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Saab 9-5 Saloon Review

Saab 9-5 Saloon 2.0 TiD

Saab 9-5 Saloon 2.0 TiD

Road test of the Saab 9-5 Saloon

Model/Engine size: 2.0 TiD
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 53.2 mpg

Green Car Guide rating: 7/10

Yes, Saab is still alive; the company’s new 9-5 model is here and it offers an interesting alternative to the more obvious mainstream choices.

Before looking in detail at the car, it’s worthwhile taking a moment to reflect on Saab as a company, as it has just come out of some challenging recent history.

Rear view of the new Saab 9-5 Saloon

Saab started off as an independent Swedish brand before becoming part of GM. Over the last year or so, as GM looked to offload the company, its future has certainly been in doubt, but it was eventually saved by Dutch supercar builder Spyker. Spyker’s owner, Victor Muller, is quoted as saying “he was delighted to have bought Saab for the price of Saab’s wind tunnel.”

It was generally acknowledged that Saab lost some of its unique identity while under GM ownership, in the quest for greater efficiency. However the desired profitability never happened, as the sales volumes never reached sufficient numbers. The new owners are not claiming that Saab will achieve huge volumes, but instead they’re aiming to stay the same size, with a lower break-even point.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Spyker sees Saab’s brand as the secret to success. When Saab was in danger of disappearing forever as a carmaker, there was a huge showing of support from Saab owners around the world. A survey in Germany even showed that Saab has the most passionate following of any car brand.

So against this background it’s perhaps not surprising that with the new 9-5 Saab is aiming to attract back existing Saab customers with an array of ‘interesting’ Saab features.

Firstly the new 9-5 clearly looks like a Saab. The front has visual similarities with previous models, along with some design cues from the clean lines of the Aero X concept. The rear of the car looks longer than other Saabs, and has an upmarket feel about it, almost Jaguar-esque.

Features carried over from previous generation Saabs include the starting of the car – which is now by means of a start-stop button – positioned near the gear lever. This positioning has ‘method behind the madness’ – and it’s all in the name of safety. Saab has analysed thousands of cars that have been involved in real-life accidents and although features such as telescopic steering have all helped to advance the safety of the cars, the company found that drivers sustained lots of knee injuries due to metal keys positioned in the steering column digging into people’s legs in crashes. So they decided to address this, and other safety issues, and as you might expect, the 9-5 comes with a 5 Star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Still inside the car, the dashboard retains the wraparound feel of previous Saabs, and the dials come with green backlighting. Saab says this is aircraft-inspired, and is more relaxing on the eye when tired. For the first time, the 9-5 is a Saab that comes with the option of a head-up display which projects key information onto the windscreen. This includes speed, revs and satnav information. As there is a lot of information to process in the cockpits of cars these days, the provision of essential information on the windscreen is helpful. Thankfully, you can turn down the intensity of the bright green display, as otherwise it can certainly be distracting.

Saab Technology

Technology is in fact a key selling point of this car; it comes with a comprehensive list of standard equipment, such as Bluetooth and rear parking sensors, as well as various options ranging from lighting systems to infotainment.

There’s also the option of the Saab DriveSense adaptive chassis, where the driver can specify comfort, sport or intelligent drive settings, the latter shifting between comfort and sport modes depending on the driving conditions.

Another key selling point is the rear legroom, which Saab claims is class-leading, and you certainly feel that you’re in a car from a larger sector when sitting in the rear (the rear headroom isn’t as capacious). The boot is also huge.

At the moment the 9-5 is available with three engines; the 2.0 TiD as tested here, and two petrols: the 2.0T with 220 hp, and the 2.8T with 300 hp. Saabs have always traditionally been based on a front-wheel drive chassis and the new 9-5 is no different, so you’d be correct to be concerned about 300 hp being channelled through the front wheels. However the 2.8T comes with Saab’s XWD all-wheel drive system, which ensures this amount of power is transferred to the road in a more useable way. XWD is ‘predictive’ all-wheel drive, meaning that the car tries to work out where it should direct its power before you do anything. It also has new suspension which is designed to prevent torque steer.

There are two more engines to come to the 9-5 range: a 190 hp 2.0 TTiD (twin turbo), and a 1.6 TiD. So at the moment the 2.0 TiD is the lowest-emitting model, with 139 g/km CO2, which equates to 53.2 mpg. This is not class-leading, but it isn’t bad. However Saab is making a point of saying that it sees emissions as something that needs to be the focus of continuous improvement.

