Poor, poor Saab. The entire time I was behind the wheel of the 9-5, I thought I was in a reskinned Buick. It’s just way too long and wide to feel like a real Saab. I really dislike the way the interior feels so much like a typical General Motors interior with a few concessions to the vehicles I’d really consider to be Saabs. Why is the nightpanel button (a signature Saab item) in almost exactly the same place as every push-to-start button on “normal” cars? I know Saab has always done the console ignition, but does that make any sense without a physical key? I spent a week with the car and that still wasn’t enough time to train myself to not push the nightpanel button when I wanted ignition.
Luckily the 9-5 uses an authentic Saab powertrain. I enjoy the 2.8-liter turbo six-cylinder, and it feels stronger than the 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque that are advertised. Especially considering the ridiculous 4354-pound curb weight. All-wheel drive and a set of winter tires made the 9-5 a delight to drive on the snowy country roads near my in-laws’ house. I was able to get the car to slide only during a full ABS stop on ice, which I did on purpose.
Objectively the 2011 Saab 9-5 is a much better car than the last 9-5, but it’s lost that Saab feel that I used to enjoy so much. It’s a little ironic that the best integration of GM technology into a Saab happened to come to market months after GM and Saab parted ways. Spyker has a lot of work to do to bring the upcoming Saab models up to the standards of a modern luxury car while retaining the fun, quirky nature of the Saabs that enthusiasts cherished.
– Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
It’s rather surreal to be able to drive a car that, nine months prior, I assumed would be stillborn during GM’s worldwide financial upheaval. I’m no Saab enthusiast, but I was a little dismayed over the possibility that such a good looking sedan would never actually make its way to customers’ hands.
Thankfully, months of international business drama and a last-minute bid not only saved Saab, but the new 9-5 — the company’s first all-new large sedan in roughly two decades. Is it worth the wait?
In several ways, yes. This is certainly a long car, as my colleagues note, but it does prove pretty agile. Steering is sharp and well weighted, particularly when dialed into sport mode when in sport mode. The Haldex-sourced all-wheel-drive system provides great grip in wintry weather, but when pushed hard, is also capable of vectoring torque across the rear axle. Saab’s turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 is a little slow to build boost, but once it does, it’s an absolute rocket. Speed builds deceptively quickly, thanks to a cabin that’s nicely isolated from both wind and engine noise.
That cabin itself, however, isn’t anything to write home about. The arched dash panel, mesh vents, and a number of the so-called Saab touches feel quite dated, and the understated gray-on-gray color scheme infuses no life, no spark into the interior. I’m on the fence about the obvious GM-derived switchgear — although they don’t necessarily feel cheap, they certainly don’t infuse any additional style or sophistication into what is supposed to be a premium luxury vehicle.
And that’s the problem. Although this may appease the die-hard Saab fans who’ve been waiting for the new 9-5 with bated breath, it doesn’t exude the same presence, the same polish, and same finesse found by other $50,000 premium luxury vehicles. Saab may have been given a second lease on life, but if they expect to convince non-enthusiast buyers that the 9-5 is truly a competitor to the all-new Audi A6 and the BMW 5-Series, the Swedes certainly have their work cut out for them.
– Evan McCausland, Web Producer
There’s an old joke in my family about the time someone gave my great-grandfather tickets to see “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was in theory a very thoughtful gesture, since he had grown up in a small Eastern European Jewish community like the one depicted in the play. The thing is, “Fiddler on the Roof,” though a fine production, is a total farce as a historical narrative — a simplistic, clichéd fairytale presented through rose-tinted glasses for people like me who never experienced the real thing. My great-grandfather suffered through the first hour of “Oy veys” and then left at intermission.
