Background: Since 1989 General Motors, the world's largest automaker, has owned a fifty percent stake in Sweden's Saab Automobile. Earlier this month, GM announced it was grabbing the outstanding fifty percent stake and taking full corporate control of Saab's car empire.
Saab first introduced automobiles to its product mix in 1947. Prior to that time, Saab primarily assembled aircraft. Saab's aviation heritage continues in its ground-based, internal- combustion machinery. Throughout its 52 years of auto production, the number "9" has been integrated into car names; a direct link to early Saab aircraft with designations such as 90 and 91.
In the 1999 model year, Saab revamped its entire United States model lineup with two, all-new, front-wheel-drive series: the 9-3 and premium, well-equipped 9-5 (replacing the 900 and 9000 line up respectively). These two selections reflect Saab's entire line of cars sold in the U.S.
Updates to 9-5 vehicles in the 2000 model year include standard traction control and sunroofs and the introduction of General Motors' OnStar service as an $895 option. OnStar links drivers through Global Positioning Satellite Systems and cellular technology, to a 24-hour-a-day manned center in Troy, Mich. A push of a dashboard button links occupants (through speakers in the car radio) to an OnStar representative who provides emergency services, directions and even stock quotes. The phone-free system allows drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while communicating with OnStar personnel.Saab is the first European brand offering this type of system across its entire model line. Another noteworthy 9-5 addition for 2000 is the introduction of the all-new Aero edition, bringing the number of 9-5 trim levels from two to three.
The Swedish-built 9-5 can be best categorized as an entry-luxury sport sedan competing with the likes of the Lexus ES 300 and Mercedes-Benz E430.
Trim levels: Saab's full-size, four-door, front-wheel-drive 9-5 is available in sedan and wagon body styles with a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines. Three 9-5 trim levels are sold in 2000: base, V-6 SE and our test vehicle of the week, the all-new Aero with sporty interior and exterior enhancements. All 9-5s come well equipped with a long list of standard features and safety equipment.
Saab also introduced a low-volume, 2000, 9-5 Gary Fisher edition wagon last month at the Chicago Auto Show which goes on sale this month. Only 650 silver and black units will be assembled this year which will include a roof rack system with bike carrier and ski holder along with a sliding load floor allowing for easy loading of up to 440 pounds of cargo.
The smaller 9-3 includes two-door hatchback, four-door hatchback and convertible body style.
Engines: The 9-5 includes three separate engine selections depending on the model chosen. Our test-drive 9-5 Aero featured a four-cylinder, 2.3-liter, high-output turbo engine, pounding out an impressive 230 horsepower.
The base 9-5 includes a 170-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and the 9-5 SE features the 3.0 liter, 200 horsepower V-6.
Safety features: Swedish automakers Saab and Volvo both earned a reputation over the years for safety-laden vehicles. Saab's 2000 9- 5 Aero holds true to that heritage with a full-compliment of standard nuances including: dual reduced-force front air bags, head and torso side air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, daytime running lights, five-mile-per-hour safety bumpers, child safety rear door and window locks, , anti-theft alarm system and remote keyless entry. The OnStar communication system rates as the only option.
Standard equipment: Saab's come decently equipped with just a handful of options. All 9-5 trim levels (base, Aero and SE) include: cruise control; rear window defroster; power window, locks and outside heated mirrors; power rack-and-pinion steering; AM/FM/cassette/compact disc stereo; halogen headlights; air conditioning with dual zone control; intermittent front windshield wipers and tilt/telescoping steering column.
Automatic transmission, standard in 9-5 SE, is a $1,200 option in base and Aero editions. Front and rear heated seats ($520), metallic paint ($350) and OnStar ($895) are options in all 9-5 editions. Base 9-5s offer a premium package (upgraded stereo, leather upholstery) for $1,995; nuances standard in SE and Aero.
