Faults when purchased:
- Spongy brake pedal (incorrectly diagnosed as discs/pads at a cost of £400, suspect bad servo).
- ACC blend door issue, meaning all vents except the driver's blew cold.
- Heater inexplicably blows cold after 20-30 minutes of town driving (suspect thermostat related).
- Unusual bearing type noise when steering left at speed.
- Remote locking works intermittently and the alarm will go off randomly if locked using remote (suspect low sounder battery, I just lock it with the key).
- Acrid hot oil smell inside the car while coming up to temperature, and a hot metal smell when driving hard.
Faults since purchase:
- Radiator hose popped after some 'exuberant' driving - £15 to replace from a local friendly Saab specialist.
- ACC decided it will now only blow out of the front demister vents regardless of settings.
- After running the car very low on fuel, the car now intermittently refuses to start when low on fuel or parked uphill. Occasional petrol smell in cabin since this fault too.
I bought this car for just under £650, needing a large car in a bit of a hurry and thinking a Saab would be a solid purchase.
I did a bit of research, but mostly ignored reviews on sites like this. Don't do that - they're accurate!
I accept that I paid pennies for the car and a lot of the faults are an accumulation of things that have gone wrong and not been fixed over the years. A lot of people gush online about how 'unique' Saabs are and how you 'get' them or you don't - I sort of see what they mean.
Either way, as I sit here considering whether to sell the thing, I have written up some of my thoughts to add to the knowledge base. Feel free to ask questions/comment, but I can't guarantee how often I will check...
The 2.3T is a large engine, but it is in a large car - the earlier versions give out 175 BHP, which isn't in proper fast car territory, but certainly has poke if you're used to smaller runabouts. A capital T means it has the Light Pressure Turbo as opposed to the HOT (High Output Turbo) found in the 250 BHP Aero.
Earlier cars (mine) whose original owners had a clutch phobia have an old-school 4 speed gearbox, which gets the job done. No fancy Tiptronic modes as found in German cars, but you can force the car to go no higher than 1st/2nd/3rd gear, which can improve brisk driving once you learn how to use it.
Sports mode holds gears longer and also cheats by making the throttle more sensitive, so you can pull away -very- quickly when you need to. I have heard rumours that it also richens the mixture or changes the gear ratios, but I'm not sure if these are true or perhaps only apply to the Aero. A winter mode sets off in third and favours higher gears for use in snow - I have never used this in anger.
Apparently this is an electronic gearbox which debuted in this model, so it's not properly old-fashioned - nonetheless that means it was designed in 1997 so you can't expect it to be too far up there. Unlike some automatics, there's (AFAIK) no tilt/yaw switches to avoid gear changes mid corner etc - but once you learn the gearbox it's quite easy to learn how to control it through throttle position, so this isn't too much of a problem.
One of the biggest limitations of the drive is the fact it's a heavy, turbocharged, front-wheel drive car. It's as bad as it sounds. Front wheel spin is always available on demand and often when you don't want it. Bizarrely for a manufacturer "pathological" about safety, traction control was not standard. Thankfully wheel spin is very predictable, but around town (especially on generic tyres) this is a car which is effectively much slower in the wet simply because you can struggle so much getting the power down. The gearbox deciding to change down mid-turn can also be a problem if taking a series of junctions around town briskly.
Despite the limitations I've just mentioned, the car handles competently and securely most of the time. A lot of people say it's a good motorway barge - which it is - but I'd also buck the conventional wisdom and say this is a good car for long, cross-country journeys on rural trunk roads. It's not one that'll be at home being thrown down back lanes, but the excellent torque and effortless automatic gear change means it can handle almost anything an A or B road will throw at it.
This is a big car, but it doesn't always feel quite as big as it is - it's obvious a lot of engineering thought went into making it feel smaller than it is. The light but precise steering and light pedals, as well as a very fast pick up on the gearbox, mean that the car can feel positively (if strangely) nimble when it wants to. The few large cars I have driven sometimes have a tendency to feel heavy and cumbersome around town - not the 9-5.
