Used 2006 Saab 9-5
- Long list of standard features, exceptionally supportive front seats, plenty of cargo space, simple controls.
- Turbo four lacks refinement, ride can be harsh at times, torque steer under hard acceleration, excessive wind noise, some low-grade interior materials, no rear-seat airbags.
Edmunds' Expert Review
An anachronism in the premium midsize class, the 9-5 sedan and wagon will please buyers wanting the style and personality of a classic Saab car. In terms of performance, luxury and overall refinement, however, the 2006 Saab 9-5 is frequently outclassed by newer competitors.
Saab's first "large car" debuted as the 9000 in 1985. In typical Saab fashion, power came from a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, but in the 9000, it was mounted transversely to allow for a larger cabin. In 1993, the 9000 Aero debuted in the States with a 225-horsepower turbocharged engine, making it the fastest Saab car in the lineup. When the completely redesigned model finally arrived in 1999, the 9000 became the Saab 9-5. It still retained much of its predecessor's distinctive lines, but replaced the roomy five-door hatchback design with a more traditional four-door sedan arrangement (a wagon was also introduced).
In 2002, the Saab 9-5 received a midcycle refresh that further refined both the sedan and wagon to help them better compete with their illustrious competition. Changes included more power, a retuned suspension, revised styling and additional feature content. The model lineup was also simplified into three distinct "architectural forms" in Saab's words. The base "Linear" model was classic Scandinavian-stark, the midlevel "Arc" model was more luxurious and the top-of-the-line "Aero" was the sportiest model.
For 2006, Saab has given the 9-5 another refresh in an attempt to stretch the car's life cycle several more years. Highlights include a prominent new grille, projector-beam headlights with smoked lenses, body-color exterior trim, a reworked chassis, a new control layout and a price cut of about $2,000. The familiar Linear, Arc and Aero trim levels have been eliminated, as the sedan and wagon now come in one model apiece. The wagon is now called the SportCombi as on the 9-3 line. Equipment is similar to last year's Arc model, though 17-inch wheels and a 260-hp version of the 2.3-liter turbo four are now standard. The old Aero's lowered sport suspension is now optional.
Out on the road, the suspension improvements result in less body roll during cornering than before, as well as a smooth ride quality overall. However, the Saab 9-5 still strikes us as a car that's in need of a full redesign, not just another update. The ride can still be harsh over bumps, and wind noise is excessive for a premium-brand car. In addition, the 2.3-liter engine no longer meets the standards for refinement in this class. Inside, the new control layout is a big improvement ergonomically, but some of the materials used in the cabin are glaringly out of place in a car with a mid-$30Ks sticker price. To make matters worse, the 2006 Saab 9-5 resides in a category filled with quality contenders. While the wagon (SportCombi) is still a reasonable choice for family use given its sizable cargo capacity, in general, the 9-5 is outclassed by its competition when it comes to luxury, performance and refinement. Those craving a classic Saab car may find it appealing, but we think that discerning buyers will find cars like the Acura TL, Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat more satisfying overall.
trim levels & features
The midsize Saab 9-5 is available in two body styles -- sedan and wagon (SportCombi), each of which comes in one trim. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels with 235/45R17 all-season tires, leather upholstery, walnut trim, heated power-adjustable seats with driver memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 240-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio, a sunroof, a heated 60/40-split folding rear seat, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. An optional sport package provides a lowered and stiffened suspension, bolstered sport seats and metallic dash trim. A visibility package adds bi-HID headlights, rear parking assist, auto-dimming exterior mirrors and rain-sensing wipers. Stand-alone extras include ventilated front seats, a DVD-based navigation system and General Motors' OnStar telematics system.
performance & mpg
A turbocharged, 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder rated for 260 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque is standard on all 9-5s. A standard five-speed manual transmission routes power to the front wheels. A five-speed automatic with sport and manual modes is optional.