So if the new 9-5 is the most technologically-advanced Saab ever, does the driving experience of the 2.0 TiD reflect this? To answer this we should remember that the 9-5 started life based on the Vauxhall Insignia . The Insignia is a very competent car and therefore you would expect the Saab to share this competency, which it does. However the 2.0 TiD engine isn’t particularly smooth or quiet. You also need to add into the equation the fact that the 9-5 is front-wheel drive, which means that the front wheels are responsible for laying down all the power of the car whilst also having the ability to change direction. This results in an element of torque steer, which is not desirable for a car in this class.

Whilst the 9-5 is generally comfortable on long runs, dynamically it’s not the sharpest of cars when weaving along winding B-roads. The steering and suspension combination just doesn’t provide a feeling of precision.

In comparison to the diesel engine, the petrol V6 2.8T XWD is a smooth, powerful engine, and is mated to all-wheel drive. This is a much more sophisticated and civilised proposition, more in keeping with what you would expect from this car, but the price to pay is emissions of 244 g/km CO2, with the consequential tax penalties, and an extra £11,000 cost premium.

In total, the prices range from the 2.0 TiD manual costing £26,495, the 2.0 TiD automatic which costs £28,035, and the 2.8T XWD which costs £37,795. All models can easily increase in price by around £1000-£2000 by the addition of options.

Before deciding on which model, there is one essential piece of information that you must be aware of in connection with the 9-5’s emissions. Although this manual version emits 139 g/km CO2, the same engine when mated to the automatic transmission option results in a massive 40 g/km hike in emissions, up to 179 g/km. Historically, automatic cars were accepted as being around 10% less economical than manuals, however today there is no excuse for this, especially when cars such as the new BMW X3 has lower emissions with the automatic transmission option than the manual. We also found that the 2.0 TiD with manual transmission was better to drive than the automatic – more responsive and smoother – so there seems little to recommend the automatic option with this engine – especially when the auto is £1500 more expensive.

Saab invested heavily to offer biofuel options for its cars in the UK a few years ago. This will still happen in Sweden where financial incentives make E85 bioethanol an attractive option, but there won’t be any biofuel 9-5s on offer in the UK for the foreseeable future.

Summary and Review

The Saab 9-5 gets a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10
. We like the individuality, and 50 mpg-plus economy is respectable for a car of this size. However the package as a whole gives the impression that this is going to be a refined, class act to drive, and while the 244 g/km CO2 2.8T XWD lives up to this perception, the 2.0 TiD engine needs more refinement. We’d obviously like the holy grail of the emissions of the 2.0 TiD with the refinement of the 2.8T.

Boot space and rear view of the diesel Saab 9-5 Saloon

The overall conclusion is that the Saab 9-5 is ‘interesting’. And we like interesting cars. The car is likely to appeal to exactly the same profiles of people that have been attracted to the brand previously, such as architects, designers and other creative types who want to be seen as more individual and free-thinking than corporate executives who would automatically end up in a German brand.

However if you do want an alternative green car choice then the 2.0 TiD is the best you’re going to get at the moment, and you certainly need to avoid the automatic version. Alternatively you could wait for the twin-turbo diesel with 190 hp, which, with 159 g/km, just about falls under the 160 g/km CO2 threshold. This engine, with greater smoothness and more power, is more in keeping with the 9-5’s character, however having driven other Saabs with this engine, front-wheel drive torque steer is likely to be a challenge. Saab looks on the historic tendency of its turbocharged front-wheel drive cars to merrily generate torque steer as another aspect of the character of the brand; unfortunately with a car that has all the class of the 9-5, and which costs in the region of £30,000, this is not likely to be a feature that will sway new buyers to the brand away from more obvious German machinery.

All this may not be of concern to buyers who want the individual brand of a Saab, regardless of a few minor concerns here and there, and for them the 9-5 is likely to be a welcome, and long overdue, new addition to the Saab family.

Car details and fuel economy data

Fuel economy extra urban: 64.1 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 40.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 139 g/km
Green rating: VED band E – first year £110
Weight: 1725 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 19%
Price: £26,495 (From £26,495 – £37,795)
Insurance group: 24E
Power: 160 bhp
Max speed: 134 mph
0-62 mph: 9.4 seconds
DPF: Yes