On paper, Saab’s new 9-5 2.3T makes quite a compelling case. Having dumped the distinctly un-Saab 3.0 V6 from parent company GM, the main change for 2004 is a new four-cylinder – turbocharged, of course – producing 220bhp. And to get that sort of grunt from an equivalent BMW, Mercedes or Audi you’d be looking at a list price that starts with a three.
The case grows when you look at the increases in economy and performance, combined with lower emissions and price compared with the V6, but it begins to fall apart on the road, where the Swede still lags behind the Germans.
The main problem is that, in many areas, the 9-5 is average, bordering on good, in a sector that exudes excellence. The new drivetrain exemplifies this, delivering 220bhp and 229lb ft of torque through the front wheels in a more unruffled and less torquesteery way than Saabs of just a few years ago, but never offering the sensation of power suggested by the figures. It could effortlessly carry four people across Europe, but leave you with few memories of the car the following day.
Otherwise unchanged mechanically, the 9-5 suffers from uncommunicative steering and a heavy dose of understeer, not to mention slightly dated styling.
Get the £1240 five-speed auto and you’ll add 35g/km to the CO2 figures, almost a second to the 0-60 time and drop fuel consumption to 27.4mpg.
Inside, a tweak to the seat-belt reminder function is enough to boost the Euro NCAP rating to five stars, and there are tiny changes to the fascia and upholstery, but overall the 9-5 still feels its age.