One man’s review: The 2011 Chicago Auto Show

Peter Gilbert, known to many as the million-mile Saab guy, went down to Chicago the check out the Auto Show there with Jon, his very tall son (6ft 9in). As you might imagine, Jon can have issues finding a car that fits so the opportunity to check out a whole bunch at one is a welcome one.

My thanks to Peter for sending his thoughts through, and some pics, too:

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On Friday I drove 90 miles down to Chicago, IL for the first public day of what is deemed the largest US auto show of the year. The 1,000 vehicle display was so large this year that it was split up into two gigantic halls.

Naturally I wanted to go to the Saab stand first, but how could I resist a white Porsche Panamera which was adjacent to the Saab stand? One great plus for SAAB was the way their logo, in big white letters was twice displayed up high in white, close to the black, open architecture ceiling. More prominent than any other marque, one could not miss it.

Then, all of a sudden, the stand hit me with that white, Scandinavian simplicity. There were 8 cars displayed, including a silver Hirsch 9-5, with their big, black logo filling the door area. There was also a 9-3 in the same livery. I loved the transparent Plexiglas cabinet in the center, which had green leaves blowing around inside, as well as the display blocks embedded in the white floor. Kudos to Saab for such a beautiful display. The soft padded, white chairs were the icing on the cake.

I was so engaged showing my son the 9-5 for the first time, that I did not notice the 94-x until he had tried the 9-5 on for size. Being above average size, we were at the show to criticize all relevant vehicles for his wife and new baby. So the four of us were test-sitting in a lot of SUVs and crossovers. Unfortunately the 9-4x was locked because it is the only one in the country, but Jon realized that we could check out the same dimensions when we later sat in the Cadillac SRX.

The Hirsch 9-3 was different from the other 9-3s because of its special grill, and very practical carbon fiber clad, rear-sill which looked outstanding. I was really impressed with the look of the 9-3 Combi and convertible, in white which I have never seen before. Apart from the silver 9-5 there was one in Fjord Blue which was more unique than the average color that one would see from other manufacturers.

Review continues below….

In particular I liked the flat bottom steering wheel which was not only on the Hirsch but also the Aero models. A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Saab have a heated steering wheel, like the Panamera. I since learned that a dealer lost a Saab sale to Mercedes just because of that. Later when we checked the Buick stand the new Verano, which is coming out soon, also offers one. It would seem that some bits could be used from the GM parts bin to make this easy for our cold hands.

As we sat in the competition one point became apparent: The biggest in the range is not necessarily the biggest in driving position; the Audi Q5 is better than the Q7; the Chevy Equinox is more friendly than the Escalade; the Subaru Tribeca is outdone by the Outback. As a point of interest the 9-5 has now surpassed the Volvo S80 as the roomiest sedan from those Jon had tried in the past.

Most interesting was the fact that nearly every car had similar head clearance with a sunroof but the 9-5 had awesome leg-room. When we checked the SRX as a surrogate for the 94-X we were very satisfied with the accommodations. I could not help but notice my bias towards the 9-4x in the execution of its design. It just looks better and has a more refined dash, so much so that having seen the Audi I was thinking about what Victor Muller said about interior design at the Ohio SOC. I think we are almost there. Also the rear of the 9-4x is less oblique and would possibly have more interior cargo space.

I mentioned some of the engineering oddities. I saw the Ford Transit Van, which looked so functional, if not a beauty queen. It was displayed as a van, a taxi and a kind of min-van, with one caveat. It had enough head room for Yao Ming with ease, but the leg-room was so dismal that it looked like it was built for Toulouse-Lautrec in a 10-gallon Stetson. For marketing mistakes, I was shocked that most of Audi’s cars were locked-up, except for the Q5, Q7 and A4.

Subaru, which are generally well engineered, surprised me with their Forrester. They went to all the trouble of building-in electric heaters at the base of the windshield to heat up conventional wiper-blades with the metal clips that ice-up, when all they had to do was install Bosch Icon style blades (which I use all the year round anyway).

Returning to Saab, the driving position of the 9-5 and the SRX was very similar. Sitting in the car at the show is not the same as bouncing around on the real highway but when the 9-5 Combi hits the scene in August that could be the choice for my new Granddaughter to ride around in.

vince
Guest
vince
5 years 7 months ago

Hirsch models sure make saab look even better . If hirsch price their upgrades accordingly (meaning not too expensive) they should do well in N.A. As for the heating steering wheel, I made that sugestion on here when 2010 9-5 first came out. Surprised they did not add option for 2011, perhaps 2012?