Price: Base price of the all-new, 2000 9-5 Aero checked in at $39,775. After factoring in optional automatic transmission ($1,200), OnStar Global Positioning System (895) and upgraded silver metallic paint, the bottom line totaled $42,795 including a $575 destination charge.
The lowest-priced 9-5 sedan, a four-cylinder, five-speed edition lists for $32,575. A V-6 9-5 SE with automatic transmission includes a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $37,750. Sweden's other automaker, Volvo builds an S80 sedan with six- cylinder engine with a starting price of $36,000. A Lexus ES 300 starts at $31,505.
Interior: Three circular, mostly analog dials adorn the instrument cluster; a central speedometer, left-side tachometer and right-side fuel and temperature gauge. A secondary, vertical gear shift indicator is a useful display. Digital odometer readings situate in the tachometer display. At night, the instrument panel illuminates with red-and-white back lighting.
Between front bucket seats rests the hand-operated parking brake, flip-top storage bin and power controls for all four windows. And like Saabs of the past, the ignition cylinder is located in this area. Power side view controls are found on the driver's door near the left-side mirror. Both the trunk release and fuel-door release buttons are conveniently located high up on the driver's door (instead of the floor where many manufacturers choose to locate them.)
Equidistant between front seat travelers one finds the automatic, dual zone climate control directly below the sound system surrounded by dark, wood trim. Adjacent to the stereo is a single beverage holder that retracts out from the dashboard. A rectangular digital readout above the sound system illuminates radio frequency, outside temperature, time and date information.
Cruise control functions are found on the turn signal stalk. Windshield wipers monitor from a right-hand side stalk. The steering wheel features secondary controls for changing radio stations.
Seating comfort: Even with the standard sunroof, head room remains decent. Leg room in front and back is good. Saab promotes 9-5 as a five seater and three average-sized adults can fit in reasonable comfort in back. All four doors include ceiling handles for easier ingress and egress.
Our-9-5 Aero included leather seating standard throughout. Both front buckets include power controls for changing seating positions. Cloth seating adorns base 9-5s. Rear seat backs fold down with a 60/40 split and also include a fold-down center armrest.
Wheelbase: 106.4 inches
Length: 189.2 inches
Width: 70.6 inches
Height: 57 inches
Exterior: Elegant sportyness best reflects 9-5 Aero's exterior look. A familiar Saab nuance are the miniature wipers found on front headlights. The circular, locking fuel tank is on the right rear fender. Black, strap-like door handles adorn all four doors. Body-colored side view mirrors conveniently fold in when brushed against immovable objects or tollway coin baskets.
Our 9-5 Areo included optional, 17-inch tires, an upgrade from 16-inch varieties standard on SE editions.
Fuel economy: The 9-5 Aero includes a four-cylinder, turbo charged engine. Four-cylinder powertrains are usually gentle with fuel, but with the addition of the turbo boost, economy does not register as high as other four-cylinder engines. Also keep in mind premium 92-octane fuel is recommended for the 9-5 turbo's 18.5 gallon tank.
When mated to an automatic transmission, the 9-5 Aero registers 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 m.p.g. along the highway. When coupled with manual transmission, economy increases a bit to 20 m.p.g. when cruising in the city and 28 m.p.g. when roaming the open road.
Trunk: The well-engineered trunk features shock-absorber type hinges outside of the cargo area connecting the lid with the sides. This design eliminates inside, curved hinges that may crunch items inside a trunk when closing the lid. A temporary spare tire situates in a well under the flat-floored trunk. Cargo volume checks in at 15.9 cubic feet, decent for this sized vehicle.
Final thoughts: Saab cars provide exterior styling and interior nuances not found in many rivals; such as the ignition cylinder found between front bucket seats and wipers for front headlights.
A decently-equipped 9-5 sedan starts in the $32,000 range, making it an economically attractive buy when compared with the competition. Our sporty 9-5 Aero checked in over $40,000 which was at the high end for a full-sized sedan with a four-cylinder engine; albeit a turbo-charged four.