It's a stereotype that Saabs are comfortable, but it's true. At first the seating position feels odd, and the sheer wall of upright dashboard feels old-fashioned. After a few weeks driving a Saab, you will get behind the wheel of another car and it will feel totally wrong. I have done two 6-hour motorway journeys in the 9-5 and spent countless hours going around town, and never felt uncomfortable. Myself and my father agree the driving position is in some ways better than that of the BMW E39, and the (heated) seats are just as comfortable as they look. My one complaint (as in many cars) is that the steering wheel doesn't adjust forwards quite as far as it could.
The cabin is slightly dated in terms of storage spaces and cubbyholes - although there are some clever aircraft-inspired net pouches on the B pillars and pouches on the front of the driver's seat, there is only one (very precarious) cupholder (bizarrely more cupholders in the rear than the front?!) and door pockets are tiny - my Ford Mondeo was vastly superior for cabin storage. The air conditioned glovebox is good for a car designed in 1997.
Sound system is good, road noise fairly quiet (but not as silent as it could be), and the auto box makes for a smooth combination. Rear passengers will think the car is going to be tight as they may find themselves squeezing to get in, but this is just the design of the seats/doorway, and once they're in they'll have ample leg and shoulder room (I'm over 6' and can comfortably sit behind a driver's seat adjusted for myself). Back seat space + comfort is superior to a BMW E39.
From what I have heard (and the bits I have seen that work on mine) the climate control is excellent - the first car I have seen with air vents in the pillars to help warm/cool the whole cabin, rather than just blow air at passengers.
The 9-5 was the first Saab that shared General Motors parts, and I'm not sure whether that's why - but I have to be honest when I say the build quality is seriously underwhelming. Although the car is clearly heavily built when it comes to screwing the body together, overall certain elements of the build quality border on comical, and certainly worse than my old Mk3 Mondeo, and in some ways worse than an Astra G I owned before that.
Other reviews talk of Saabs being 'quirky' cars with 'quirky' faults, and I would say that is absolutely spot on. The heater doesn't just stop working - it only stops working when the car is driven fairly aggressively, around town. The dashboard backlights don't just go out - they go out on the top part of the speedo and then come back on when the dashboard is banged (like something out of a 1980s Rover).
More damning is the insane list of jobs the car had done to it by previous owners - serious amounts of money being spent and often on invoices only a few weeks apart. I'm not sure whether this car may just be a lemon, but other reviews suggest this is normal. Of particular concern to any 9-5 owner is the fact that early models specified an oil change schedule of 10,000 miles, which wasn't enough if semi-synth oil was used and caused many engines to built up lethal oil 'sludge' - the only cure being to drop the sump and change the oil every 6,000 miles.
Don't buy one of these cars until you've done your research (properly). There are some great owners forums out there where you can talk to enthusiasts and often get cheap parts off them too - but you still have to ask yourself if it's worth it.
On the rare moments that everything comes together and none of the faults are giving me grief - I 'get' it. The car puts a smile on my face and I see the appeal. Unfortunately I can't really dress up the reliability. Reliable if you are willing to get hands on to do things like extra-regular oil changes or fix badly-designed air con units isn't reliable - it's unreliable - especially for a manufacturer who tried to be a synonym for reliability. Apparently the only part of SAAB which ever made a profit was SAAB Parts.
Almost every time I went out for a drive to try and fall in love with the car again, something new would break.
I'm sure these cars are great if you get a really good example with no or minimal faults present (personally I would suggest buying off an enthusiast on a forum) - but overall my experience hasn't been great, and I'd advise a great deal of caution before buying one. I'm pretty sure there's a Saab itch I will want to scratch again in a few years - but until then I think I am getting rid. Next time I will only go for an excellent example, and I'd suggest if you want to try one that you do so too.