Red J
Guest
5 years 7 months ago
Seeing Jon next to that yellow Fiat made me think about Jean Reno (6ft 4in) in the Big blue, great film, when he drives around Scilly with his partner in such a Fiat but in in a much worse condition. πŸ™‚ One point to the heated steering wheel. The wiring harness in a car is a very complicated thing which is highly optimized. To ad 1 single cable to that is much costly than one may think. Just a thought. About the closed 9-4x. I’ve checked the web-cam of the Saab booth a couple of times, and if Saab would… Read more »
Peter Gilbert
Guest
Peter Gilbert
5 years 7 months ago

GM is famous for naming cars that mean something else in a different language. The Chevrolet NOVA comes to mind. This story has been told endlessly but isn’t a nova a nova?

Right now a car called Summer should be a big hit in Sweden. They are just reviving last week’s 22 inch monster storm that hit the American Midwest.

Red J
Member
5 years 7 months ago

At least there was no special edition called the Chevrolet SUPER NOVA πŸ˜‰

Peter Gilbert
Guest
Peter Gilbert
5 years 7 months ago

GM is famous for naming cars that mean something else in a different language. The Chevrolet NOVA comes to mind. This story has been told endlessly but isn’t a nova a nova?

Right now a car called Summer should be a big hit in Sweden. They are just reviving last week’s 22 inch monster storm that hit the American Midwest.

North Toronto Punter
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Peter, I find it unbelievable that they wouldn’t open the doors of the 9-4x for The Million Mile Man!

You’re one of the most recognizable faces in The Community…Only One In
The Country or Not…what are they saving it for? Was your sitting on the precious skins going to compromise something? Steal the cigarette lighter? Or were your shoes dirty…

Peter Gilbert
Guest
Peter Gilbert
5 years 7 months ago

They deliberately hide the key. It’s like special ops in the Military, on a need to know basis only. I guess I didn’t need to know!

Pat H
Guest
Pat H
5 years 7 months ago

Open up the sixth picture and you already see some interest from the 9-4xs target market πŸ™‚

Peter Gilbert
Guest
Peter Gilbert
5 years 7 months ago

Not exactly, that young lady was one of 2 who are actually from Sweden and are connected with Saab to promote the brand for the marketing company that does the auto shows.

Peter Gilbert
Guest
Peter Gilbert
5 years 7 months ago

Not exactly, that young lady was one of 2 who are actually from Sweden and are connected with Saab to promote the brand for the marketing company that does the auto shows.

Peter Gilbert
Guest
Peter Gilbert
5 years 7 months ago

Not exactly, that young lady was one of 2 who are actually from Sweden and are connected with Saab to promote the brand for the marketing company that does the auto shows.

Pat h
Guest
Pat h
5 years 7 months ago

If you open the image, its wider than the thumbnail. I was referring to the mother pushing the pram. Judging by how she’s looking, she seems interested.

NGMH
Guest
NGMH
5 years 7 months ago
The 9-5 is a convincing enough luxury vehicle. It is odd that a scandinavian produced car, which introduced heated seats, would not have a heated steering wheel. In practice though with the gm heated steering wheels I have used, they are not the most effective things in the world. Of course in scandinavia they probably drive mostly with gloves on and wouldn’t get the point of a heated steering wheel perhaps? I get my 9-5 soon enough. I placed it on order last week. I was holding out for the new dash panel but my situation dramatically changed and I… Read more »
Tomas TL1000R
Guest
Tomas TL1000R
5 years 7 months ago

So NGMH! Where is home?

Tomas TL1000R
Guest
Tomas TL1000R
5 years 7 months ago

Sorry folks but this you got to see!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPJKHRPrnPQ

This is humor!
PS I have a dog and a blue/white thing, love them both DS

Rune
Guest
Rune
5 years 7 months ago

That was just the right amount of nΓ¦sty. πŸ˜€

NGMH
Guest
NGMH
5 years 7 months ago
I live in poland near the german border. No poland maps are available with saab so I did not order the option. I have a portable unit which works great. The saab poland website is kind enough to warn you about the lack of maps and that you are selecting a option which may not work properly. My 9-5 will have the 19″ “edge” wheels which I don’t think I have ever seen on this site as a true photo. I am excited about that. The photos from the saab configurator looks stunning. Certainly not boring like most of the… Read more »
Carl-Henrik
Guest
Carl-Henrik
5 years 7 months ago

Then we all hope to see some photos later on your beauty! πŸ˜‰
Which color?

NGMH
Guest
NGMH
5 years 7 months ago

I have gone for Black. The Edge wheels are dark in color and I opted for black interior and dark tint rear windows. Should look very good in person. I cannot wait.

900_S
Guest
900_S
5 years 7 months ago

Hehe, I remember seeing that Fiat stuff at the LA Auto Show. They were even filming people’s reaction to the cars. You could get in front of the camera and speak, provided you filled out their light paperwork. It was cute.

