The Saab 9.5 is the car that time has caught up
Once upon a time, Saabs had clear advantages over
many other cars. They had front-wheel drive, with the stability in slippery
conditions that driveline configuration gives. They had turbocharging that
allowed an excellent mix of performance and economy. They had low-drag
aerodynamics that came directly from the aeronautical pursuits of the parent
company. They had sophisticated engine management that included knock sensing.
They had an easy, long-legged gait that despatched good and bad roads with equal
facility. They had packaging that gave interior room belying the exterior
dimensions. They had both dynamic and passive safety in large measures. They had
ergonomic, driver-centred controls and instruments where decoration always took
second place to practicality. And they often had a touch of luxury...
Trouble is, now all those traits are shared by
many much cheaper cars. Other manufacturers have caught up and moved ahead while
Saab – especially with the 9.5 – has soldiered on with the same recipe. That
doesn’t make the 9.5 a bad car, but it does mean you can get all that the Saab
offers in many other cars – some of which offer better retained value, a lower
purchase cost and cheaper long-term servicing.
Unless you’re hell-bent on buying a Saab – and
many current 9.5 buyers previously owned Saabs – we simply can’t see how the
purchase of a Saab 9.5 can be justified.
The engine in the Linear model on test here
develops only 136kW from its venerable 2.3-litre four cylinder. In the way of
Saab turbocharged engines, torque is developed early, with 280Nm from 1800 rpm.
But even with a mass of 1559kg in as-tested 5-speed auto form, performance isn’t
scintillating - 100 km/h comes up in 9.5 seconds. So, despite the turbo,
performance is slower than any of the locals – Commodore, Falcon, Camry V6 or
380. Yes, they’re powered by six-cylinder engines but so what? It’s the end
result that buyers are interested in.
So perhaps fuel consumption is the Saab’s forte?
Saab’s factory figure for the urban cycle is terrible – 14.8 litres/100 –
although some redemption does come in the extra urban, which is 7.2 litres/100.
The combined figure is 10 litres/100km – nothing startlingly good. However, it
must be said that in a gentle long distance cruise, the Saab can turn in
excellent fuel consumption figures – better than those aforementioned locals.
But after all, it has got a lot less performance...
The big banger four cylinder is certainly showing
its age in NVH (noise vibration harshness). It’s not a patch on the
newly-released Saab 2.8 litre V6 and feels like a long way off the class pace in
terms of smoothness. At idle the engine is quite coarse – immediately after
starting on a cold morning, incredibly coarse. It’s a bit like criticising the
performance of an old, slow horse that was once a champion performer – the
engine hasn’t (much) changed but the younger competition has simply charged off
into the distance.
You can work you way through nearly all the
mechanical specs in the same way: brakes (288/286mm discs front and back) are
small; the 215/55 Pirelli P6000’s are narrow and certainly don’t provide much
grip; the suspension system (front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link
suspension) is fine on paper but simply doesn’t deliver the promise (the Saab’s
handling reminded us irresistibly of a Magna of 5 years ago: plenty of
understeer but quick if you get a flow happening through sweeping corners); and
the steering lacks feel at speed and can kick-back when cornering hard. We also
found the ride unexpectedly harsh on poor secondary roads; on concrete freeways
it could develop a vertical oscillation a bit like having a flat tyre. The 9.5
is certainly not a car with a magic carpet ride that’s the trade-off for the
Dynamically, in both ride and handling, a current
Mitsubishi 380 is simply a far better car... even without the stability control
fitted to the Saab.
Inside, the 9.5 has always been a spacious design;
again that hasn’t changed; but again plenty of others now offer similar carrying
capacity at a lower price. The rear legroom is good, the boot is large (although
with a smallish opening) and the rear seat split folds. The front seats offer no
electrics; instead, height adjustment is by a lever that moves the back of the
seat up and down, while the squab angle can be adjusted by another lever.
The instrumentation and controls are classically
Saab-clear and easy to understand; even the moderately complex sound system is
almost intuitively easy to use – and also sounds good.
Build quality is fine and you can see in
subtleties like the twin catches used on the bonnet and the glove-box lid that
plenty of thought went into the original design. But these things are subtleties; instead, try to find equipment in the cabin that can’t be bought
for AUD$15,000 less. There’s no navigation, no reversing sensors, only four
airbags, no seat electrics of any kind – not even a stacker CD. Incredibly in
this AUD$60,400 car there’s not even a key-off delay on the electric windows,
something you’ll find even on a 12 year old Falcon. You do get leather, dual
climate control, a trip computer, auto-dimming rear vision mirror, rain-sensing
wipers, active head restraints and, significantly, an excellent 5-start EuroNCAP
crash test result. There are controls on the steering wheel for the trip
computer and sound system.
Also on the steering wheel are up/down controls
for the auto gearbox. However, the system is clumsy because before the steering
wheel controls become operative, the gear lever needs to be pulled back one
notch from ‘D’. That makes a quick down-change to engine brake up to a set of
traffic lights (something we commonly use tiptronic-style auto gearboxes to do)
an impossibility: instead of just sliding the gear lever across to one side and
then pulling back a notch as would normally be done, the gear lever needs to be
moved and then the hand returned to the steering wheel to push the ‘down’
button. The two-step process simply makes no sense and takes a surprisingly long
time when just the one manual down-change is needed.
Styling updates of the latest 9.5 include a new
nose which, frankly, we think looks awful. However, as always, styling is in the
eye of the beholder and perhaps some people will love it.
Ten years ago the 9.5 would have been a stunner.
Five years ago we would have been ranked it very highly – just as in fact we did
New Car Test - Saab 9-5 SE. These days, the paucity
of fundamental progress means it’s impossible to find $60,000 of value in any
aspect. The 9.5 Linear is certainly no bad car – it’s just that there’s now a
helluva lot of cheaper cars around that are very good indeed. Ensure you drive
them before making your purchase decision.
The Saab 9.5 was provided for this test by Saab