Saab may for now have been consigned to the history books, but in China the old 9-5 is being resuscitated. Unlike SAIC, whose Roewe 750 had little difference to the old Rover 75, this project has been four years in the making and is no Saab doppelganger.
The Senova is built using Saab intellectual property that BAIC bought from GM back in 2009, but what has been created is a modern-looking saloon with a sporty flair. But while it is certainly haunted by the ghost of Saab, critics may claim that’s not the only influence.
Externally at least it is well put together. The engines used are the old 2.0-litre turbo and 2.3-litre turbo Saab units, and there's also a new BAIC 1.8-litre turbo exclusively for Chinese government buyers.
Internally, BAIC have taken a top-down approach: the further you go down, the worse the quality gets. On the top of the dashboard the soft plastics are fine, but once you get down to the central console much cheaper materials are in play and the door pockets are downright flimsy. Never mind competing with European executives, this doesn’t even come up to the standards of an Avensis.
With a black dash accentuated with fake wood and chrome, complemented by sporty-looking red-stitched black leather seats, the overall look is aesthetically pleasing.
The instruments have blue backlighting and there are steering mounted controls for features such as the Bluetooth phone connection. Harking back to its Saab heritage, the Senova has its start/stop button located on the central console in front of the gear selector. There is also a familiar Night Panel button to dim non-essential instrument lighting at night.
Where the Senova excels is equipment spec. As can be expected, there is the now ubiquitous touchscreen infotainment system, but this is complemented by electrically adjustable driver and passenger seats which have both heating and a fan – not that the latter works well. In the Luxury trim there is a 12-speaker Bose sound system.
Safety has not been neglected. Full side curtain airbags protect both front and rear occupants and the front seats employ Saab’s active head restraint system for protection in rear collisions. Blind spot warning indicators on the mirrors are standard.
On the road the Senova doesn’t live up to its sporty promise. The Saab derived 2.0T unit is more than 15 years old and it shows. It is further hampered by the five-speed automatic gearbox, which, no matter whether driven in Sport mode or Manual using the paddle shifts, fails to deliver any excitement.
Steering has a properly weighted European feel and the handling is acceptable but nowhere near class leading.
While the standard equipment level leaves some of the German executive competition blushing, ultimately this car might be best seen as a competitor to the former Seat Exeo. Quality and drive-wise it cannot match the newer competition.
That said, we enjoyed the European feel to its drive, with good looks inside and out complementing the experience. Watch out for that ageing drivetrain, however, and it's definitely worth saving up for a high-level trim if you can afford to.