Bernard
Guest
Bernard
5 years 7 months ago
Losing a sale for want of a heated steering wheel sounds like a salesman’s story. For those who aren’t familiar, these are very similar to fisherman stories about “the one that got away.” I’m sure the steering wheel was one of the excuses the customer gave for not buying the car, I just really doubt that it was the main motivation. To put things another way: was this really the only significant difference between the two cars that the customer noticed? Even after the walkaround and the test drive and the sales pitch and the spousal opinion and everything else?… Read more »
Ted Y
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Agree. I doubt that it’s a deal breaker. Today’s leather/vinyl steering wheels having a layer of insulating padding underneath just don’t feel cold to me. It’s not North Dakota cold here in northern Ohio, but even at zero degrees I don’t wear gloves while driving and the wheel feels fine.

GML
Guest
GML
5 years 7 months ago

Thank you for posting this. As someone who is 6’7β€³, I can appreciate having to β€œtry on” a car. People can really take interior space and flexibility for granted. I plan on doing the same exercise at the New York International Auto Show. Hopefully the 9-4x will be open and I’ll be allowed to sit inside.

Stan
Guest
Stan
5 years 7 months ago
I’m 6’4”, but I have short-ish legs I must sit like someone 6’6” or more. “Trying on” a car is the first thing I do, and ample head room in a semi-sporty car is what originally attracted me to Saab (owned both 9-3 and 9-5s). I’m looking for a replacement for my 08 9-3 that’s coming off lease next month so I have been shopping lately. I used to go to the Chicago auto show, but the cars I wanted always seemed to be locked (or had to power to adjust the seats), and the crowds can be unbearable. It’s… Read more »
turbin
Guest
turbin
5 years 7 months ago

Nice. Congrats.

RJP
Guest
RJP
5 years 7 months ago

I’m 6’6″ and also just pulled the trigger on a 2011 9-5 2.0T (unbelievably it was the first sold at my dealership in North Carolina). Ample room upfront although rear headroom is a little tight. Actually don’t mind the wood trim. Was very close to buying a 2010 Aero demo but no sunroof was a deal killer – sunroof in the 2011 is gorgeous.

Rune
Guest
Rune
5 years 7 months ago

So far I have seen a lot of feedback from the tall and portly… I do not recall anyone short and tiny commenting on the 9-5?

A friend’s girlfriend says she is too tiny to drive the OG900. She’s about 155 cm. Will we need to attach wooden blocks to her shoes before letting her take a spin in the 9-5? πŸ˜€

Stan
Guest
Stan
5 years 7 months ago

My wife is 157.5 cms (5’2” in the US), and she likes it just fine.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
5 years 7 months ago

What you say about the Audi vs. GM interiors is really interesting, and at an auto show the difference becomes very apparent and easy to see, after all the cars are only a few hundred feet away from each other. I am very interested to see what the fixes for the 9-5 SC are in Geneva, and I’m hoping Red J and Swade can take some serious detail shots with different lighting conditions so we can see just what they’ve done.

That was a great report and fun reading πŸ™‚ Thanks Peter!

Magnus
Guest
Magnus
5 years 7 months ago

Way cool! My two favorite cars at the same time. SAAB will always be my brand, and my regular drive is a 9-3 SC (soon to be a 9-5 SC), but I also own a 1969 yellow Fiat 500, just like the one in the pic.

I reckon that I am allowed to cheat on SAAB, but only if it is with an original Fiat 500 which has to be the cutest car in history πŸ™‚

charlie
Guest
charlie
5 years 7 months ago
I had a similar experience at the DC auto show. The 9-4x was locked, disappointing because it looks excellent. The 9-5 interior is far better in person than in pictures. In particular I like the interior door handles, which I didn’t like in pictures. However, I did feel it could use a bit more polish. Lincoln, Jag, Audi had it beat. One problem is the 9-5 is not a super-luxury car, but given the size i tended to compare it to far more expensive brands. The 9-4x is going to sell very well in the US. Is it a real… Read more »
North Toronto Punter
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

OK: Enough is Enough!

Why is the car Locked? And if so…And I want to sit inside it, do I have to send Vladimir Antonov an email to request it to be unocked?

Cut the crap: If I face the same nonsense here at the Toronto Show I will scream bloody murder!

Bernard
Guest
Bernard
5 years 7 months ago

“do I have to send Vladimir Antonov an email to request it to be unlocked?”

Try OnStar…

cmhohioman
Guest
cmhohioman
5 years 7 months ago

I finally got to see the 2011 SAAB 9.5 turbo4 premium at Midwestern Auto Group (MAG). Nice car…but very big/long…I’ll be honest…I like the old 9.5 2008/2009 9.5 better. But, I’m sure the newer 9.5 is much better car….it’s just too big…I still think my 2009 SAAB XWD is plenty big enough for 1 person.

dmk
Guest
dmk
5 years 7 months ago

And on the Chicago Auto show website they have 5 live webcams, one of which is directly over the Saab booth. That is pretty awesome and certainly gives Saab some much needed extra exposure.

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