2006 Saab 9-5
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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 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.
The 9-5 has midsize exterior dimensions, but offers extraordinary roominess in both sedan and station wagon trim levels.
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
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.
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 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
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 isn't for everyone, but no Saab ever was. Its singularity is part of its charm.