2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4 Premium Sedan
Mid-sized sport sedan with all-turbo engine line-up
By Nina Russin
2011 Saab 9-5 Sedan
Saab is to the Swedish car world what Porsche is to the Germans: a niche manufacturer focused on performance. While Saab shares Volvo's safety focus, the automaker has more specifically targeted driving enthusiasts who enjoy its uniquely Scandinavian designs and small, peppy engines. The 9-5 mid-sized sedan is Saab's bread-and-butter car, appealing to the largest segment of its buyers.
The newest model which rolled out last fall competes against European sport sedans such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. There are four available grades in the United States: two four-cylinder turbo front-wheel drive models, and two all-wheel drive V-6 sedans. All grades come with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection.
The test car is the 9-5 Turbo4 Premium: the more upscale of the four-cylinder grades. A modified two-liter 220 horsepower engine can run on E-85: a renewable fuel.
Base price is $43,435, not including the $825 destination charge. A technology package adds a heads-up display, lane departure warning, xenon headlamps, automatic headlight leveling and park assist ($2490), bringing the price as tested to $46,750.
Aviation heritage meets modern technology
2011 Saab 9-5 Sedan
The 2011 9-5 is based on the Aero styling concept, melding design cues from the classic Saab 900 model with a twenty-first century perspective.
Product planners maintained features unique to Saab based on the automaker's aviation history, beginning with its driver-focused cockpit. The exterior design incorporates traditional Saab features as well, such as its hockey stick beltline, wrap-around headlamps and tail lamps, and a low-slung roof.
Saab's styling department has traditionally utilized lighting inside the vehicle as a design element. The newest 9-5 continues this tradition with a two-panel panoramic sunroof, green-on-black gauges, and the Saab night panel which darkens gauge cluster displays to minimize driver distraction.
As the owner of a 2002 Saab 9-3, I noticed other similarities between my car and the newer model. The ignition button is in the center console, in the same location as the former key slot. The purpose of locating the ignition key away from the steering column was to prevent knee injuries in the event of a collision. Now it's more of a heritage feature.
Air vents have the same knob control as older models, which I think functions particularly well. The seat design is also similar: simple but with excellent lower lumbar support.
Designers have maintained Saab's classic grille design and wrap-around headlamps. The 18-inch wheels on the test car are a nod to modern automotive styling, and also enhance performance.
There are also some obvious departures from former models, which make the current car feel more American in this journalist's opinion than it does Swedish. For example, the greenhouse or glass around the car is rather narrow.
Narrowing the greenhouse reduces the amount of ambient light which can enter the interior: a decidedly un-Swedish concept. The dual-panel sunroof makes up for this, but it also adds a significant amount of weight as compared to a single pane of glass. Curb weight on the test car is 4150 pounds, which puts it on the heavy side for cars in this vehicle segment.
The D-pillars are thicker and more angular, which gives the car a masculine feel. While this is an attractive design feature, it does limit visibility in the rear corners. So does the rather steep rake of the rear glass.
Test drive in the California desert
On a recent media program, I had the opportunity to drive the Saab 9-5 between Los Angeles and Palm Springs: a distance of about 150 miles. The route included some moderate highway traffic in the Los Angeles area, as well as some time on surface streets around Palm Springs.
While I'm not thrilled about the additional weight which the sunroof and accessories add to the chassis, the sedan has the tight steering response European sport sedans embrace, with a well-tuned suspension and firm, linear braking.
A blind spot monitoring system illuminates LEDs in the side mirrors when vehicles in the adjacent lanes pass through blind spots to the rear of the sedan. A wide, deep windshield provides excellent forward visibility. Cornering to either side is a non-issue as well.
Lane departure warning which comes with the technology package alerts the driver if he is drifting out of the lane without signaling. It's a useful feature on long road trips, where sections of the freeway become monotonous.
Eighteen-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tires provide an ample footprint, which is noticeable on curving roads. The sedan had excellent steering response on the section of the 60 freeway which passes through the canyons east of Los Angeles.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, making it easy for passengers in both rows of seating to converse.
Driver-focused cockpit seats up to four adult passengers
Designers make it clear that the Saab 9-5 is a driving enthusiast's car through the use of bolstered bucket seats in both rows, and by tilting the control panel in the dashboard slightly towards the driver. Two-position driver's seat memory allows multiple family members to share the driving.
The heads-up display enables the driver to monitor vehicle speed without taking his eyes off the road. Formula-style shift paddles on the steering wheel enable the driver to flick through the gears on challenging roads. Redundant audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls, also on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
Tech-savvy buyers will appreciate the sedan's keyless start, satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports. Bluetooth interface is standard. Dual-zone climate control, along with heated and cooled front seats keep passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
Because of the tall floor tunnel, two adults will be more comfortable in the second row than three. A fold-down armrest adds cupholders in back and a writing surface. A pass-through extends the cargo floor for longer items.
The Saab 9-5 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Standard OnStar automatically notifies the police and emergency medical personnel if the car's airbags deploy.
Saab builds the 9-5 at its assembly plant in Trollhattan, Sweden.
Likes: An attractive sport sedan with a Scandinavian interior which favors the driver. Turbocharged engines enhance gas mileage and minimize toxic emissions.
Dislikes: Narrow greenhouse reduces ambient light inside the car and visibility around the perimeter. Dual-panel sunroof adds weight to an already heavy chassis.
Model: 9-5 Turbo4 Premium Sedan
Base price: $43,435
As tested: $46,750
Horsepower: 220 Hp @ 5300 rpm
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 18/28 mpg city/highway