It’s been a long time coming. Thirteen years in fact. But at last Saab has launched a new 9-5 and we’ve finally tested it, here in entry-level 2.0-litre turbodiesel spec. A brace of TDs will be available in the new 9-5, sharing the same four-cylinder block but with single or twin turbocharging to crank out their 158bhp or 187bhp outputs. Here we review the lower-powered Saab 9-5 2.0 TiD.
New 2010 Saab 9-5: the overview
The old 9-5 stretched out its existence to 13 fulsome years. Starved of funds by owners GM, it reached its nadir with the last facelift whose bechromed spectacles failed to hide the ageing process underneath. Then the new 9-5 was shown in 2009 only for the company to be driven to the brink of liquidation by the global economic crisis. Now Spyker has swooped on Saab and bought it from GM for $74m in cash and an equity swap. Saab is independent again and this week launched the new 9-5 in Trollhättan, Sweden.
It’s based on the so-called Epsilon platform developed by GM for its large passenger cars such as the Vauxhall Insignia; this brings a suite of GM engines, front- and four-wheel drive and a host of technology that simply wouldn’t be possible without access to GM’s R&D budget (lane departure systems, head-up displays and road sign detection). So let’s not get carried away with the General slagging.
What of the style? Does the new 9-5 look like a Saab should?
This is a successful design to these eyes. You’ll make your own mind up, but trust me that it looks devilishly good on the road. Park a 2010 model up alongside an old one and the front ends are remarkably similar, albeit with a tremendous amount of plan view built in for packaging and pedestrian safety reasons. The new 9-5 is nearly as round as a boat when seen from above!
But it looks most stylish from the rear. They’ve cleverly incorporated the dramatically swooping C-pillars from the 99/900 et al to clever effect, the whole rump being rounded off by those deliciously retro horizontal rear lights. This is a stylish car, an understated one – and one that feels right for Saab in 2010.
Enough of the teasing! How does the new 9-5 drive?
First impressions are of a really big executive car. Although the new 9-5 will be pitched against the Audi A6 and Volvo S80, it’s in fact 5008mm long – and that’s nearly enough girth to plonk it into Merc S-class territory.
Thankfully, it doesn’t feel massive to punt along the roads around Trollhättan’s factory base, but the flipside is a really roomy cabin. The front is roomy, but it’s most felt in the rear where legroom for back-seat passengers is exceptional. Short of a Skoda Superb, you won’t find more chauffeurish space back there at this money.
Saab 9-5 (2010): the first drive
We fire up the 2.0 TiD we’re testing first; in a nod to Saabs past, the starter button is down on the transmission tunnel (all 9-5s in the UK will have keyless ignition). The four-cylinder engine is muted and, in our lower specced 158bhp version, fitted with a single variable geometry turbo. Upgrade to the TTiD – as you can from the 2011 model year – and you bag twin sequential turbos for more thrust and 187bhp.
Our test car is equipped with a six-speed auto transmission. Other 9-5s we test come with the six-speed manual which is pleasant enough though not the sweetest stick shift we’ve tried. The fact is that nearly everyone in the executive sector plumps for a slusher. Saab’s changes gears smoothly and intelligently with none of the hunting that blighted the new Volvo S60 I tested last week.
It may seem incongruous having paddle shifts on a diesel, but they work well. Being Swedish, the 9-5 flashes up a safety warning denying certain changes if you try and blip down to first gear on a motorway, say. It’s also unusual for its lack of kickdown function when in manual mode.
Most people will buy a diesel 9-5, right? Is it any good?
You’re right, a good two-thirds of Brits will plump for a diesel 9-5. The 2.0-litre TD is a civilised thing and boasts CO2 emissions of 139g/km in manual mode (our auto crushes that to a less respectable 179g/km). However, this lower output derv struggles to cope with the heft of the 9-5. This is one seriously heavy car; even base models weigh in at 1725kg, while top-dog models with XWD all-wheel drive, auto boxes, rear diffs and adaptive dampers tip in at a shade over two tonnes.
The higher output 9-5 diesel wasn’t available to test, but we suspect it will provide a better performance. The base 2.0-litre petrol turbo is actually a sweet spot in the range, as befits a Saab. Thrust is effortless, emissions stand at 194g/km and it just feels well balanced in the range. A smaller 1.6 petrol turbo is coming, like in the Insignia.
We also tested the range-topping 2.8-litre V6 turbo. Badged T6, it has a fulsome 300bhp and hits 62mph in 6.9sec. It’s a lovely car, but never quite realises its potential, those 300 horses blunted by the weight and the steering suffers just a little gloopiness off centre.
Does the 9-5 ride and handle?
The good news is this is a well judged package. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge dynamics in an age when you can spec your 9-5 with two different hydraulic steering systems, a pair of gearboxes, FWD or 4WD (with or without an electronic-type ‘diff’), and two entirely different suspension layouts on both axles. It must be a production headache.
In this test we focused on a conventionally suspended diesel with front-wheel and fixed-rate dampers; it rode and steered sweetly enough – the emphasis is on comfort and that’s quite right for a Saab. Trade up to the adaptive dampers and four-wheel drive systems on higher models and you’ll gain unbreakable traction and a variable system whose effects can actually be felt. Comfort really does pamper and Sport tautens everything up nicely. It’s amazing how often such systems fail at this. I’d still question their efficacy, though – I ended up leaving it in Intelligent, auto mode most of the time.
Is the new 9-5 going to rip up the rulebook? Hardly. Saab has a mountain to climb to persuade buyers to take it seriously again. They should. This is the best resolved big Saab ever, but many customers will be wary after the bankruptcy and may well be perfectly happy with their A6s, 5-series and E-classes.
The thing is, I sense the 9-5 is a watershed. Meet the engineers and designers who created it, and you’ll realise they feel freed from the constraints of working for a monolithic foreign parent. If the creative juices now start flowing – and the partnerships are put in place to ensure supply of engines and components – then the new 2012 9-3 and potential new 9-1 become seriously interesting prospects.