Our neighbor Sven is still hung up on the fact that our 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero isn't a hatchback, never mind how good it looks as a sedan. And of course, he's almost outraged when we tell him that the new 9-5 shares its basic chassis architecture with an Opel and a Buick.
"They're flushing their Scandinavian heritage down the drain!"
"Good point. But you're a little late with the passion," we reply.
Saab hasn't sold a hatchback in about 10 years, and it started using General Motors' platform architecture in the mid-1990s. So it's senseless to argue that the move to the Epsilon II platform has somehow made the redesigned Saab 9-5 sedan less Swedish.
Besides, Saab and its Dutch parent company, Spyker, don't have the luxury of worrying about their cars' genealogy right now. The only thing that really matters is whether this 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero is good enough to compete with other midsize luxury sedans priced around the $50,000 mark.
Yes, It Costs $50,000
Maybe you have a tough time believing that a Saab 9-5, even an all-wheel-drive Aero model, costs $52,360 (and that's for our late-build 2010 9-5 Aero; an equivalently equipped 2011 Aero model costs about $55K due to a $2,000 increase in the base MSRP). Sven sure did. He clutched his chest, then turned and retreated to his driveway graveyard of Saab 900s.
In reality, our 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero lands smack in the middle of the premium midsize sedan market. The Acura TL SH-AWD, Cadillac CTS Premium AWD and Volvo S60 T6 AWD cost less when comparably equipped. The Audi A6 3.0 TFSI Quattro and Infiniti M37x cost slightly more. And big-name cars like the BMW 535xi and Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic cost about $60 grand.
You get a respectable amount of stuff for your $50,000 and change. A 300-horsepower turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 provides the motivation for every 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero, and an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission drives all four wheels through the clutch-type Haldex XWD ("Cross-Wheel Drive") all-wheel-drive system, which includes an electronic limited-slip rear differential.
Also standard is a driver-adjustable adaptive suspension, along with adaptive bi-xenon headlights; a keyless ignition; heated, leather sport seats; dual-zone climate control; a USB input; satellite radio and Bluetooth. Our test car has the $2,395 navigation system with real-time traffic, plus the $825 Technology package, which provides a head-up display and a lane-departure warning system (an automated parking system is added for 2011, pushing the package price to $1,695). Another $750 swaps out the 9-5 Aero's standard 18-inch all-season tires for 19-inch summer tires.
Unlikely Sport Sedan
You could save a couple grand by choosing the 9-5 Turbo6 XWD model, which is new for 2011 and forgoes the Aero model's limited-slip differential, adaptive dampers and various other sport-sedan appointments. And if you don't care about a V6 or AWD, the front-drive, four-cylinder Saab 9-5, with its 220-hp, turbocharged Ecotec 2.0-liter, starts at $39 grand.
But after driving the 2010 9-5 Aero sedan on our favorite road, we'd be loath to part with its specialized hardware, which transforms a car that's as long, wide and heavy as a Buick LaCrosse into something resembling a sport sedan.
The new Saab 9-5 Aero is one of those cars that makes you realize that an automaker's chassis engineers hold the world in their hands when they tune a suspension. It changes direction quickly and doesn't slow you up with excessive body roll. It's honest with you, too, and 5 minutes into the drive, you already know the car and the kind of inputs it likes.
And one thing it likes is gas before the apex, thanks to the new AWD system. You don't even have to be smooth about it, as even the clumsiest stabs of throttle summon the system's torque-vectoring magic to pull the 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero's nose around. It's similar to the TL SH-AWD, but Saab's XWD system reacts more quickly and seamlessly, especially in the slalom. However, the cars' slalom speeds are nearly identical — 67.5 mph for the 9-5 versus 67.8 for an automatic-equipped TL SH-AWD. Other AWD sedans like the S60 (64.6 mph) and A6 3.0T (also 64.6) aren't as well sorted.
Our 9-5 tester's Sport mode provides a well-damped ride over rough patches. We don't care for the increased steering effort in this mode, but Saab lets you adjust the suspension and steering à la carte. So the otherwise precise electric-assist power steering stays in Normal (er, Intelligent mode) and everybody's happy. Of all the cars that use the Epsilon II architecture, the Saab has the best steering.
Brakes see hard use on our route, but pedal feel and stopping distances remain consistent, just as they did at our test track, where the 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero stopped from 60 mph in 113 feet — an excellent number.
Sorta Kinda Quick
We never would have foreseen a day when we'd tell you that a 300-hp sedan isn't all that quick, but here we are. There's no sense trying to explain it to Sven, but if you keep track of such things, you know that the 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero's 6.4-second 0-60-mph time and 15-flat quarter-mile at 95.5 mph are pretty average for this price range.
Granted, the automatic TL SH-AWD turns in similar numbers, but the manual-shift TL drops more than a second off those times. Moreover, the automatic-equipped S60 and A6 3.0T both run high 5s to 60 mph and low 14s through the quarter-mile. The difference likely comes down to torque, as the Volvo and Audi both have more of it, especially the S60, which makes 325 pound-feet to the 9-5's 295 lb-ft.
Put the numbers game aside, and the Saab 9-5 Aero is easy to like, with a nice, linear throttle response that feels right whether you're in Normal or Sport mode. Turbo lag is minimal, though you can sense whether you're on- or off-boost through the gas pedal or by watching the "turbo meter," which is devoid of psi or bar markings. You can't actually hear the turbocharger gathering steam, and that's maybe the one thing we miss from Sven's crusty 900s.
The V6 has a useful though not overpowering midrange, and the six-speed automatic's ratios are well matched to it. Shifts are smooth and nicely timed in Drive, so even on back roads, we rarely have the urge to use the paddle shifters. Good thing, since the transmission's manual mode is half-hearted: Upshifts are slow, and downshifts aren't rev-matched.
As the 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero's 16 mpg city/27 mpg highway EPA rating suggests, fuel mileage can vary a lot in this car. We see mid-teens in heavy traffic but come close to 23 mpg in highway driving. Our 18.6-mpg average over 800-plus miles is on par with our results in the S60 (18.8 mpg).
Oh, You Wanted a Luxury Sedan?
Driving on back roads is pretty much our favorite thing to do, but any sedan that costs this much has to be able to play the role of a luxury sedan, too, and this is where the redesigned Saab 9-5 comes up short.
We like its controlled ride on two-lane blacktop, but none of its modes can dial up the compliance needed for an hour-long commute. The optional 245/40R19 Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires are likely the problem here.
Inside, the 9-5 Aero has the unexplainably comfortable front seats you always find in Swedish-brand cars, plus an enormous backseat (38.8 inches of legroom), but materials quality falls short. The Acura, Audi and even the Infiniti far surpass it here. We also noted a few ill-fitting center stack pieces and a couple instances of plastics with flashing left over.
It's easy to want to give the 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero a pass in these areas. After all, if not for some late-hour deal-making, this car might not exist at all. And there's little doubt that Spyker is building it on a tight budget.
But $50,000 is still $50,000, and you should feel like you spent that much every time you get in the car. The Saab 9-5 Aero doesn't deliver that feeling.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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