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.