Updated parts have improved the no-longer-made 9-5
The 2.0 diesel Aero Turbo is considered a better bet than the range-topping 2.8 V6
Familiarly stout Saab ride keeps body roll in check
Dour dashboard is more impressive than it looks
Now this ought to be high risk.
Buy an extensively equipped, complex car from a defunct car maker. Buy the last model that this defunct maker developed, complete with teething troubles. Pay a surprisingly high price for said car, despite the absence of a dealer network, an apparently uncertain parts supply and a tiny constituency of people who might actually want one when the time comes to sell it. But if I had £10,000 to splash, a Saab 9-5 might just win my money – even though I know there are better cars to be had for the same price, just as there were when it was new. And back then, between 2010 and 2012, there was a network, a parts supply and the spluttering flame of a future for Saab.
Most of us know how Saab’s most exciting new model in decades came to be cut short in its prime. Saab’s owner General Motors was months away from launching the all-new 9-5 when the Lehman Brothers bank collapsed, triggering a monumental recession that took GM down with it. In return for a US government bailout, GM had to agree to sell or close several brands, Saab included. Opportunistic manoeuvring from Spyker supercar boss Victor Muller allowed him to buy the company, part-funded by Russian oligarch money and an EU loan underwritten by the Swedish government, which shrewdly required the Saab parts operation as collateral. The money allowed Muller to launch the 9-5, to mixed but generally positive reviews. It wasn’t a BMW-beater, but it wasn’t so far off that you couldn’t justify the temptation.
Which is where I am with the idea of buying one today, five years after the last example was driven from the mouth of the soon-to-be silenced Trollhättan factory. If you like variety in your cars, and enjoy the colour that every brand brings to the kaleidoscope of automotive offerings (and, indeed, just plain like Saabs), then the thought of that last 9-5 departing the stalled production line is a sad one. It’s why I look at a 9-5 with a mixture of regret and admiration – the admiration stemming from the fact that it’s a crisply handsome, distinctively proportioned saloon and pleasingly Saab-like with it. GM was a frequently frustrating custodian of this nuanced brand, but the last 9-5 was a good effort and one that the Swedish company could easily have built on.
Buying a Saab would be a link to all of this, a last physical connection to what is now a dead brand. Except that, improbably, there is a pulse.
It’s faint, it’s distant and it should not be allowed to fuel romantic musings of a Saab rebirth. But this pulse is the reason why a Saab 9-5 today can be a better car than a Saab 9-5 yesterday. Proof of this is to be found in the out-of-the-way village of Great Waltham in Essex, where Saab (and Volvo and Jaguar) specialists the Chelmsford Car Company can be found. That’s where we happen to witness the arrival of a pinky-purple box branded ‘Orio’. In it are parts requested 48 hours ago for a 9-5, the order effectively fulfilled by Sweden’s Ministry of Finance, which took over the shares in Saab Parts, owned by the government. Now renamed Orio, this parts operation usually supplies within 24 hours, says Elliot Sandat, a director of the garage.
Sandat explains that Orio is not only an efficient deliverer of parts but is also adding to the back catalogue, by acquiring tooling from suppliers such as Bosch and Valeo for whom Saab volumes are too low. Orio can now provide an amazing 22,000 items. Just as remarkable, and the reason why a Saab 9-5 can function more effectively today than when it was new, is that the parts service continues to develop software updates. A major one emerged in February last year, says Sandat, which is why cars fitted with sat-nav no longer default to a Belgian map and therefore display the wrong time during the UK summer. The update also allows the cars to run more smoothly.
We discover all this before taking the 40,000-mile wheel of a 2.0 petrol urbo Aero with all-wheel drive. This is the best 9-5, reckons Sandat, and his low-miles example is worth about £12,495. Many gravitate towards the top-of-the-range 2.8 V6, he says, but it’s thirstier, not vastly faster and slightly less dependable. We could also have picked a 2.0 diesel from the garage’s stock: these are typically about £10,000 and there are plenty of 9-5s out there for usefully less.
Were it not for lightly creased leather and a steering wheel slightly shined with use, this 2010 example could pass for a two-year old. There are no creaks or rattles, it pulls cleanly and responsively and feels reassuringly fit. The exceptions are the heating and ventilation, whose green LED pin lights randomly flash confirmation of a half-failed system, and an infotainment system that doggedly displays the Saab griffin and nothing else.
Sandat says this car has yet to be ‘reflashed’ – an electronic reinvigoration that may also improve the rudely abrupt downshifts from the automatic transmission. This nevertheless provides unexpectedly strong acceleration in league with the 214bhp turbo four. This engine issues fairly unprepossessing sounds, but quietly enough not to disappoint for long. The ride quality is similar: as firm as I remember it, but firmer than it needs to be for a car like this, but tolerable. The pay-off is relatively slight and experienced in the form of limited body roll rather than crisply incisive agility.
No nonsense, understated, robust capability is what you get, rather than a stellar driving experience. You’ll also enjoy a distinctive design, plentiful space, sumptuous seats and a dashboard more special than its monotone finish suggests. Fixing that was on Muller’s unrealised to-do list.
More than all this, though, is the regret-tinged pleasure to be had from owning Saab’s last throw of the dice. At least as heart-warming is the knowledge that a small, ex-Saab team in Sweden is there to keep your rarity alive.
