Saab 9-5 pitches for executive market

This is the new model that seemed doomed to be stillborn only a few months ago. But, against all the odds, here it is. The new Saab 9-5. And judging by the response to Saab’s potential demise, there are a whole lot of Saab enthusiasts out there ready to reach for their chequebooks.

Developed during GM’s ownership of the Swedish manufacturer, this new model is launched under Saab’s new ownership by Spyker.

It has becoming an overused saying that a new model is ‘make or break’ for its producer. But, to a considerable extent the new 9-5 is. Saab has soldiered on with rather elderly models for some time. So, the all-new 9-5 was going to be critical to Saab, under GM ownership. If anything, it is even more critical under the new owners.

Saab 9-5

The new Saab 9-5 is based on the stretched underpinnings of the Vauxhall Insignia, but the designers have made a good job of giving it a distinctive appearance and enough Saab design features to keep the Saab faithful happy.

It looks like an executive saloon, with understated good looks, spoiled only by those horrid ‘Dame Edna Everage’ chrome spectacles round the headlights. What is notable, too, is how the designers having managed to give the 9-5 the impression of the Saab signature wrap-around windscreen, even though the curvature is not that pronounced.

Inside, the design signatures continue. True, you don’t put your ignition key into a lock on the centre console any more. In fact, you don’t put your key in anywhere, as the 9-5 uses keyless technology.

The dashboard has the wrap around Saab cockpit-style, toned down a tad. So, probably enough to please the traditionalists, but not enough to scare new buyers. There’s also the traditional Saab sliding-layer air vents and that essential bit of Saab kit (which I have never fully understood) the “night panel” button.

Saab 9-5 dashboard

One thing that Saab traditionalists will not be familiar with – at least not in Saab cars rather than aircraft – is the HUD, the head-up display. This projects the speedometer, rev counter, indicator warning lights and other information onto the windscreen glass, just below the line of site. Initially a little dominating, you soon get used to it. Certainly, you will have little excuse for breaking speed limits when it is so easy to know how fast you are going!

So, all in all, behind the wheel of the Saab is a fine place to be. It’s spacious and reasonably comfortable, with a strong hint of Saab about it. I did, however, find myself reminiscing about the even more comfortable Bridge-of-Weir leather seats in Saabs of the years gone by.

The roofline of the Saab 9-5 sweeps downward, giving the car something of the currently fashionable ‘coupé-saloon’ look. As always, when I see that, I worry about space being restricted in the back.

Well, it’s actually quite spacious, at least in terms of legroom and knee space, even with the front seat set well back. Headroom is adequate for me, but those over six foot may brush the roof lining. That sweeping roofline does mean that the rear window header rail is quite low, so watch your head as you get out. (Fortunately the header is quite well padded, as I found out.)

Setting off on my first drive I was initially concerned that the steering felt overly light. But, it loads a little more weight into the system as you get more speed and I found it quite precise and with reasonable feedback. However, there are many executive cars that are better.

Saab 9-5

The two-litre turbocharged engine puts out 220PS through the front wheels and sometimes it is a little too obvious. It’s easy to have the front wheels scrabbling momentarily as you accelerate out of tight junctions.

Press the accelerator and the response is pretty immediate. Saab were one of the pioneers of turbocharger technology for cars and it shows. While the early Saab turbos suddenly took off – when the turbocharger spun up to speed (like someone had shoved you in the back) – the new 9-5 like the best modern-day turbos are so progressive in their power delivery.

Acceleration 0-62 mph is quoted at a respectable 7.9 seconds. The combined fuel consumption is quoted at 33.6 mpg, but my average was nearer 20 mpg on a mixture of town and country driving. Carbon dioxide emissions are 194 g/km, which puts the Saab 9-5 in Band J for UK tax.

So, are my views coloured by a desire to see Saab make a success of their return from almost dead? Am I looking at the 9-5 through rose coloured spectacles?

Well, the overall design concept is good. Some of the detailing suggests cost and speed were more important than creating the ultimate in refinement and quality. Frankly the 9-5’s dynamic ability trails behind the obvious marques that Saab must be chasing – Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.

All that said, I really did quite enjoy my time with the Saab. But, if it was my £31,195 I was spending, I would probably join the queue at another dealership. It grieves me to say that and I really hope Spyker people can build in more desirability and dynamic ability in the coming months.

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