Saab 9-5 Review
Cars tend to last about five to six years between redesigns. Occasionally, a company will squeeze out another year, but anything longer is an anomaly. Well, the original Saab 9-5 lasted 11 years, which in human terms is like kicking off at the ripe old age of 178.
Now, our editors initially thought pretty highly of the Saab 9-5, but then they were also pondering "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and chuckling at Monica Lewinsky jokes. As the years went on, the 9-5 sank to the bottom of the midsize luxury sedan pack and eventually nearly disappeared from our attention altogether.
Well, Saab has finally turned a page and there is a new 9-5. Designed when Saab was still owned by General Motors and based on the same platform as the Buick Regal, the 9-5 certainly doesn't have the engineering panache of its German competition. However, it's cheaper than those competitors, it's fun to drive and boasts unique style inside and out. We wouldn't call it class-leading by any means, but it's definitely a worthy alternative in that midsize luxury sedan pack.
Current Saab 9-5
The Saab 9-5 is a midsize luxury sedan available in Turbo4, Turbo4 Premium, Turbo6 XWD and Aero trim levels. The Turbo4 models are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, along with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional. This is certainly a modestly powered engine for the midsize luxury class, and we wonder if shoppers will scoff at a four-cylinder in such a pricey car, but its fuel economy is at least strong -- especially with the manual.
There is another turbocharged engine, however, a 2.8-liter V6 that sends 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a standard six-speed automatic. This results in a solid average performance for an all-wheel-drive luxury sedan, while returning competitive fuel economy. With the Aero trim, a sport-tuned suspension, communicative steering, a limited-slip differential and the advanced all-wheel-drive system combine to produce one of the most rewarding and involving driver's cars in the class -- even more so than the BMW 5 Series.
Even the base 9-5 comes standard with features that can be optional on competitor sedans, like driver memory functions, leather upholstery and an iPod interface. Going up through the trims can net you items like a panoramic sunroof, a lane-departure warning system, tri-zone climate control, a navigation system and a rear seat entertainment system.
All of this stuff comes together in a cabin that'll be easily identified as a Saab. The center control stack wraps toward the driver, bringing all controls within easy reach. Other Saab hallmarks include the egg-crate air outlets, the Night Panel switch that dims instrument lights at a single touch and (of course) the ignition switch, though this is now a keyless button. However, many climate and electronics interfaces have been lifted wholesale from General Motors, even if the layout and green backlighting is unique to Saab. These bits are actually quite nice, but like the rest of the interior, just aren't up to Audi or Mercedes standards.
Used Saab 9-5 Models
The current Saab 9-5 dates back to 2010; however, very few were sold that year and it was only offered in loaded, Aero guise. The rest of the lineup arrived for 2011.
The original Saab 9-5 sedan was produced from 1999-2009 and went through several changes over its lifetime -- especially in regards to engines. The 9-5 retained much of its Saab 9000 predecessor's distinctive lines, but replaced the 9000's five-door hatchback design with a more traditional four-door sedan arrangement. The wagon variant followed a year later.
Since this 9-5 lasted so incredibly long, how well it stacks up to the competition depends on how far you go back. Things like equipment levels, interior quality and engineering sophistication will seem relatively stronger when comparing an older 9-5 to an equally aged BMW or Lexus. Regardless of year, however, most drivers will find this Saab 9-5's seats exceptionally comfortable, especially those equipped with optional heating and ventilation. Passenger room was also excellent all around. A split-folding rear seat and nearly 16 cubic feet of trunk space gave it an added level of versatility, while the SportCombi wagon supplied up to 73 cubic feet of cargo space for those with lots to carry.
In the beginning, the 9-5's lineup consisted of a base 9-5 model, an SE version packed with amenities and a performance-oriented Aero model. The standard 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder in the Saab 9-5 base models produced 185 hp (170 hp for '99) and was mated to a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. The 9-5 Aero versions featured a 230-horse, 2.3-liter turbo four with a manual transmission. Initially, the 9-5 SE could be powered by either the light-pressure 2.3-liter (170 hp) or a 200-hp, 3.0-liter turbo V6, but starting with the 2000 model year, all SEs had the V6 and the four-speed automatic.
Although it looked similar, the 2002 9-5 underwent extensive reworking. Three distinct models (Linear, Arc and Aero) now had their own style and equipment specs: The previous year's base model became the Linear and offered the 185-hp turbo four, while the SE became the luxury-oriented Arc and had the turbo V6. In addition, a new five-speed automatic was available across the line, and the 9-5 Aero's turbocharged four-cylinder got a power boost to 250 hp. Revisions to steering and suspension helped dynamic performance, while electronic stability control and adaptive front airbags further improved safety. From a used-vehicle purchasing standpoint, going with a 2002 or newer Saab 9-5 is probably a good idea.
Detail changes carried through to 2004, when feature content was shuffled. The Linear model was made a wagon-only trim level and the Arc model dropped its 200-hp V6 in favor of a 220-hp turbo-4. A year later, DVD-based navigation was added to the options list. For '06, the 9-5 received updated exterior styling and a revised suspension, and the high-output 2.3-liter turbo-4 became standard, along with bumping its power up to 260 hp. Additionally, the wagon was renamed the SportCombi, and the familiar Linear, Arc and Aero trim levels went away in favor of a single trim. The Aero and its sport-oriented bits and pieces technically became a package for two years, before resuming its duties as a full-fledged trim alongside the newly christened 2.3T base model.
Read the most recent 2011 Saab 9-5 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Saab 9-5 page.
For more on past Saab 9-5 models, view our Saab 9-5 history page.