2008 Saab 9-5 BioPower (Linear) Estate & Sedan Review
Despite a decent engine the 9-5 is being left behind
- 2008 Saab 9-5 BioPower Linear Sport Estate and Sedan 2.3-litre turbo petrol automatic - $63,900 (RRP).
- Metallic Paint: $1300 (Fitted); Leather Seats: $4000 (Fitted); 17" Alloys: $1250; Load Pack: $300; Tech Pack: $3000; Lux Pack: $4000; Sports Chassis: $750; Stereo Upgrade: $1500; Smoker's Pack: $50 (Fitted); Roof Rails: $500 (Fitted); Walnut Veneer: $1250; Heated Rear Seats: $500.
Smooth Transmission, Responsive Engine, Comfortable.
Out Dated, Over Priced, Average Driving Dynamics, No E85 fuel.
- by Matt Brogan & Alborz Fallah
Matt - I always had a thing for Saab as a kid, most especially our neighbour's black 900 Aero, and as a former aircraft maintenance engineer have even had the pleasure of working on Saab aircraft. The marque has a fine history and I always took Saab as a lovely luxury car that sat in that status of an elite few, a car you'd be proud to own. So would a week with the 9-5 change my mind?
Now many Saab zealots will jump down my throat upon reading this, so please understand I am not being harsh just for the sake of being harsh, I'm simply trying to impress upon you that as someone who reviews dozens of cars a year I believe this vehicle is simply not worth the asking price. I mean option it up a little and you're very quickly over the $80K mark!
For starters, the design is out-dated, it desperately needs re-modeling and leaves the 9-5 ostracised from the more modern styling of its competitors, further stretching the argument that you're getting a lot less for your coin than you could elsewhere.
Sure, it's comfortable and everything works rather well, especially the sometimes over zealous climate control, but it looks old, is rather basically spec'ed for a premium vehicle and lacks a lot of the character the brand had a decade ago. Frankly, it's boring, uninspiring, and whilst it's hardly likely to ever do anything wrong, you're just missing out on so very much comparatively speaking.
As a big car, I was expecting much more in terms of space, but sadly little is offered in the way of innovative storage, and the internal proportions are certainly no more than you would expect of even a medium sized modern wagon, most especially in the rear leg room department. Plastic rattles were noticeable on coarser roads and some of the fittings appear frightfully last decade.
The 'Fasten Seat Belts' light over the rear view mirror, perhaps borrowed from a Saab Regional Jet sits directly next to an R2D2 swivel light. Material usage is monotone, dated and very average in terms of quality, and with the ignition key and power windows switches (which incidentally operate incredibly slow power windows) taking up the console area, you're left with very little space for additional storage of smaller items.
Road noise is quite noticeable, the switch gear is agriculturally large, and the non-rain sensing wipers skip across the windscreen with washers that flood the cabin if you're too slow at getting the glass up. As for the stereo, it's decent and easy to use, but hardly a premium unit which only adds merit to my opinion that you're not getting $60K+ worth of car.
I did like the night panel feature, which cancels the instrumentation lighting to everything except the speedo (lighting other gauges if required - or at a button press), it's very good on dark country roads when you need all your night vision, and the dual fold sun blind is a great idea, especially when travelling south-west of a late arvo.
But how does it drive I hear you ask - well, like a ten year old, rather large, soft and heavy front wheel drive wagon really. The power is certainly there, but the drive is rather average. The cornering is lofty, top heavy and unsettled with a rigid front end creating a great deal of under steer and neutral wheel spin through those little 16" rims in sharper corners.
ESP is activated all too easily, torque steer is quite noticeable, and the steering is heavy and lethargic to respond. It's a bugger to park despite its reasonable turning circle, though the parking sensors (which are also very quiet) do help.
The braking is atrociously weak. You need to stand on the very heavy pedal to achieve even modest results which is not a good thing when you consider the inertia a turbo charged 1600 odd kilo car can carry. It almost feels like the discs are glazed and there's very little assistance in the pedal meaning a firm leg is required to maintain even moderately heavy braking.
So is there anything to like about the poor old 9-5? Well, besides being a rather comfy ride, yes there is - the engine and transmission are rather sweet. Motivated by an Ethanol (E85) fuelled turbo charged 2.3-litre petrol, the 9-5 produces a respectable 154kW @ 5500rpm which is delivered very smoothly through the five-speed Sentronic auto. It shifts well, almost seamlessly and has a lovely wide torque range for long, flat pulling power.
Acceleration is rather brisk for a bigger car and in a straight line at least, I would have no reason to doubt the manufacturer's claim of 9.5 seconds in the 0-100km/h sprint. Fuel consumption is rather heavy though, and markedly beyond that of the ADR claims with combined averages for the week reaching well in to the high 12s (300km City / 500km Highway).
A good comfortable highway cruiser, the 9-5 is a bit of a work out around town and is challenged by fast flowing switch backs and twisty country roads. If only the rest of the mechanicals could match that marvellous engine, and if only the design could catch up, inside and out, the 9-5 would be a worthy competitor.
While it may sound like I dislike the car, it's more that I think the 9-5 is out of touch, irrelevant to the premium market sector in both price and appointment, and is in dire need of being taken back to the drawing board. Given Saab and GM's combined talent, and their clear ability to tune an engine for our changing environmental needs, the 9-5 could be a great product, but sadly this one has had its day.