All 9-5 models feature adaptive-force front airbags, active head restraints and front seat-mounted side airbags that protect the heads and torsos of front occupants. No airbag protection is available for rear occupants. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and stability and traction control are standard on all models. In government crash testing, the 2006 Saab 9-5 earned a perfect five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact tests, the Saab car received five stars for front-occupant protection and four stars for the rear. The IIHS gave the 9-5 a "Good" rating (the best possible) in frontal-offset crash testing and named it a "Best Pick."
Once the turbo spools up, the 2.3-liter delivers plenty of power for this class, though not in as refined a manner as we'd like. Unlike most sport sedans and wagons, the Saab 9-5 is preferable with the automatic transmission, as its shorter gearing is better suited to the turbo engine's unusual power band. This year's chassis upgrades provide noticeably improved handling, and this along with the 9-5's relative low curb weight, gives it a nimble feel through corners. Competitors have sharper reflexes, though, and torque steer remains an issue under hard acceleration. Ride quality is smoother than before, though it's still a little harsh over bumps.
Most drivers will find the 9-5's seats exceptionally comfortable, especially those equipped with the optional heating and ventilation feature. Materials quality could use improvement in some spots, but passenger room is excellent all around. A split-folding rear seat and nearly 16 cubic feet of trunk space give the Saab 9-5 an added level of versatility. The SportCombi wagon supplies 37 cubes of luggage capacity with the rear seats in use and 73 cubes when they're folded.
Features & Specs
More About This Model
Inside this dimly lit Stockholm pub the stress level is zero. No one's rushed in here. People spend hours nursing draft beer and warm plates of meat.
Two hours, two lagers and a dozen meatballs later, we realize the best part about the 2006 Saab 9-5, which we drove yesterday on the two-lane roads north of this historic city. It's still a Saab. Svante Kinell, brand manager for the 9-5, says there are 1,367 changes on the 2006 model, but these changes haven't squashed that intangible something that makes it a Saab. They've just made it a better Saab.
Over a Thousand Changes
Although numerous, the changes really come down to an exterior face-lift, a worked-over chassis, a new control layout, 10 extra horsepower and a price cut of about $2,000. Additionally, the wagon is now called the SportCombi just like the new 9-3 wagon, and the familiar Linear, Arc and Aero trim levels are gone in favor of a single model offered in sedan and wagon body styles.
This single model is a blend of last year's midlevel Arc and sporty Aero models, which means it's fully equipped with leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats with driver memory, seat heaters in all five positions, a 240-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an in-dash CD changer and satellite radio.
The high-output version of Saab's 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is also standard, and it's up to 260 hp, thanks to a revised intake. Torque holds steady at 258 pound-feet. Transmission choices still consist of a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic. All 9-5s wear 17-inch wheels and 235/45R17 Pirelli all-season tires (slightly wider than last year's 225s), while the old Aero model's lowered sport suspension has moved to the options list, bundled with sport seats and faux aluminum interior trim.
Other extras include a navigation system and a visibility package with bi-xenon headlamps and rear park assist. Saab expects to hold the base price for both the sedan and wagon right around the $35,000 mark.
On the Surface
Known for its friendly face, the Saab 9-5 carries an almost sinister gaze into 2006. A larger grille gives the car the prominent nose that's currently in fashion, while projector-beam headlamps bore into your soul through smoked lenses. In back, shapely new taillights resemble those of the '06 Audi A4. Along the sides, the 9-5's characteristic black body moldings and door handles give way to more socially acceptable color-matched trim.
Inside, designers replaced the 9-5's clunky array of climate and audio buttons with a slick new set of metallic-trimmed dials and buttons from the GM parts bin. Normally, we'd be skeptical about a Saab sharing its center stack controls with the Chevrolet HHR, but the new pieces integrate nicely into the 9-5's cockpit and greatly improve its ergonomics.
