Let’s dispel a myth: Saabs are not weird. They’re not idiosyncratic. They’re not offbeat and they haven’t been for quite a while. Sure, the 9-5 Aero’s ignition key is down between the front seats like the Saabs of yore, but that’s contrived zaniness. It’s Al Gore with a lampshade on his head. If Saab really wanted to play up the Aero’s limited weirdness, they’d promote the fact that it has a refrigerated glove box. Maybe dealerships could sell ice-cream owner’s manuals or something. Or maybe the beleaguered Swedes could consider that even Saab fanatics cherish real technical progress more than arbitrary details. The Aero’s distant ancestor, the 9000 Turbo, offered a 2.3 liter in-line four with 200 horsepower and 244 pound-feet of torque, front-wheel-drive, and a spacious leather-swathed interior. That description still fits the 2003 9-5 Aero, although the four-door hatchback body has given way to a traditional three-box sedan (and a wagon), and there’s now 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on tap.
The problem is that the rest of the automotive world has advanced far more dramatically. Twelve years ago the 9000 Turbo was the quickest four-door this side of a . These days, the $42,000 Aero is Unfrozen Caveman Car, trapped in a glacier since the early ’90s. It not understand your “340-horsepower Infiniti M45 for same money” or “265 horsepower Maxima and 260 horsepower Infiniti G35 for ten grand less.”
“The Aero is a fun car to drive. It has great seats, it’s handsome, it offers a manual transmission and it comes with two days of high-performance driving instruction at Road Atlanta. It includes GM’s OnStar system, so if you lock yourself out or need directions to the nearest liquor store, help is a phone call away. But as Saab’s performance flagship, it needs more than that. Ditching the front-wheel-drive is priority number one-there’s no point in having even 250 horses if you have to wait until you’re in third gear to floor the throttle, lest you lay more rubber than a Trojan factory.
An all-wheel-drive 9-5 Aero with, say, 300 horsepower would be a meaningful player in the cruelly competitive world of luxury sports sedans. Give it those things, Saab, and you can put the ignition key on the roof.