One guy’s road test: Saab 9-5 in New Mexico

The following was received from David P via email.

It’s a very well considered writeup of his experience with the new Saab 9-5.

Enjoy!

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Greetings from New Mexico, USA Mr. Wade!

I thought I might share my experiences with you on the new 9-5 that just came into the local dealership. To back up my Saab experience here, I have owned every Saab model since the classic 900 except a 9000. I co-founded the Saab club out here, and the club is throwing a launch party at the dealership this next weekend, so naturally we wanted to get a feel for the car before the party.

First off, before I start, a quick talk about the auto transport network Saab uses in the US. I believe they still use the GM car distribution network which is causing big problems for dealers in less populated areas like New Mexico. We were able to determine it took 2.5 months for the car to get from Trollhattan to New Mexico. This is making it very hard for the dealership to get any cars in a reasonable time frame. At this point they only have 4 cars, with more on order but no hope of any of them coming in any time soon. So to say the least when the dealer finally got the first 9-5 in last week it was an exciting event!

Saab 9-5 Aero NMThe car: 2010 9-5 Aero, white exterior with grey leather interior

Initial impressions walking around the car: this is definitely a modern GM car when compared to what has come before. You can see the GM influenced quality of the car by the overly simplistic and barren body panels, big swooping simple wrap around plastic bumpers, and those non Saaby door handles. But they put the car together in such an elegant way given what they had to work with. The clean lines flow with such Scandinavian simplicity and beauty. Every detail of the car was so well thought out to give a unified and dignified overall appearance. The trunk light panel will decidedly draw attention to the car from other drivers on the road, very cool and distinctive.

When you first sit in the car: my daily driver is an OG 9-5 Aero with the most superb seats I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in. The new seats are not up to the standards: they are a bit too firm, they are so wide the bolsters no longer touch the side of my body, so I slide around on sporty maneuvers, and they do not have Scandinavian colored two tone leather found in all Aeros before. I really enjoyed the quality of the dash trim around the console, the dark almost bluish metal, it had a very nice feel to it. The black dash fascia did not bother me either, but being porous plastic means after many greasy fingers have touched all of the buttons a couple thousand times it will look dirty and smudged, so the ice block dash will be a welcome change. The buttons on the dash are almost Ovlov complex with too many of them flowing together all in the same space and I found them to be distracting when driving trying to find the right button.

Interior refinement: The steering wheel is just superb, it fits in the palm of your hand perfectly and makes you want to take the curves faster. We were plotting afterwards on how to get new 9-5 steering wheels and retrofit them to our older cars which I am sure is impossible. The doors feel very solid and close with a nice thud that speaks of quality. The seat motors are much more smooth in operation. The doors do not creak when you pull them shut. There is a perception of quality here that is definitely up to industry standards.

Technology: we have fully caught up to the modern world! I am a software engineer and just loved every aspect of the electronics. I can understand the hefty premium the navigation comes with, and its worth every cent. We of course brought an iPhone connection cable and James Bond DVD for proper testing of the system. Connecting the iPhone / iPod is completely painless, intuitive, and the interface is everything you would expect. The menus reminded me of the Audi MMI system, with big beautiful and clear controls, and just like a proper safety inspired Saab, you cannot access all of the menus unless you have stopped.

Now for the fun part, the movie! Plop a DVD in the car and it plays as though you were sitting at home. Turn the bass up so you can really feel and enjoy the action in dolby digital surround sound! Now for safety reasons the display will not operate while the car is moving, but you can still listen to the movie on a long drive which can make those long trips quite a bit more enjoyable and feel shorter.

Reactions from other drivers while driving the car: when stopped at an intersection a Honda Accord driver turned in front of us. I nearly thought he was going to crash from looking at the car so much and not the road. I got a huge smile, wave, and thumbs up approval of the car like it was the coolest thing he had ever seen. Definitely a great piece of positive feedback from someone who drives such a mainstream car.

Driving experience: just so every Saab lover knows: when you drive the car, its big, and heavy, much heavier than any other real Saab has ever been which is noticeable when first turning and braking until you get used to it. That aside the car feels like you are driving on ice: quiet, refined and smooth. This is a new level of refinement I have only experienced in other luxury marques. If Saab is aiming to capture the hearts and minds of people accustomed to the BMW experience who want scandinavian perfection in their car, this will definitely win them over.

The car turns very precisely and takes the curves very well for a 4400 pound car. We tried very hard to make the tires squeal when flying around corners and could not. One thing I will say is we definitely need a manual version of the Aero. The automatic transmission just does not allow you to get the most enjoyment out of all 300 horses. I was excited to go back to my 260hp manual so I could go zinging around town again because my car feels faster even though it is not. I suspect in 2.0t form without XWD, a V4 instead of the heavy V6 and a Hirsch tune the car will be superb fun.

After you have owned the car for 10 years: many of us like to keep our Saabs until the wheels fall off, or keep them running in tip top shape because we cannot wait to dive under the hood and figure out how it all works and keep it running perfectly. My first instinct was to remove all of the plastic covers all over the engine to see the real thing. There are the unfortunate wires running over hot areas, computers in the engine bay, and plastic connectors just waiting to become brittle after suffering from 10 years of extreme heat (like the current 9-3). So would expect the normal amount of headaches 8-10 years down the line when the car has 150,000 on the clock. (Big call. I understand your hot weather experience in NM, but the car is just months old – SW)

Overall impressions: our new sales guy Pete was just thrilled for us to come and test drive the car which says something: when sales people get excited about going on a test drive because the car is so much fun, its a good sign. He was having a blast driving us to the parking lot where we could drive the cars ourselves.

This is a new level of refinement we have not yet seen before I am personally very excited about the car. I shall be saving what money I can so I too can find myself behind the seat of a 2011 2.0t 9-5 manual SportCombi.

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