Saab's flagship saloon gets replaced after 13 years. Was it worth the wait?

Our Verdict

Saab 9-5 Sportwagon

Pre-production drive of early Saab 9-5 estate shows it's a car with real promise

  • First Drive

    Saab 9-5 1.6T

    This is the best example of Saab’s new 9-5 saloon but it continues to be frustratingly short of the mark
  • First Drive

    Saab 9-5 2.0 TTiD Aero

    Range-topping diesel 9-5 looks expensive, but puts in a better performance than its rangemates.

What is it?

This is the long-awaited, all-new Saab 9-5, a car which almost scrapped as Saab came within days of being wound up in December last year. It replaces the 13-year-old first-generation 9-5 which, in automotive terms, was at least two generations old.

It would also be tremendously unfair to call this car a Vauxhall. The parts that make up the 9-5 were either conceived and created in Sweden itself or under under the direct guidance of Swedish engineering chiefs working under General Motors umbrella in Germany.

Indeed, in this range-topping form, the 9-5 is arguably the most purely-conceived Saab since the 9000 was launched back in 1985, with 70 percent of its part numbers unique to Saab.

What’s it like?

This is an unusual car. On paper, it is aimed directly at the Audi A6 (Audi and Saab buyers are apparently closely related) but at nearly 5.1m long, the 9-5 is the same length as the BMW 7-series. Compared to the related Insignia, the 9-5 gets an extra 10cm in the wheelbase.

The result is extraordinary legroom both front and rear as well as a very substantial boot. It’s a very wide car, too. The upshot is that the 9-5 range probably offers more space than any other car retailing for under £50,000.

There’s no mistaking the cabin, either. It remains gloriously Saabish, individual and cleverly thought-out. The usual great seats are complimented by some desirable options, including an excellent head-up display and blistering Harman Kardon hi-fi.

Saab says that new 9-5 was ‘engineered with the driver in focus’ for a ‘segment leading sporty driving experience’. Combining this aim with a front-drive car as large as the 9-5 could not have been straightforward.

The 2.8-litre V6 engine - which uses a twin-scroll turbocharger and gets variable valve timing on both camshafts - is a huge advance over the first-generation unit fitted to the 9-3. The induction, exhaust and installation system have all been greatly refined. It drives a conventional six-speed autobox.

First off, there’s a satisfying sophistication to the drivetrain of this new Saab. The engine is very smooth and extremely refined under cruising conditions and the autobox swift to respond. The fact that it can get to 62mph in 6.9 seconds, despite weighing 1945kg gives some idea of its potency. The 9-5 can kick down and sprint past slower cars with ease.

However, even with the chassis in ‘Sport’ mode, there’s a certain imperiousness and refinement about this 9-5 which is not the most ‘sporty driving experience in the segment’. It’s not inclined to claw its way aggressively around bends and the steering becomes a little indirect when cornering hard. It is not that the 9-5 cannot pick up its skirts and go hard.

It can, with a turn of speed that belies its size. But it does it with an underlying sense of calm that’s partly thanks to the suspension’s ability to hold the body neatly and smoothly in check.

This is probably explained by the combination of the ‘Skyhook’ principle of the active damping (where the dampers attempt to mimic the body being held steadily in space) and the effects of the HiPer strut front suspension (which damps out at lot the ‘noise’ and interference from the road surface) combine to isolate the driver from the road surface, while allowing the car to progress very quickly. It might be argued that buyers in this particular segment want a little more edge to the driver experience.

Should I buy one?

This range-topping version offers the best Saab can currently offer and features some highly impressive technology. It is fast, smooth, refined and has an impressively sophisticated edge. But it’s bigger than rivals and less aggressively sporting than other high performance sports saloons, a mix that will split opinion.

Later this year Saab will launch an intriguing 188bhp twin-turbo-diesel 9-5 (the £28,495 2.0 TTiD) with the same upgraded suspension as this 2.8T, but without four wheel drive. This model might be the be best compromise for those who want a sporting 9-5 for more mainstream money.

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Join the debate

Comments
57

31 May 2010

I like it - I think it looks good inside and out. We need cars that aren't "sporty", I wish SAAB and Volvo weren't going down this route (though no-one wants a wallowy old 940...). 1950kg sounds incredibly heavy, I take it that's the 4wd and V6 for part of it? I suppose a 1.8 Insignia is about 1500kg and there's another 10cm of chassis in this thing.. Still, strikes me as excessive wait.

31 May 2010

surely anything over 1700kgs is not aimed for British customers, i think Autocar should ban reporting on cars over a certain weight threshold.

i declare the limit should be 1680kgs, the highest i can approve of for 2010 onwards, being the weight of the GTR V-spec.

31 May 2010

Just checked - an Audi A8 4.2FSI quattro weighs 1800kg and it's a big car! Confirms that this must be about 200kg overweight. Imagine the performance/economy changes if you could wipe 200kg off the kerb weight. I know the Audi uses aluminium, but a BMW 7 is about the same (without the AWD weight penalty) .

31 May 2010

old 9-5 0-60mph 6.5s(manual) 31mpg 213g/km 1525kgs £245tax

new 9-5 0-62mph 6.9s 25mpg 269g/km 1945kgs £435tax +£950 !!!!

mmm progress.

31 May 2010

While I'm with you on some of this - remember that the 9-5 has grown considerably (it's 25cm longer than the old model, that's a lot of car) and with most "updates" has gained some weight - I just think the weight is excessive. The two cars you're comparing are not completely even either - the new one has 4wd, the V6 powerplant is far less highly strung than the old 4 cylinder with less turbo lag (this is an assumption based on greater displacement, lower specific output, a twin scroll turbocharger etc - a safe assumption given the old 2.3HOT driving characteristics). I suppose we can't really compare until a diesel comes along. I'm with you on the whole "cars should be lighter than the ones they replace". Anyway, still sounds like a decent effort from SAAB and I like the styling, so not going to pooh-pooh them too much.

31 May 2010

1680 being in fact the weight of the gen2 Lexus LS400...or a 100 Kg more than the last Jag XJ.

31 May 2010

This new 9-5 NEEDED very badly to be bigger. I'm not sure how may people have actually sat in it but there was very little space at all.

At one point I considered a Saab 9-5 and within 10 seconds of sitting in the car I had got out and left the showroom. The leg room for the driver was appauling and in fact worse than many cars smaller than it. At 6' 2", I'm tall but not huge, but I could not at all get comfortable with the drivers seat all the way back, I struggled to get my leg under the stearing wheel.

So whilst you might moan about weight, If it means people can fit in it, then surely its worth it.

I think on the outside it looks great, although, whilst i like the whole cockpit theme, Im not sure about that slab of black plastic.......

31 May 2010

I think this is the best looking new car for ages. Taut body work, subtly flared arches and very clean lines. The curves and pillar angles are very Saab. Makes the new Merc look over styled and fussy. Shame about the weight.

31 May 2010

very tall people can get comfortable in city cars weighing under 1000kgs, so it has nothing to do with size. it often comes down to poor seat/steering wheel/dash positioning of the car.

i find steering wheels dont get close enough to the body, but i guess a part of that is airbag safety. on my last car i got a motorsport steering wheel and a 50mm aluminium spacer to bring the wheel 5cm closer to my chest. so much easier to drive and far more control.

31 May 2010

I've got the press pack in front of me and it says the 9-5's kerb weight runs from '1725-1945kg depending on specification.' There is one advantage to the 9-5 being this length. It won't have to be stretched for the increasingly important Chinese market. It's amazing how many cars are being elongated at considerable cost.

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