The all-new 2011 Saab 9-5 is the cure for traditional German luxury sedans. It's also a sign of the times we live in, choice, choice and more choice.
Buying a car can sometimes feel like buying cereal, you walk into a supermarket and there are hundreds of choices, brands you've never heard of offering flavours you didn't think possible.
There are currently more than 40 different car brands being sold in Australia and they come from all over the world. Thankfully though, some have a heritage and rich history long enough to fill volumes of books. Saab is one such brand.
The all-new Saab 9-5 comes 67 years after the Swedish Airplane Limited company decided to begin building passenger cars. In that time the company created some iconic models that have resulted in the brand's cult following. Many Saab fans would argue that the decade under General Motors saw the Saab brand lose its appeal and character. Alas, it's 2011, Saab is back in European hands and more motivated than ever to regain its character and soul.
The 2011 Saab 9-5 still owes a great deal to GM as it shares the same platform as the Opel Insignia and was mostly engineered under GM. Nonetheless, it's the first Saab we've seen in a long time that exudes enormous character and class.
In fact, it's almost unfair to call the new 9-5 a 9-5. The outgoing model doesn't come close as a comparison. The new car is now larger (5008mm long x 1467mm high x 1868mm wide), significantly better appointed and hosts a magnitude of technological feats that are a first for the Swedish brand. Saab debated calling the new car a 9-6 but decided to keep the same 9-5 model-name for historic reasons.
Although more variants are available in overseas markets, Saab Australia decided to only bring in the Vector and Aero models. In total there are three different Saab 9-5 sedans you can buy today, starting with the 2.0-litre diesel TiD4 from $71,990. Given the government's tax break for luxury vehicles that consume less than 7L/100km (in the diesel 9-5's case 6.8L/100km), the diesel is actually cheaper than the 2.0-litre Turbo4 ($75,900) and makes a very strong case against its German competitors (namely the entry model Audi A6).
The challenge lies herein regarding Saab's future: can the brand win customers from the Germans? There will always be Saab buyers that were going to buy a new Saab 9-5 regardless of the competition. Nonetheless, for the non-die-hard Saab fans, those that have got about $80-100k to spend on a luxury car, how hard will it be to persuade them out of a German (or even a Volvo) showroom?
The cheaper prices are a start, but that's generally not enough. With only eight dealers in Australia the question of servicing and parts is bound to play on the mind of potential buyers. Leaving that all aside, if we're to compare apples with apples, as in a Saab 9-5 to a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series, how does it stack up?
Firstly, we have to consider the looks. Unlike the Germans, the Saab has a very unique character to it. If there were only 100 BMW 5 Series vehicles on Australian roads, one could potentially say the same thing but given just how many are driving around, the Germans haven't exactly got uniqueness on their side.
The 9-5's front, although modern, is still very much Saab. According to Saab's head designer Simon Padian, the new 9-5's look was inspired by light and nature, luxury of space, clean uncluttered design and contrast.
The rear end sports the 'iceblock' style taillights that go across the entire back and create a very striking characteristic for the vehicle at night. Saab believes its customers strive for uniqueness, so offering a vehicle with character and Scandinavian design themes was a must.
Overall you're not going to mistake a 9-5 in traffic for a Audi A6 or an E-Class. Its unique factor is probably its biggest drawing card against the mighty Germans.
The interior of the old 9-5 wasn't exactly what one would call technologically advanced. With outdated green backlit displays that looked liked they were out of a 1970s passenger jet, there was little one could say about the niceties of the cabin. Step inside the new 9-5 and you'll find it hard to believe it's a Saab.
Standard on all models is a giant eight-inch touchscreen embedded beautifully into the cabin. It has 10GB of space and comes equipped with satellite navigation. Connected to that is an 11-speaker Harman Kardon system that is sure to please even the fussiest of audiophiles. It has built-in Bluetooth phone connectivity but unfortunately misses out on Bluetooth audio streaming.
