I love this car.
It is clear that the basic SAAB 9-5 design goes way back 1997 (now known as OG9-5 by SAAB enthusiasts with the new generation out - NG9-5), but the gradual evolution and continuous improvement have honed the car to its optimum. While it may lack the bells, whistles and gizmos of the current executive cars, dollar for dollar, especially bought used, it offered far more on value that matters most, an all-round performance - generous power/torque, safe and entertaining handling for the driver, yet comfortable ride for the passengers, generous interior and boot space for the family, proven real world safety records.
And to top that, a SAAB 9-5 driver, especially in Aero guise, will often be well regarded on taste, and respected on the road on performance. It is unique and special, but not loud. It is not understood, yet not misunderstood. One steps out of the car into curious and probing eyes, and generally impressed when one shows them around the car, and explains to them about the logic of what is a SAAB 9-5.
Even the centrally mounted ignition was often misunderstood as an idiosyncrasy in design, but in truth, this is a repositioning of one of the hardest hardware systems in a vehicle from injuring the driver during a frontal crash situation. The night panel is another; switches off most lights in the vehicle, other than the most essential, so the driver has a much better vision of the road in a pitch dark environment. In essence, what one needs, a SAAB 9-5 provides; intelligent and wise engineering, what one doesn’t, a SAAB 9-5 does not even provide.
Being an Aero performance version, real world performance - the SAAB 9-5 Aero has plenty. With its rich mid range 350Nm, now tuned to 420Nm torque coming on song as early as 2200RPM, and with now tuned 270bhp, powering a relatively light body compared to the current generation of executive saloons, it is seriously quick in the real world, able to keep up easily with the GTIs, Audi Turbos and the Volvo Rs, not to mention easily outpacing all the BMW and Mercedes engine size to engine size. By the time BMW and Mercedes get serious with the bigger engine sizes and the AMGs, the prices are of another dimension.
The Sport button, once activated, brings immediately the Mr Hyde out of the clinical Doctor Jekyll, and everything turns manic. It is extremely safe and entertaining, overtaking slower traffic with the Sport mode, and after deactivating the Sport mode, everything is back to Doctor Jekyll, cool and calm cruising mode. But for most daily commutes, it can be an effortless and comfortable expressway muncher for the family, with respectable fuel consumption – 10km/l for 40% expressway 60% urban.
Interior wise, the leather seats are very comfortable, one of the best in the business. The infotainment system has very good sound, as it is a Harman Kardon system I believe, able to play MP3 discs or connected by aux inputs to portable music devices. However, the head unit user interface has some software bugs in my experience with MP3 discs – it always restarts the play list, playing the first song of the folder when the engine is restarted. Maybe it’s about the settings, and I have yet to figure this out.
Yes, the car is not perfect in its design, the only one cup holder at the front is small in size, and I lamented the lack of manual shifts at the gear lever for the 9-5 (SAAB 9-3 has it at the gear lever). Paddle shift is not very practical for tight turns; a combination of paddle and gear level manual shifting is needed for optimal use of the manual mode. It is better off leaving the gear in drive mode and let the car shift for the driver, which is smooth and therefore sufficient.
The SAAB dealer here is very friendly and helpful, so it adds to the joy of ownership. There is a big cult following of SAAB owners, so much to read and exchange on the Internet, one feels like part of a big harmonious family. No longer just a means of transport, no longer just expressions of personality and freedom, but a vehicle to be part of the family of SAAB, the maker and its dealership, service providers and owners.
Yet, it is hard to understand the emotional attachment to the car. A SAAB 9-5 Aero never tried to be a perfect car in truth, it’s a 15 year old design by now, despite many design improvements and 2 face lifts. The fact that it doesn’t feel obsolete today on the road speaks highly of the original engineering, ahead of its time when it was first conceived. Even the 2006 face lift, dubbed ‘Dame Edna’ by the old school SAAB enthusiasts, has worn down well, else it would have been dated in looks. Mine in silver, looks great and different, and does not have the ‘Dame Edna glasses’ look most prominently in darker body colors. But it has to say it is not the latest design, and does not have some of the creature comforts of its competition.
It has to be said, SAAB 9-5 was the last car design before a 100% GM ownership back then, and holds true to the DNA bloodline of the true blue SAAB design, in and out, with some component sharing, but crucially not all, with GM platforms, to realistically bring product cost down to a more competitive level.
So, to appreciate a SAAB 9-5, one tends to be wise and understated, and not tempted by the superficial and gimmicks, which bring no true value to the owning and driving. And buying it used with the value highly depreciated was one of the best decisions I have made. Still, a SAAB 9-5 Aero is a car one will either take great notice of and love it, or not at all.
In my case, I love my SAAB 9-5 Aero, and lived with its personality (flaws is another way to put it), and it is one of the most satisfying car ownership experiences, if not the most, I have had so far.