never went bankrupt and is still operating. That said, making sure one has a good tech around who isn’t afraid of a NG9-5 is going to be a requisite for keeping such a car for years in the future.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    During its 60 years of shadowy existence, the auto maker of Trollhatten consistently established the global standard for engineering weirdness – good once in a while, but mostly bad. This may be interesting for some, but NOT for the average used car owner.

    Three points:
    1. For years they virtually epitomized turbo lag.
    2. For years, the torque steer in their high-powered models was so extreme as to be downright dangerous.
    3. In the end, all they had to do to stay in business was follow the instructions from their dullard corporate masters at GM. They didn’t do it.


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