Alborz - As I arrived at the Saab pickup point in Brisbane's south, an enthusiastic Saab technician handed me the keys and I quickly made my way out to pick up what would surely be, the most embarrassing car I've driven in a very long time.
Firstly, they were the wrong keys, they were for the 9-3 SportCombi, which I had already driven. Then there was the fuel problem. You see, as good as that gigantic BioPower sticker on the side looks, there is no BioFuel to go with it. Yes, there was only half-a-tank of E85 BioPower fuel left in all of Brisbane, and it was all mine.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, it's one thing to drive a Toyota Prius, but it's another kettle of fish when you drive a car which calls itself "BioPower".
What exactly is BioPower? Well it's E85 fuel, 85 per cent ethanol, 15 per cent unleaded petrol. A good mix for the environment. Of course you can, as I have before, argue that the production process of ethanol based fuels produce more CO2 emissions than the offset of using such fuels.
But just how good is the offset? My BioPower was creating 238g of CO2 per km, which is not exactly a record breaker. To put that into perspective, the current 1.9-litre turbo-diesel Saab 9-5 produces only 199g of CO2 per km!
So what exactly is the point of BioPower? It creates more pollution per km than its diesel brother and more importantly, E85 fuel is harder to find than a laugh on the Rove McManus Show.
At the very least, it sounds good. "How do you do? I drive a Saab 9-5...BioPower!" Yes it definitely sounds good. But only 3 minutes had passed and I was already being questioned by other motorists.
"Does that run on electricity?" - "No sir, it actually runs mostly on Ethanol"
"Can you put vegetable oil in that thing? I saw that on TV" - "No sir, it actually runs mostly on Ethanol"
*large man in a Hummer H3* "Are those stickers a joke?" - "No sir, it actually.... forget it."
Thankfully, you can buy this car without the BioPower stickers and it will look and feel like any other Saab 9-5, just with a small BioPower badge on the boot.
It also won't come with 263 BioPower flyers in the boot.
Sitting inside the 9-5 is somewhat disappointing, there is nothing to make you go "wow". It's just... plain. It's one of those, "here is an interior" interiors. As Matt said, the switchgear and the whole set up looks rather outdated and you have to pinch yourself to remember it costs 60k+.
My biggest problem with the 9-5 BioPower, however, wasn't the interior or the quirky exterior, it was the fuel economy. I was expecting fuel usage of around 6-7L/100km given the BioPower badge, but the official fuel usage is rated at 10L/100km and you'd be lucky to achieve even that!
My half-a-tank of E85 ran out in two days and I was left to standard fuel. I didn't give up on E85 easily though, I called up BP, Shell and Caltex and asked each where/if I can buy E85 fuel (Brisbane), none gave me a positive response.
Apparently there are one or two stations in Melbourne and Sydney which stock the fuel, but none in Brisbane. 95 RON fuel it was.
I picked up Paul from Brisbane airport and drove down to Anthony's Gold Coast based house to begin recording our voice overs for the Veyron and Lamborghini videos.
On my way home that night, I put in $25 worth of fuel, which equated to about 17L of 95 RON fuel. After my 93km journey home, the refill fuel now warning was back again!
No doubt the press car was running extremely rich on 95 RON fuel, but it goes to show a real world test of the car's fuel economy on standard fuel.
However I don't give up on cars that easily, I stayed positive, so what if the fuel economy isn't that great, what about the drive? Well, that ain't so great either.
The brakes gave me the biggest concern, some high-performance cars with Brembo or APR systems tend to show a bit of "nothing...nothing.. everything" when it comes to braking performance. The 9-5 is similar, but it's more a "nothing...nothing...nothing....nothing...nothing...through the windscreen".
The brake system can convince you that you're about to have an accident, than at the very last second, the car simply stops. Not exactly fun to drive. As for the handling and power? The few hundred kilometres that I did with E85 fuel were terrific, fast acceleration from a standstill and in-gear, but as soon as 95 RON fuel went in, the performance went down the drain.
Handling on the other hand, was anything but fun. The tiny 16" wheels do nothing to help the constant body roll from one corner to another, this is by no means a driver's car.
While I love and adore Saab as a company and would have no hesitation recommending the 9-3 range, the 9-5 BioPower is one car which I was happy to give back.
Here is a short list of problems with 9-5 BioPower, it puts out more pollution than it's diesel variants, it uses more fuel, it's a pain to find the E85 fuel required, it handles like a beached whale, the braking performance will give you a heart condition, it's too expensive for what you get and the interior and exterior are both outdated.
What do I like about the 9-5? The idea. I like the thought of a car which can run on ethanol or electricity or perhaps even my own sense of self-satisfaction, but until such time as when these fuels are actually available, cars like this, are unnecessary.
CarAdvice overall rating: How does it drive: How does it look: How does it go:
- Engine: 2.3 litre turbo charged in-line four cylinder petrol
- Power: 154kW @ 5500rpm
- Torque: 280Nm @ 2000 - 4300rpm
- Transmission: Sentronic Five Speed Automatic
- 0-100km/h: 9.5 seconds (Claimed)
- Top speed: 225km/h
- NCAP Rating: N/A
- Turning Circle: 11.3 metres
- Fuel Tank: 75 litres
- Fuel Consumption: 10.4 litres / 100km (Combined)
- Fuel Type: E85 (or 95RON Petrol)
- Weight: 1589kg (Tare)
- Towing Capacity: 1800kg (Braked)
- Wheel Size: 16" x 6.5J (Alloy)