Nice stickers! Don’t tell me – it’s a Saab 9-5 running on bio-ethanol…
Well-spotted Sherlock. This is indeed a very special 9-5 that turns up its nose at conventional fuels in favour of bio-ethanol. The 9-5 Bio-fuel was launched in its Swedish domestic market a year ago. Since then it’s accounted for 80 percent of all 9-5s sold – this despite being only available in 2.0-litre turbo form mated to a manual gearbox. It’s based on the standard turbocharged, 2.0-litre 9-5 and costs £23,765 – a premium of £585 over the petrol model.
On the face of it quite a lot. The bio-fuel 9-5 produces a fifth more power and 15 percent more torque than the petrol version on which it’s based. Although the 9-5 has new valve seats, a revised ECU and tweaked ignition timing, not one of these upgrades makes it go any faster. The gains in performance are purely down to the bio-ethanol it uses. The 9-5 bio-fuel blasts to 62mph in only 8.5sec (the petrol car manages 9.8sec) and tops out at 140mph. Who said being green has to be boring?
Apart from the embarrassment value of those stickers, what’s it like to drive?
It starts, idles, sounds and acts just like a conventional petrol car until you put your foot down. The Bio-fuel 9-5 is noticeably quicker, more so in the mid-range than off the line. Ethanol burns hotter and produces more energy than petrol which means once up to speed the 9-5 can turn its hand to being a pseudo hot-saloon. Only the gearchange (notchy), the steering (vague) and the chassis (wobbly) take the edge off the newfound performance. It's still a true 9-5 then...
Although the 9-5 is marketed as a bio-fuel car, it can run just as easily solely using petrol. The car’s electronic brain automatically adjusts depending on the kind of fuel being used but there is a flipside. The lightning performance as a result of the ethanol fuel will be lost when the car is run on petrol.
Fast, efficient, green and available at any Saab dealer – the 9-5 is among the best resolved of all the alternative fuel cars. Only the bio-ethanol infrastructure needs to get up to speed to make it a success – at the moment there are only a few stations offering it and they’re mostly in Somerset. Hardly ideal if you live in Aberdeen.