The cars we loved.
From all appearances, Saab could have died. The few cars it had, seemed unchanged for years and for many it was never anything more than a small niche brand for Europhiles. During GM’s stewardship, the brand stayed alive but did not thrive. It’s stubborn instance on making its own standards, made the company a drain on GM’s finances. After shedding Saab during its bankruptcy crisis in 08, the company found itself back in the hands of the Swedish, in the form of Striker the low volume supercar maker. One of Striker’s first acts was to get Saab’s new flagship sedan to market, the 9-5 Aero XWD. The new 9-5 represents the former owner GM’s parts bin sharing at its best. Based on the Epsilon II platform, the stretched wheelbase 9-5 at 112 inches represents the larger end of the platform. There will eventually be two versions of the 9-5, a front wheel drive 220 hp turbo four-cylinder will be added to the currently available all-wheel drive 300 hp 2.8L V6. For now the Aero model comes with one transmission, a six speed automatic with a paddle shifting manual mode.
Saab did not waste anytime by putting out a lesser model followed by a higher end one later as many manufacturers do. Competing with the higher end of the mid-sized luxury market was a priority. Cars like BMW’s 5 Series and the Audi A6 all have specs and power ratings close to the 9-5, but where the Saab is expected to shine is in safety, comfort and style. Like Volvo, safety has always been a selling point of Saabs. New refinements to emerging technologies like Saab’s lane departure warning system can detect if the wondering 9-5 is the result of direct steering input from the driver or sleepy (drunk?) indifference. A shrill warning sound will result depending on which input or lack of the system gets. The 9-5 gets a laundry list of other standard safety items including an array of front and side air bags.
Performance can also be a type of safety device for accident avoidance and just getting out of a jam with horsepower. The 9-5, is mid pack with acceleration numbers in the low 6 second range in the sprint to 60 mph. A top speed of 158 mph is governed electronically. Where the 9-5 shines is its road holding abilities. The independent MacPherson strut suspension has electronically controlled shock absorbers. Called The “HiPer Strut” system by GM, it is shared by other cars on the platform. The driver has a choice of three ride setting modes: comfort, intelligent and sport. Comfort mode is much like the Buick LaCross, its platform mate with a smooth supple ride. More sport oriented settings in the intelligent and sport mode allow for more road feel (including bumps and imperfections). The intelligent mode is the default and tried to balance comfort and performance. The system seems to work well, as the 9-5 has one of the best skidpad ratings in its class (89g), no doubt due in part to a full-time all wheel drive system.
Comfort is one area where the 9-5 may have a solid advantage over many of its rivals. The rear seats are as comfortable as the front and many in the automotive press have said that they are some of the most comfortable ever developed by GM. All occupants are entertained by a 10GB sound system with CD/DVD player and XM radio. This kind of technology has become common place in many of todays car’s certainly one that costs around $50k.
Style is one area where the 9-5 arguably brings something new to the table. While some Mercedes, BMW and Audi’s are starting to look-alike, the 9-5 goes off in a stylistic direction of its own. The shape is inspired by aircraft and nautical shapes like many Saab cars before it. A new elegance is introduced to this design vocabulary with the use of understated curves that look both graceful and powerful. The greenhouse resembles a stretched version of Nissan’s GT-R, with a flat top flowing back from a blacked out “A” pillar. The thick “C” pillar gently blends into the rounded rear, in what may be the most attractive view of the car. The aeronautic influences continue inside with a control layout that features three display systems for speed: a traditional dial, an altimeter like system and a HUD. Glowing green dials complete the airplane cockpit look while tasteful aluminum trim accents break up a sea of black plastics and leather surfaces.
All in all the 9-5 is one of the most compelling Saabs in years. The introduction of the lower priced four-cylinder model might improve sales, but the Aero model may be priced too high for a car so much like a Buick LaCrosse or Regal in ride quality, options and horsepower. But then there’s that style. As nice as the other cars on GM’s Eplison II platform have become, they don’t look as distinctive as the 9-5. Saabs only chance to stand out will be the way it always has, with a look that does not follow the herd and continued attention to safety and detail. More value might be introduced to the equasion with the arrival of the four-cylinder car later. Hopefully the 9-5 will be the shape of more things to come from other Saabs in the future – if there is a future for Saab at all.