The gauge faces are also new this year, and the steering wheel now has three spokes instead of four. We would have liked to see Saab upgrade a few of the 9-5's questionable interior plastics, which remain a step or two behind German and Japanese peers.
Its innocuous expression gone, the 9-5 needed more of a performance edge as well, so engineers went to work on the standard suspension to tighten up the car's traditionally soft handling. Fifteen-percent stiffer shocks are fitted at all four corners, and all 9-5s get the thicker stabilizer bars previously exclusive to the Aero trim level.
Engineers also stiffened the front subframe bushings by 90 percent and recalibrated the power steering valves. In back they widened the rear track slightly and reduced the toe-in angle for more stable handling. To assure the ride stays comfortable, 7-percent softer rear springs were installed.
There's no change in the rear spring rate of the optional sport suspension, but the front springs are 8-percent stiffer than on last year's Aero model, while the shocks are 10-percent firmer front and rear. As on the Aero, sport package-equipped cars ride 10mm closer to the ground than the standard 9-5. The brakes are unchanged.
Drives Like a Classic Saab
This may sound like a lot of changes, but driving the 2006 Saab 9-5 is a remarkably familiar experience. We sampled a sedan and a pair of SportCombi wagons, all equipped with the sport suspension, and they felt like traditional Saabs through and through, which is both good and bad.
Unlike most premium cars, the 9-5 hasn't put on the pounds over the years. As a result, it feels refreshingly lightweight and nimble when you're pushing through tight corners. Plus, the car's fully ventilated disc brakes feel strong with a reassuring pedal feel.
Unfortunately, this year's suspension upgrades provide only a modest reduction in body roll, which makes the 9-5 a tough sell over tighter-handling competitors in this price range like the Acura TL and Volkswagen Passat. Further, torque steer is still a problem under heavy throttle in this front-driver. It's a classic Saab trait, but if the company can keep it under control in the 9-3, someone should have figured out a way to suppress it in the more expensive 9-5.
The 9-5 does ride more smoothly than in the past, which makes it a more pleasant long-distance companion. However, during a turn in the backseat, the suspension rebounded harshly over a few rough patches and there was more wind noise than we would have expected in a premium sedan.
Quick but Lacks Smoothness
The 2.3-liter turbo four, at least, remains a capable source of motivation for the midsize 9-5. There's some lag off the line, but acceleration is quite strong through the midrange. Saab claims a 0-to-60-mph time in the high 6s for a manual-shift sedan and low 7s for the SportCombi, which is consistent with the 6.7-second run we got out of a 250-hp 2002 Aero sedan.
Even though these numbers are competitive for this class, Saab is still the only premium-brand manufacturer that offers only four cylinders in a midsize sedan with a mid-$30Ks asking price. Granted, it's turbocharged, but this engine simply can't match the linear power delivery and refinement of the six-cylinders in most competitors, which Saab says are the Audi A6 and BMW 530i.
Time Marches On
In America, Saab sold just 9,000 9-5s in 2004. Sweden's No. 2 automaker and parent company GM hopes this year's updates will make it more competitive with its German and Japanese peers.
This refresh has certainly improved the 9-5. It looks, rides and handles better than before. But the improvements don't go far enough to get the 9-5 up to speed with its competition.
If you're craving a classic Saab, you can still get your fix with the 2006 Saab 9-5, but its similarly priced peers like the TL, Passat 3.6 and Legacy GT just feel more modern. A fully redesigned 9-5 won't hit until 2009.
Used 2006 Saab 9-5 Overview
The Used 2006 Saab 9-5 is offered in the following submodels: , . Available styles include 4dr Sedan (2.3L 4cyl Turbo 5M), SportCombi 4dr Wagon (2.3L 4cyl Turbo 5M), 4dr Sedan w/Sport Package (2.3L 4cyl Turbo 5M), and SportCombi 4dr Wagon w/Sport Package (2.3L 4cyl Turbo 5M).
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