2006 Saab 9-5

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2006 Saab 9-5

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Significant revisions keep aging 9-5 desirable.
Pros:
  • Fast
  • Good handling
  • Roomy
Cons:
  • Console window controls
  • Console ignition switch
  • Only four cylinders

Saab is famous for building sporty, safe but offbeat vehicles. It's moved more to the mainstream market in recent years, but still retains traditional Saab features such as a console-mounted ignition switch.

Sweden's Saab began as an aircraft producer in the late 1930s and has been owned by General Motors for some time.

GM has had the good sense to leave Saab pretty much alone, as it's an innovative outfit that produces vehicles for folks who want something different than, say, a BMW, Audi, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz.

With more car buyers looking for significantly different vehicles, Saab sales in 2005 increased over 2004 results, and Saab sales are up as of this writing—almost halfway through calendar 2006.

Counting the Changes
The redesigned 9-5 is Saab's flagship and has no less than 1,367 new or modified parts, according to the automaker.

The 9-5 has what Saab calls the most dramatic frontal design change since the Saab 900 was launched in 1979, although it's still clearly a Saab with such items as a "clamshell" hood.

The aerodynamic 9-5 has new front/rear fascias, front fenders, front/rear lights and a new tailgate and trunk lid, with color-matched side moldings and door handles. The new grille has a horizontal bar representing an aircraft wing to salute Saab's aviation heritage.

Improved Roadability
The 9-5 also has a sportier stance with a wider rear track. The nicely evolved chassis has a revised suspension for crisper handling, better body control and improved steering precision. And there are new low-profile 45-series all-season tires on 17-inch alloy wheels.

The 9-5 has midsize exterior dimensions, but offers extraordinary roominess in both sedan and station wagon trim levels.

Exceptional Roominess
The 9-5 wagon (Saab calls it the "SportCombi") is nearly identical to the sedan. The sedan has a large trunk, and the wagon has such a spacious cargo area with its rear seat folded forward that it outdoes some midsize sport-utility vehicles.

The 2005 model designations (Linear, Arc and Aero) have been merged into a single version, the 2.3T, in sedan and wagon body styles.

Saab customers have an average household income of more than $120,000, but one need not be that affluent to get a Saab because it's among the most reasonably priced premium sports sedan/wagons.

The 2.3T sedan costs $34,100 in base form and $35,195 in Sport form, with a sport suspension, specially bolstered seats and unique interior and exterior trim. The wagon is $35,100, with the Sport version at $36,195.

Lots of Equipment
The 9-5 has a large amount of comfort and convenience equipment, which includes heated front/rear leather seats, a power sunroof, a 200-watt sound system with an in-dash 6-disc CD player, and a glove box tied to the air conditioning system to provide refrigerator temperature to stow everything from a cold drink to a chocolate bar.

Standard safety items include side airbags for front seats and Saab's Active Head Restraints, which help reduce the risk of neck injury in a rear-end collision. However, there are no curtain airbags.

Ventilated front seats, which come in especially handy on hot, sticky days, cost $400 for the 2.3T Sport and $995 for the 2.3T.

Aircraft-Style Interior
The redesigned aircraft-style interior, which is roomy for four tall adults, has new instruments and control panels. The main instrument panel curves around the driver and down towards the ignition key, hand brake and electric window switches—all put between the front seats and ahead of the central armrest/storage box.

That's a nifty design, but it takes time to become accustomed to the ignition switch and power window controls on the console. However, it also takes time to get used to Porsche's ignition switch, which long has been put to the left of the steering wheel.

One might reasonably expect more than four cylinders in a car that costs more than $34,000. But Saab is a master at extracting lots of power from turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, which act as if they have a least two additional cylinders.

Fast and Smooth
The 9-5 has a 2.3-liter turbocharged and intercooled 4-cylinder with a hearty 260 horsepower—10 more than the 2005 version. The well-behaved engine has such features as dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and twin balance shafts for smoothness.

The result is that the 9-5 sedan/wagon does the 0-60 mph sprint in about 7 seconds and easily cruises at 75 mph with good punch for passing.

Unlike older Saabs, the front-wheel-drive 9-5 has virtually no turbocharger lag (delayed throttle response) and minimal torque steer, which is unwanted pulling to the side during rapid acceleration.

The engine shoots power through a 5-speed manual gearbox or responsive $1,350 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability.

Automatic Transmission Suggested
Opt for the automatic unless you're really in love with manual gearboxes—I've never been a fan of Saab's rather sloppy manual shifters and imprecise clutches.

Fuel economy is an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway with the manual transmission and 18 and 28 with the automatic.

Sports Sedan Handling
The 9-5 provides genuine sports sedan handling. Steering is quick, cornering is flat and the anti-lock brakes provide strong stopping power. The ride is supple, even with the Sport's stiffer, slightly lowered suspension. Helping a driver maintain control in difficult situations is a standard stability control system.

The 9-5 isn't for everyone, but no Saab ever was. Its singularity is part of its charm.

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BB02 - 9/22/2014 9:41:24 PM