The new 9-5 really does have a distinct identity, starting with the exterior styling. No one will mistake this car for a Buick or an Opel. Instead, we see the influence of the Aero X show car from 2006, with a hint of the old 900 hatchbacks in the long, sweeping C-pillar. Inside, too, the 9-5 is convincingly Saab. The cockpitlike dash is very familiar and features characteristic details like the egg-crate air vents and a "night panel" button (which shuts down all the instrument-panel lights and gauges save the speedometer). The available head-up display; the multifunction, circular screen at the center of the speedometer; and the column stalks are all GM items, but they work fine here. The touch points are soft, but the dark metallic trim does little to enliven the interior. The Aero comes with sport seats that are very firm, while the 2.0T has softer buckets. Rear-seat riders sit high up on a tall seat cushion, and a DVD entertainment system with dual screens is available.
Both 9-5 engines are turbocharged, and both see duty in other General Motors applications. The Aero's 2.8-liter V-6, with 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, is paired exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive-the latter keeps torque steer from being an issue. The V-6 is quiet and responsive. Saab quotes a 0-to-62-mph time of 6.9 seconds and estimates fuel economy at 17/27 mpg city/highway.
The 2.0T comes with either the automatic or a six-speed manual and is front-wheel drive only. This 2.0-liter turbo four is not the same one used in the 9-3; this version uses a twin-scroll turbo and direct injection. (Look for this engine to replace the current 2.0-liter in the 9-3 in mid-2011.) Compared with the 9-3's version, this turbo four has better initial response and more seamless integration of boost. It also has a pronounced turbo whistle. With 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, this engine needs 7.9 seconds to get the 9-5 to 62 mph, according to Saab, although it felt plenty lively on our drive. (It is encumbered with 900 fewer pounds than the all-wheel-drive V-6 Aero, which weighs a rather portly 4365 pounds.) In fact, we came away preferring the 2.0T, although that might have been due in part to the manual transmission in our test car. Free of the rubbery shift action that has plagued previous Saab manuals, the gearbox is a great companion to the 2.0-liter, with easy clutch take-up and progressive throttle tip-in, the only downside being occasional reluctance engaging the 1-2 gate.