The Saab 9-5 is the new German car. At least that’s what a Saab p.r. rep told us, using that in the same way one might say “Forty is the new Fifty.” Or is it the other way around.
Anyway, we’ve known the guy for a long time, so when he tells us something, we can believe it. And he told us that he can rarely stop at a gas station without being approached by curious owners of BMWs, Audis and Mercedes who know exactly the car he’s driving–the 2010 Saab 9-5, of course–but have many questions, requests to look inside and of course ask how much.
Our Saab p.r. guy related how one BMW 7-Series standard-wheelbase owner enthused over the new Saab 9-5 and then asked the price.
“What? Do you know how much that 7-series cost me!?”
Perhaps BMW’s plan to sell engines to Saab should be reconsidered.
In the name of actually getting anywhere, our p.r. friend can’t offer everyone a drive. And anyway, that’s a Saab dealer’s job.
We were able to grab a dozen or so miles in a top-of-the-line 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero XWD, one of about 600 brought in before the 2011 arrive, which should be right about now. The new 9-5 Aero XWD will be accompanied by two new trim levels below the top-of-the-line Aero, the Turbo4 and Turbo4 Premium, powered by the 2.0-liter turbo four also used in the Saab 9-3.
The new Saab 9-5 was designed during the General Motors era and as a result, is made from parts pulled from the GM parts bin, suitably massaged to make them, all together, a Saab. Although based on GM’s Epsilon II platform (see also 2010 Buick LaCrosse and 2009 Opel Insignia), the body is unmistakably a Saab design, from its grille to modestly (speaking historically) curved windshield, tapered side windows and concave rear window reminiscent of the Saab 99 (built 1968-1984), one of the features that makes the new Saab 9-5 immediately identifiable as a Saab and the new 9-5 at that. The A-pillars are blacked out with shiny trim, giving the roof a cantilevered appearance.
Designers went all out to make the new 9-5 interior look like a Saab’s. The traditional Saab instrument panel and center stack merged into an inverted “L” with the other side of the dash well away from the passenger a particularly roomy feel. The fiddly bits such as the steering column stalks are fresh from GM. That’s not a bad thing, however, because GM has been doing that sort of thing very well lately.
Our drive was too short for familiarity with all the knobs and switches, but the layout left much of the center stack real estate rather plain and looking underdeveloped, as if the automotive interior landscaper slept in that day. The instrument panel, however, was quite stylish, with bright green needles on black dials with white lettering. A boost gauge is prominently featured. We’ve always thought that instrument was fairly useless but for a make well known for its turbocharger expertise it’s an appropriate bauble.
Saab has also been famous for its floor-mounted ignition switch, originally a shift lever lock as an alternative to the steering column lock as the legally-required anti-theft device. With the new Saab 9-5’s proximity key system, there’s no key switch in the center console, but Saab has honored tradition and placed the starter button where the key would have been.
Seats are something else Saab does well and the 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero XWD we drove is no different. The seats are supportive, with large side bolsters. IKEA should be taking notes.
Also honoring tradition is a turbocharged engine. In this case it’s a GM-derived 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6 rated at a healthy 296 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 295 lb-ft torque plateau from 2300 to 5200 rpm. It’s powerful and smooth but there’s a distinct gravelly growl under acceleration. The six-speed automatic transmission was generally unobtrusive.
The engine is mounted transversely up front, and the base 2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4 will have front-wheel drive as standard equipment. The 9-5 Aero, however, has Saab’s cross-drive standard and it tames any potential front-drive torque steer. In fact, the 9-5 Aero is so benign accelerating that it’s almost boring. We’d like to hustle this grand tourer to see whether it equals those certain German makes dynamically.
It’s a tough league that Saab wants to join and one that mercilessly chews up Euro wannabes and introduces sport sedan pretenders to a German sausage grinder. In the economic boom times of the Eighties, Saab was able to ride quirkiness to a peak record sales of 134,000, but was hit hard by the economic downturn and bottomed out at about half that five years later. But Saab sales climbed mostly unnoticed through the latter half of the Nineties and the early Aughts during the General Motors reign, almost equaling those of go-go Eighties before crashing again following GM announcing its intention to terminally ground the Swedish carmaker.
Saab has the misfortune to attempt resurrection in economic hard times that are showing little sign of abating any time soon. What matters is whether Saab distinctiveness can replace Saab quirkiness, whether Saab’s reputation of spotty reliability can be banished and whether the new Saab 9-5 can lure BMW owners to remake Nordic into the New German. We’ve seen the 2011 Saab 9-5 Aero XWD and briefly experienced the resurgent Swede, and our initial take is that the product, even that developed under GM, is there.