The Saab 9-5 is the Swedish automaker's flagship and often is overlooked because it's up against better-known European cars such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo -- and the upscale Japanese Acura and Infiniti models.
Marketing of the mid-size, exceptionally roomy Saab 9-5 also has been often rather offbeat and erratic, further confusing matters. And the car has a few non-mainstream items such as a console-mounted ignition switch. However, the handsome 9-5 provides excellent utility, safety and comfortable driving over all sorts of roads, despite an older design. That's as true of the sedan as it is of the wagon, as I found while recently testing a 9-5 wagon.
Many automakers are wary of calling a station wagon a wagon because they're afraid it would have a boring image. Saab thus calls its wagon a "SportWagon."
The 9-5 was introduced in early 1998 as a 1999 model and most recently was revised in 2002 -- with another revision due later this year.
One thing the 9-5 SportWagon has going for it is that few rivals offer a comparable wagon. Unlike the markets for mid-size cars, SUVs or "crossover" vehicles, the wagon market has only a handful of roomy, upscale entries.
The Saab wagon has an exceptionally roomy interior and enormous amount of cargo space, even without the rear seatbacks folded forward. Its unique features include a cargo floor that rolls out for easy loading. It actually provides more cargo volume than most compact sport-utility vehicles, and the cargo bay even has a handy under-floor storage area.
General Motors bought half of Saab in 1990 and the rest in 2000. It has left historically individualistic Saab alone. But financially troubled GM wants new, more conventional Saab models with major components from its main and affiliate automakers because the Scandinavian automaker hasn't been profitable.
Saab has left the current 9-5 pretty much alone, being busy helping develop new cars such as the Subaru-based all-wheel-drive 9-2X (reviewed in the March 13 AutoTimes) and its first sport-utility vehicle, the Buick-based 9-7X. It's added only a $2,795 DVD-based navigation system, a new 16-inch wheel design for the Arc model and three new colors to the 2005 9-5, including rich-looking "Smoke Beige Metallic."
The 9-5 and smaller, newer 9-3 sedan and convertible thus are the only genuine Saab models being sold. Along with the upcoming 9-3 SportCombi wagon, due this fall, they might be the last "genuine" Saab models fully developed by the Scandinavian automaker.
The front-drive 9-5 comes in base $32,550 Linear wagon form and in luxury-oriented Arc and sporty Aero sedan and wagon models. The $37,050 Arc wagon I tested probably is the best 9-5 model, and the Arc sedan and wagon are the top-selling 9-5 models. However, the Linear offers a lot for the money, and the hot rod Aero will be more appealing to the go-fast crowd.
All versions of the 9-5 have a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Saab is a master at extracting lots of power from small engines; the 2.3 feels like a strong six-cylinder motor -- especially in the Arc and Aero.
The Linear has 185 horsepower, while the Arc has 220 and the hot rod Aero kicks out 250 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard for the Linear and Aero, while the Arc has a standard five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability.
Fuel economy ranges from an estimated 19-21 in the city and 28-30 on the highway, depend- ing on engine power and the transmission.
Premium fuel is recommended for the Arc and Aero.
Even the Linear is loaded with comfort, convenience, luxury and safety equipment, including lots of power accessories, leather upholstery and heated power mirrors with turn signals. However, a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability costs an extra $1,350.
Saab always has strongly emphasized safety, so the 9-5 has such standard items as anti-lock brakes, antiskid/traction control, and front head and torso side air bags. GM's OnStar assistance system is available for $699 in the Arc and Aero.
The Arc adds a power sunroof, heated front seats and wood interior trim. The five-speed manual transmission is offered at no charge for the more sporty minded.
The hot rod Aero has the manual gearbox as standard and the automatic as a $1,350 option. Besides the most powerful engine, the Aero adds an upgraded sound system, the optional navigation system, a sport suspension and wide 45-series performance tires on 17-inch wheels, which are an $850 option for the Arc.
The Aero even offers heated rear seats in a $995 option package. Ventilated front seats -- or "seat-breathing system" -- for the Arc and Aero are in a $995 package to make hot-weather driving more comfortable.
Other 9-5 models have standard 16-inch wheels and less aggressive 55-series tires, which don't allow the Aero's stiffer ride or generate the road noise of the bigger Aero tires.
The 9-5 Arc and Linear suspension is a strong point, shrugging off bad pavement and providing exceptional road holding. The Aero delivers the sharpest handling, but at the expense of some ride comfort.
Steering of all models is quick with decent road feedback. Powerful brakes provide consistently swift stops.
A driver can get used to the console-mounted ignition switch, which is essentially an anti-theft item, and the tilt-telescopic steering wheel and power seats help drivers of various sizes get comfortable behind the wheel. But power window controls are awkwardly located near the rear of the console.
Oversized door handles are easily gripped for fast entry, and the 9-5 sedan and wagon comfortably seat four tall adults. There's room for a fifth in the rear if that occupant doesn't mind sitting on a stiff center seat section.
Front seats are supportive, and the dashboard layout makes a lot of sense with no gimmickry-- after all, Saab also is a veteran airplane builder.
2005 SAAB 9-5 STATION WAGON
Roomy. Fast. Comfortable. Top handling and braking. Safety features.
Older design. Tire noise. Console-mounted window switches.