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Saab 9-5 – Promise Missed

Our VehicleVoice colleague Jim Hossack posted a blog giving his brief comparison of the Dodge Charger R/T and the Saab 9-5 sedan. Hossack was impressed by the Charger and undrewhelmed by the 9-5.
Saab 9-5 Compared to a Dodge Charger R/T – Unfair!
The fact that the 9-5 is priced about $5,000 higher than the Charger R/T did not help. While the base price of the 9-5 is about $35,000, the as-equipped price of the 9-5 tested was just shy of $42,000. The Charger R/T price was about $37,000 – what a deal. The price of the 9-5 is even more embarrassing when you note it is powered by a 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine putting out 260-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Not too shabby, but when you compare the more pricey Saab against the brute 340HP 5.7L HEMI V8 with 390 lb-ft of torque, 9-5 is pretty tepid.
Sure, the Saab’s turbo puts out more than 100HP per liter – impressive if you are a Euro-fanatic – but the sheer horsepower of the HEMI feels better in its delivery.
Yep, it’s not a fair comparison. The 9-5 is supposed to be a highly finessed European sport sedan and the Charger is a blatantly American large, powerful sedan without sophistication. Yet, somehow, for $5,000 less, the Charger is an infinitely better deal. And with the Charger at about $37,000 you even get a rear seat DVD player.

Dodge Charger R34 Blog.jpg

Saab 9-5 R34 Blog.jpg

With these kinds of comparative relationship existing, the reason for the existence of the 9-5 really has to be called into question.

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But enough of the Charger vs. 9-5 comparison.
Saab 9-5 Pleasant Enough – But Does Not Make the Cut
The Saab is a pleasant enough package. It is easy to get into and out of. The visibilty to the front and sides is great, but rear visibility is hamplered by over large rear seat headrests. The interior trim looks upscale with contrasting materials of high quality. Saab has always been known for outstanding seats, but this example falls short. The adjustments in the power passenger seat seem to give any combination except comfortable.
The fact that the 9-5 is essentially a European General Motors Vectra (Opel/Vauxhall) is pretty well hidden. There are some low rent aspects to the 9-5 that are surprising. When the doors are open, the hinges show non-painted nuts contrasting with the paint color. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a car do that.
Saab’s center console mounted ignition location is maintained as a character point from Saabs of old. The cupholders are Euro-useless. The flip out cupholder to the right of the center stack is just big enough for a 12-ounce can, a 20-ounce plastic bottle or a Starbucks Venti cup of coffee. Don’t even think of anything bigger. The second cupholder is well-hidden in the center console box – essentially useless, clumsy and probably even dangerous to access while driving.
Expensive Navigation System Puts CD Changer in Trunk and Eliminates Sat Radio
When you spend the extra $2,800 for the navigation system you lose the in-dash CD changer and can find the changer located in the trunk taking up too much space and being as inconvenient as the locations found in the early 1990s. Duh. Everybody else except Volkswagen/Audi and a couple others can figure out how to get a navigation system with a CD changer in the dash. Why not Saab? To add insult to injury, satellite radio (in this case, XM) is not available when you get NAV. Geez!
The audio portion of the navigation system is difficult to work and likely would fail AutoPacific’s rental car test – as would the ignition on the floor.
The Sentronic Automatic Transmission provides a manual shift mode with switches on the steering wheel. While the concept is good, Saab’s Sentronic system probably does too much thinking for you and shifts when you don’t want it to. After a few miles of canyon running in manual mode, it was much more satisfying just to put it in Drive and be done with Sentronic.
Old Swede Not Aging Well
The Saab 9-5 is a car that you really do want to like. It is a noble attempt to make a modern car that is competitive with European competition, but it falls way short. Likely it suffers from age. This generation of 9-5 was launched in 1996 – a decade ago – a 2006MY facelift modernizes the front end appearance of the car, but that is all – and it is getting creaky even in the face of what Ford’s Volvo brand is offering today. General Motors’ resource scarcity and inability to keep Saab fresh and competitive really shows in the 9-5. An old Swede not aging well.

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