The front windscreen has a minute wrap-around effect and the whole cabin is designed with a cockpit as inspiration. The digital speedometer can even be changed to show speed in the same manner as an altimeter, which is very enjoyable to use (although if you do end up with a speeding ticket, we suspect the men in blue will not buy it as an excuse).
There is head-up display system which projects information (such as speed, temperature, time, navigation) on to the windscreen (standard across the range) while Aero and Vector petrol models are available with Saab's DriveSense which allows the driver to pick from three different driving modes: Comfort, Intelligent and Sport.
The front seats are very spacious but will still hug you when it matters. There is plenty of room to fit a Scandinavian warrior in the back seat, and if need be you can even entertain him thanks to the optional twin eight-inch rear screen systems (which can run independently of the front screen, so each of the three systems can play different media).
During our review we got to drive the Turbo4 front-wheel drive and the Turbo6 all-wheel drive (referred to as XWD in Saab language) around the twisty mountain roads of Daylesford in Victoria (we will review the diesel soon). Despite being the same model, the Turbo4 and Turbo6 are totally different vehicles, not only because one is XWD and the other FWD, but also because their suspension set-up is unique. The diesel gets front McPherson type axle with a multi link rear axle for the most comfortable ride set-up possible. The Turbo4 has a different rear suspension (H-link) for added responsiveness while the range-topping Turbo6 gets a more sporty HiPerStrut front suspension (same as the Opel Insignia VRX).
The Turbo4's 2.0-litre engine has a healthy 162kW and 350Nm of torque, which results in a 0-100km/h time of around 8.5 seconds. The Turbo6 gets the bigger 2.8-litre V6 with a twin-scroll turbocharger. From that you get 221kW and 400Nm of torque. Available only as an automatic XWD, the Turbo6 does the 0-100km/h sprint in a very respectable 6.9 seconds. The 2.0-litre diesel has 118kW and 350Nm of torque.
Behind the wheel, the Turbo6 is a very lively car to punt around. In Comfort mode it's very stable around poor quality roads, but put it into Sport mode and it will eat up mountain roads with ease. There is no torque steer (given its XWD) but around tight bends the steering does tend to jitter if you come across an uneven surface. To some this is called feedback, but it can be a tad too much and a little off-putting for others. The 2.8-litre drinks 10.6L/100km on a combined cycle but that can climb to around 14L/100km if driven hard. In comparison you'll have to opt out for the significantly more expensive BMW 535i to get similar levels of acceleration and overall performance (albeit, the BMW is better around corners).
The Turbo4 does present a hint of torque-steer if accelerating out of corners, but it's unnoticeable when driven sedately. As far as ride and handling goes though, it's pretty fun to drive. It's a plush ride around town but can also be driven with a bit of enthusiasm if the time comes. Its front-wheel drive set-up doesn't inspire as much confidence as the XWD but it's almost $20,000 cheaper.
Apart from Comfort and Sport, the Intelligent mode is the in-between choice, letting the car's computer work out a balance between Sport and Comfort depending on your driving style. The three different driving modes change the shifting times for the gearbox, stiffness of the suspension, throttle response and steering weight.
For a car that measures over 5m long, it's pretty comfortable to manoeuvre around town but the lack of a standard reversing camera is noted. As with all European cars these days, the new Saab 9-5 sports a full compliment of airbags and includes all the top-notch safety features money can buy (top safety rating in Europe).
Overall, the 2011 Saab 9-5 is a very worthy contender in the luxury large-car segment. Its striking looks, driving dynamics, list of standard features and competitive pricing strike a great combination for buyers that are looking for something with a bit more character. Check out the Saab.com.au website for list of standard features and specification.
Expect a more detailed review of the new Saab 9-5 range over the coming weeks.
2011 Saab 9-5 pricing:
- Vector TiD4 - $71,990
- Vector Turbo4 petrol - $75,900
- Aero Turbo6 XWD - $94,900
*Australian photography by Janusz Molinski.