Vehicle Style: Mid-size premium sedan
Price: $75,900 (base), $83,150 (as tested)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 9.4 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 11.3 l/100km
The 2011 9-5 sedan is the first new Saab model since the Swedish automaker was divorced from its parent company General Motors. It's been a rocky road for new owner Spyker and a struggle to keep the ship afloat since.
So, is the new and impressively styled 9-5 good enough to reverse the fortunes of the brand?
Our first taste of the base petrol model was a positive one, but the 9-5 is saddled with one major disadvantage - its monstrous sticker price.
Quality: Wobbly switchgear and some lower-grade plastics are obvious hangovers from Saab’s time as a GM subsidiary, and cheapen what is otherwise a nice interior.
The tactile surfaces and dash are finely textured and appealing to the touch. The silver trim around the centre stack is also a classy touch.
There’s plenty of soft leather-like trim on the doors and other cabin surfaces, but we found that the steering wheel’s leather was already starting to lift in one corner.
Comfort: Few complaints here; the 9-5’s extended roofline provides good headroom both front and rear, despite some intrusion from our test car’s glass sunroof.
The front seats provide great support, and both are electrically adjustable and heated. Rear seat occupants might find stepping over the 9-5’s substantial side sills a small challenge, but once inside they are greeted by a spacious bench that offers superb comfort.
Equipment: The 9-5’s standard equipment list is lengthy, and includes gadgets like a head-up display dual-zone climate control, an 11-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system with a 10gb hard drive and USB inputs, full colour trip computer display, bi-xenon headlamps, Bluetooth integration, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain sensing wipers, parking sensors, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, heated wing mirrors, satellite navigation and 17-inch alloys.
Our tester was also equipped with the optional DriveSense Package (lower suspension, variable steering weight, self-adjusting dampers), 10 spoke 19-inch alloys and a glass sunroof.
Storage: The 9-5 has a respectable 513 litre cargo capacity with the rear seats in place, expandable by dropping the 60/40 split seatbacks.
The boot is quite shallow though, and we’re guessing that has something to do with the full-size spare wheel under the boot floor. Switching to a smaller, lighter space-saver would arguably free up some more room.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Around town, the 9-5’s 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four is a flexible powertrain. There’s a brief moment of turbo lag, but once on boost there's a strong 350Nm of low-down torque, and more than enough power (162kW) to keep up with traffic.
Off the line acceleration is hampered by the ECU only allowing around half of maximum boost pressure in first gear. Once in second gear however, acceleration picks up markedly. The 9-5 Turbo4’s 8.5 second 0-100km/h sprint time is not the quickest around, but perfectly adequate for a family saloon.
The standard six-speed automatic shifts intelligently and responds well to the driver’s demands, but occasionally clunks between gears on downchanges.
Refinement: Bar some wind noise around the A-pillars and some tyre roar from the low-profile tyres, the 9-5 is a nicely refined cruiser.
Suspension: The optional DriveSense Package fitted to our test car is designed to improve handling performance. It seems to work as it should; we found our tester to be flat, unfussed and precise both when cornering and over surface irregularities.
Unlike many other sport-oriented suspensions, the DriveSense package didn’t seem to bring any penalties in ride comfort - surprising given the huge 19-inch alloys worn by our press car.
In Comfort mode, the 9-5 soaked up most road imperfections, with only sharp protrusions like potholes and level crossings unsettling the overall composure. Steering weight is also feather-light, making the 9-5 an easy steer around town.
In Sport mode steering weight increases marginally, and the suspension takes on a firmer personality. There is a hint of torque steer at full throttle, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced as in Saabs of old.
Braking: Ventilated 321mm front discs and 315mm rear discs slow the car effortlessly, although the brake pedal feels a little spongy.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assis and Cornering Brake Control keep the 9-5 on the straight and narrow.
In the event of a crash, dual front airbags, front and rear side airbags, full-length curtain airbags and anti-whiplash headrests keep occupants safe.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km.
Service costs: Servicing costs vary, contact your local Saab dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volvo S80 T6 ($79,950) - Volvo’s excellent S80 packs a lot more power than the Saab, not to mention a more sure-footed AWD drivetrain.
The S80 is approaching the end of its life though, and the 9-5 is easily the more stylish of the pair. (see S80 reviews)
Skoda Superb Elegance 4x4 V6 ($55,990) - It’s puzzling why this classy but inexpensive Czech import is so overlooked by buyers, especially as its 3.6 litre is so smooth and tractable, and its rear cabin offers such an incredible amount of legroom. (see Superb reviews)
BMW 325i ($71,900) - Retailing for less than the 9-5 Vector, the 325i 160kW/250Nm inline six feels more asthmatic than the Saab’s turbo four, and its cabin is a size smaller.
Like the Volvo the BMW suffers from an expensive options list, but its handling performance is arguably second to none. (see 3 Series reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The 9-5, while still a hangover from Saab’s GM years, is nevertheless a decent car. It’s not quite the class leader that Saab needs right now, but it’s nicely styled and a good drive and comes with more than a dollop of the brand’s unique personality.
The problem lies in its pricing, which is out of alignment with the car’s quality and brand image in Australia.
It's worth considering, sure, but we think that Saab needs to knock at least a few thousand dollars off the 9-5's price-tag if it's to be truly competitive.