The new Saab 9-5 is “Fiddler on the Roof.” No, it’s not a bad car. It’s comfortable, great looking, and capable (more on this in a bit). Unlike other Saabs developed during the GM era, it’s clear that there was an earnest effort here at producing a distinct vehicle. The exterior styling certainly won’t be confused with any Buick or Opel and, more important, looks excellent from any angle. The interior does dip into the GM parts bin, but those pieces — window switches, power mirror controls, steering-column stalks — have improved enough in recent years that they’re no longer a deal breaker. And yet, the whole Saab treatment has a not-quite-right, almost mawkish feel. It has a matte-black dash with egg-crate air vents, a boost gauge, and a starter button near the shifter. Why? Because those are Saab trademarks, of course. Tradition! Never mind the fact that almost all sporty luxury cars in the 1980s had somber, black interiors or that the center ignition makes little sense without the key. Look at any other premium luxury brand — Audi, BMW, Volvo, even Jaguar — and you’ll find interiors that in no way resemble their predecessors from twenty years ago. But Saab’s evolution as a brand has been so stunted since GM’s purchase of the company in 1990 that, even as it tries to reclaim its identity, all it has are these hackneyed scraps.
Behind the wheel, the 9-5 feels, as Phil notes, like a sporty Buick LaCrosse. This isn’t as damning as it sounds, since the new LaCrosse actually drives quite well. With a stiff suspension and the Haldex all-wheel-drive system, the 9-5 goes around corners quite nicely, even when wearing winter tires. But there’s no friskiness, no quirkiness; just competence. Drive a Volvo S60 and you’ll understand the difference.
Spyker’s main task will be to restore genuine Saab character. I just wonder if there’s anyone left who knows what that is.
– David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Fifty grand? I realize that’s the basic point for the German competition in this segment (BMW 5-series, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-class), but this Saab 9-5 Aero certainly doesn’t feel like $52,530 worth of automobile. Nor does it feel like a legitimate rival to those aforementioned Germans, not to mention all the excellent mid-size luxury cars on the market today. Another weakness is that this 9-5’s Saab-y quirkiness feels forced, and its GM heritage is too evident for my liking.
Nonetheless, the 9-5 drives and steers well, and although the engine displayed distracting turbo lag during my time in the car, its powertrain was very peppy. The so-called DriveSense System made a noticeable difference when I toggled among comfort, intelligent, and sport modes, whereas some competitors’ similar systems don’t seem to make a difference in a car’s ride and handling. Speaking of comfort, the 9-5 offers a lot of it, and the rear seats are very spacious. The eight-inch touch screen is nice and large, too.
Unlike Mr. Zenlea, I think the 9-5 looks strangely stretched from the rear-three-quarter angle. The turbinelike wheels are quite cool, though.
– Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
My colleagues have said it all about this highly competent new Saab that ultimately lacks the appeal that would make me, at least, sign a sales contract for a rather breathtaking $52,530. I especially like David Zenlea’s analysis. This is a good car, even a very good car, and I agree with Zenlea that it’s a very good-looking car. But, boy, I hope Jason Castriota, the American-born automotive designer who cut his teeth at Pininfarina and who is now the chief designer at Saab, is working overtime on a new interior design philosophy that will be at once Saab and modern.
– Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
2011 Saab 9-5 Aero XWD sedan
Base price (with destination): $48,390
Price as tested: $52,530
2.8-liter turbocharged V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
XWD cross wheel drive system
Electronic limited slip differential
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tire-pressure monitoring system
Leather-wrapped sport steering wheel
Steering wheel-mounted shift controls
Power front leather sport bucket seats
Heated front seats
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Split folding rear seats
Rear seat pass through to trunk
AM/FM stereo with CD player
XM satellite radio
9-speaker audio system
Xenon cornering headlamps
Rain sensing wipers
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Dual-zone climate control
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation system with 8-inch color screen — $2395
Harman-kardon surround sound audio — $995
19-inch alloy wheels — $750
Key options not on vehicle:
Advanced parking assist
Fuel economy: 16/27/20 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.8L turbocharged DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Curb weight: 4354 lb
Wheels/tires: 19-inch alloy wheels; 245/40R19 Pirelli Sottozero winter tires