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Saab 9-5 (2010) disguised as a Vectra

Published: 08 August 2007

Get you with your white paintjob, flares and 20-inch wheels. Very disco…

Yes, believe it or not beneath this rather odd camouflage lurks a next-generation Saab 9-5 mule, riding on a version of Opel/Vauxhall’s ubiquitous Global Epsilon architecture and due in Saab showrooms by 2009. It’s part of GM’s plan to introduce no fewer than five new Saab models in short order – a welcome move but after years of chronic under-investment, some might say way too late. The 9-5 will come in the anticipated saloon and estate versions, and will be longer, wider and sit on an extended wheelbase to distance it from the next–gen Vectra. And our sources claim the 9-5 will be engineered to accept an extra-cost hybrid drivetrain, dubbed Performance Assistant. An auxiliary 30bhp electric motor compensates for any turbo lag on both petrol and diesel powerplants, providing short range zero-emissions mobility.

What of these other Saab models you mentioned?

The oddball but ugly Vauxhall Signum will be canned, replaced by an estate-cum-SUV crossover that insiders describe as a four-door coupé with a shooting brake rear end. Both Vauxhall and Saab will pitch in this model near the top of their model ranges, with the Saab version expected to be called 9-4X. Out in early 2010, the strikingly styled five-seater crossover Saab will be much better looking than the Signum (not hard, that) and even more cleverly packaged, with an optional third row of seats which folds flat, Zafira-style. Its part-time four-wheel drive system will be supplemented by the optional Performance Assist, installed to drive the rear wheels.

Keep spilling the beans…

Vauxhall is planning to kill off the slow-selling three-door Astra model and instead replace it with a boldly styled crossover, complete with large-diameter wheels and optional four-wheel drive. Cast your mind back to the Zafira Snow Trekker concept, and you’ll see what we mean. Saab will step into the slot left by the three-door Astra with the entry-level Saab 9-1, which will be pitched upmarket to tackle BMW and Audi. Expect it to arrive in athletic three-door hatch and five-door shooting brake form, in 2011. Before that, the line-up will be bolstered by the new 9-3, arriving later in 2010 in hatch, estate and convertible form. The Swedes are also considering dusting off their venerable Sonett sportscar badge and building a 9-2S (S for Sonett). Details are still sketchy – our insiders claim GM is still uncertain about which platform architecture it will use, but it’s likely to be either the rear-drive Kappa platform (which underpins the current Opel GT and Pontiac Solstice) or an all-wheel-drive application, the global Gamma matrix that underpins the new Corsa and Punto.

But isn’t this just GM playing badge engineer, like it always has done with Saab?

It claims not, naturally enough. In a move to differentiate between its Saab and Vauxhall offerings beyond skin-deep design tweaks, GM is developing two separate body widths as well as variations in axle and suspension layout, wheelbase and electronic architecture. There’s some serious engineering intelligence in GM’s new platform structure and the company is justifiably proud of what is arguably the most flexible components set of its kind for outright versatility. Epsilon offers a choice of two different front axles (MacPherson struts for Vauxhall and double wishbones for Saab), three different rear axle configurations (five-link air springs for Saab, five-link steel for Saab and top Vauxhalls, plus four-link steel for Vauxhall), two track lengths, front, rear or all-wheel drive and a variety of wheelbase lengths. Phew - that lot's enough to keep even the boldest product planners busy for years. In a nutshell, this means that while volume brands must be content with a MacPherson front axle and a four-link rear suspension, Saab gets a double-wishbone set-up all-round. Steel springs are standard on the 9-3, but the 9-5 and 9-4X can alternatively be had with a brand-new air suspension. Another important option is all-wheel drive; the advanced all-paw layout uses two electronically controlled diffs and an active torque split set-up.

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars

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