Built 2010-2012 Price range £4700-£12,500 We’d pay £8500 One we found A black 2011 2.0-litre petrol with 72,000 miles, slightly over budget at £9995. Comes with full service history
Nine more rare used cars
Built 2006-2011 Price range £1500- £13,000 We’d pay £6000 One we found A 159 1750 TBi from 2009 that has covered 53,000 miles and is up for £9795
Doomed by the poor reliability and appalling back-up suffered by its 156 predecessor. Excess weight dulled its verve too; but, nevertheless, a handsome car and reliable. The 1750 TBi is the one to choose, but you pay a lot more.
Built 2010-2013 Price range £4000- £10,500 We’d pay £5000 One we found A 2010 car with 50,000 miles on the clock is on sale for £4900. Long MOT and main dealer history
As dinkily appealing as the early CRX coupé that inspired it; and, being a hybrid, ought to have been a car for its day. But that day was done early, the CR-Z failing to recreate the cheeky verve of its ancestor.
Built 2006-2009 Price range £3650-£12,000 We’d pay £7000 One we found A 2006 3.5i VTEC EX with 73,000 miles for £6490. Sold by a Honda specialist and just serviced
Flagship Honda whose flutter was brief, despite ushering in self- steering and autonomous braking systems years before others. Intriguing for that, and for a long kit-list and styling more tasteful than earlier Legends. A high-tech, reliable car for not a lot.
Built 2009-2013 Price range £8000- £30,000 We’d pay £10,000 One we found A 2009 FX with 101,000 miles, up for sale at £9989. Lots of kit and a long MOT
Great styling, a lavish cabin, a vast array of equipment and tuneful, if thirsty, petrol engines. Diesel is coarse, but the FX is a lot of intriguing SUV for the money if you go for a high-mileage example.
Built 1999-2002 Price range £9000- £20,000 We’d pay £10,000 One we found A rare 1999 Assetto Corsa limited edition with 76,000 miles for £10,995. Just passed MOT with no advisories
A potent, pedigree coupé with beguiling looks, lush furnishings and surging, both-hands-on-the-wheel thrust. Not quite a supercar, but it is a Maserati and, despite mortgage-like running costs, it’s amazing that these cars aren’t pricier.
Built 2003-2005 Price range £5500-£14,000 We’d pay £8500 One we found A 2004 ZT 260 SE with the monogram flip blue/green/purple finish. At £8995 with 46,000 miles
File under the ‘daft’ heading, given the conversion of a transverse, front-drive car to a longitudinal rear-drive V8. Engineering budget massively overran, but the car itself is a rumblingly entertaining force. Only 883 saloons and estates made and already collectible.
Built 2006-2010 Price range £1600-£4000 We’d pay £3000 One we found A 2006 Coupe GT with a 2.7 HDI V6. Up for £2295, with new tyres, a full history and 88,670 miles
The front overhang’s too overhung and the cabin is usually unremarkable – but not with the Integral leather option, in which hide beautifully sheaths the dash and more. Find a 2.7-litre HDI V6 with this and you have a superb, well-made, long-distance cruiser.
Built 2012-2014 Price range £6500- £10,500 We’d pay £8000 One we found A 30,300-mile car from 2012 up for £8795 and described as being in ‘showroom condition’
Corsas: they’re unremarkable – an adjective that also describes how almost every one moves down the road. The VXR is more diverting, but better still is the Nürburgring edition, which served the kind of supple, subtle, nuanced tactility usually missing from a Vauxhall.
Built 2012-2015 Price range £8000-£15,000 We’d pay £9000 One we found A 2013 Electron edition with 50,000 miles at £9995
Probably no car has been explained to the media as comprehensively and to so little effect as the Chevrolet Volt and its Ampera sibling – this complex, engagingly capable car priced out of its market. But it’s not now: these fascinating range-extenders are available for less than the price of a new Corsa.
Used car buying myths:
Convertibles are cheaper in winter, aren’t they?
What you are typically buying is a supremely versatile part-time convertible/coupé. For the dealer, it is a year-round bonus; the only person with a weaker resolve is going to be a private seller.
It is possible that a full convertible with a fabric roof could suffer with the merest of blips in the really cold months. Last winter, you could get £500 off a 2005 Mini Cooper S at just £4000 and a 2010 Peugeot 308 CC reduced to £4490.
Meanwhile, at the top end, the dealers and clever private sellers are patiently waiting for spring. Because they can, and should. So don’t believe the hype.
4x4s are cheap in summer...
Left-hand-drive premium cars are cheaper...
Yes, they are, in actual fact. It depends on the particular marque. A Jaguar or Land Rover in LHD can have a second life on the Costa del Sol but will always be worth less. Conversely, it will always appreciate at the same rate. A LHD 2010 Ferrari 458 is £119k; that’s about £20k less than a RHD.
Spec is cheap...
This is true, and it is the brilliant thing about new vs used cars. The playing field levels up when the motor is used because all those expensive extras when new simply make a car a lot more attractive and saleable when used. So a Jaguar XF TD V6 Premium Luxury from 2012, which was £42k new, is now just £17,500 with a very reasonable 30,000 mileage.
Colour is crucial...
It is. Only some colours work. Black does and so does white. Fashionable colours don’t stay trendy. Yellow continues to be a struggle on just about anything unless it is an old-school TVR. Meanwhile, a purple Audi TT V6 from 2008 is just over £8000; in silver, you will pay £1000 more.
Top 100 used car 2017 special features