The new Saab 9-5 will eventually come with a choice of five engines, fuelled by petrol, E85 (bioethanol) and diesel, all of which will be turbocharged. Starting with the diesels, there will be one four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine that will come with either one turbo (TiD - 158bhp and 258lb-ft of torque, propelling it 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 134mph) or, later in 2010, a twin-turbo version (TTiD - 187bhp and 295lb-ft of torque, 8.8 seconds for 0-62mph and a 143mph top speed). Weíve so far only driven the base version, but were impressed by its relative refinement: itís a modified version of the GM diesel found in the new Insignia, but itís much better here, thanks to some tinkering by Saab, adapting it to its own specifications. Thanks to some extra soundproofing and new components, itís smooth and quiet until itís worked really hard. Thereís enough surge readily available, but the six-speed transmission (available as a manual or in auto form) is geared in such a way that you have to work the engine pretty hard to make the most of it. The base petrol model is a 1.6-litre unit producing 177bhp and 170lb-ft of torque, with an overboost function that can increase this pulling power to 196lb-ft for bursts of up to five seconds. The result is a 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds. We havenít yet driven this unit yet, but, for an engine with this displacement, it will need to be pretty good to work with a car that is very big, even for its class. The 2.0T is the mid-range petrol engine, producing 217bhp and 258lb-ft of torque, which means a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds and top speed of 149mph. It certainly gets on with thrusting the car forward and is very refined, but itís hard to see what its real appeal is: itís not particularly quick and itís not economical. The range-topper is the 2.8T, a turbocharged V6 unit that produces a not-insignificant 296bhp and 295lb-ft of torque. The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in 6.9 seconds and top speed is 155mph. Itís pretty quick, and thereís plenty of power on tap when required for overtaking manoeuvres, but doesnít necessarily feel it, as everything is so quiet: itís only the increasing blurring of the scenery that hints at just how rapidly youíre going. There are two transmission options: a six-speed automatic transmission, which is fairly smooth, but doesnít get the most out of the engine because of its long gearing; and a manual that isnít much better, having similar ratios, and which could also be more accurate.
The 9-5 is a car built for comfort, rather than excitement. It handles perfectly well on the road, especially for something so big: itís stable and well balanced, the steering is feelsome and accurate, and, when fitted, the Haldex 4 XWD all wheel drive adds lots of grip to the formula. But the ride is a more dominant element in the 9-5ís on-road manners, thanks to no less than three suspension options. For the diesels and base 1.6Ėlitre petrol unit, thereís a combination of MacPherson strut at the front and multi-link at the rear, which is very comfortable, especially when combined with 17-inch wheels. The 2.0T has the front struts and a Linked H-arm suspension at the rear that Saab claims resists cornering forces more effectively: it certainly ensured that an upsizing of the wheels to 19 inches had no serious effect on the quality of the ride. The range-topping 2.8T combines this H-arm with a HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut) at the front that Saab claims improves handling characteristics. We found that it ensured an unruffled ride, even when negotiating broken, ridged surfaces, the damping soaking almost all the imperfections.
Saab has a rather sketchy record for reliability, recording only average scores in customer satisfaction surveys, which it will need to improve with this new model. The most recent JD Power report placed the Swedish carmaker only 15th in the table of 27 manufacturers, with the same score as the industry average. In terms of models, the previous 9-5 didnít register in the table of 104 most popular cars, and the 9-3 was placed 63rd. The Warranty Direct Reliability Index records a slightly higher than average index and average repair costs of £337.25. The build quality of the new 9-5, however, appears to be very good, which it has to be to compete with the likes of Audi and BMW. The exterior appears sturdy, with consistent shutlines on the cars we tested; the cabin was also well screwed together, with high-quality plastics and leather or part-leather on the seats.
As you might expect from a Scandinavian car, the Saab 9-5 is very safe. Itís already been tested by Euro NCAP and awarded the full five stars, with 94% for adult occupant protection, 80% for child occupant protection, 44% for pedestrian protection and 86% for Safety Assist. Saab ascribes its success in this area to a philosophy of real-life safety protection, with crash testing and computer simulations based on what happens in real collisions on real roads. This data comes from a database covering more than 6,100 real-life accidents involving Saab cars on Swedish roads. The 9-5 should therefore be very safe in an accident, thanks to features such as airbags and active head restraints, but thereís also a full complement of active safety kit. So, for example, thereís a head-up display reflected on the windscreen, giving the driver information about speed and navigation, plus warning messages: this means the driver is always looking at the road. Thereís also a lane departure warning, adaptive bi-xenon headlights and park assist, all of which reduce the possibility of accidents and/or scrapes.
The new Saab 9-5 is a big car Ė itís more than 100mm longer than competitors such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Ė so the cabin offers a great deal of space. The front is classically Saab in its design: driver-focused and spacious, it resembles an aircraft cockpit in many ways. The centre console and all the controls are all within reach and intuitively laid out. The (heated) seats are comfortable and fully adjustable, so a good position is assured for drivers of all shapes and sizes. The information display is also well organised and we especially liked the luminous green dials. The head-up display is also useful, as well as safe. Thereís as much space in the rear as any other car in the class and thereís stacks of legroom and lots of headroom. The 515-litre boot is also spacious, with even more room when the split folding seats are down. Thereís also lots of practical equipment to make life easier in the cabin, such as an infotainment system with 8-inch touchscreen that controls sat nav, radio/CD, Aux in and USB connector, hard drive with 10GB capacity. Rear-seat entertainment options are also available, including fold-out screens that can be used for watching DVDs or playing games.
Prices for the 9-5 start at a fairly reasonable £26,495 (2.0 TiD), rising to £37,795 for the 2.8T. These undercut its main, mostly German, rivals, but it will be interesting to see if theyíre enough to prompt the brand switching Saab is relying on. The wide range of engines means that thereís also a wide range of running costs. The 2.0 TiD has a very competitive fuel economy of 53.2mpg, dropping to 47.1mpg for the twin-turbo version (44.1mpg when fitted with XWD). The petrol engines donít fare that well, with the 1.6T returning just 37.2mpg, the 2.0T 33.6mpg and the 2.8T glugging petrol at a rate of 26.6mpg. CO2 emissions are also competitive, from the 139g/km of the diesel to 244g/km of the 2.8T. Vehicle excise duty (VED) bands range from E (£110 a year for the 2.0 TiD to L (£425) for the range-topper. Saabís recent turmoil might also put off prospective buyers, so second-hand values might suffer as a result: good news if you want to pick one up cheap, not so good if you want to sell.