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Latest 9-5 Reviews: It’s What They Don’t Know That Matters

July 16, 2011 in Editorial, News

As I read through the latest round of 9-5 reviews published this week in the US media, I’ve been struck by the lack of depth that they bring to their reviews. Sure, they cover what details are on the surface, and they do a pretty decent job of bringing their own opinions to bear. But the surface is where it stops, and for anyone who knows anything about the car, it’s frustrating.

The editors of Auto Week had their own individual opinions on the 9-5 Aero published this week, and while they all are relatively positive about the car, they’re universally underwhelmed by the $50,000 pricetag. The problem as I’ve said about 10 times on this site before is that the model they tested is actually a $40-45,000 car as sold with a $50,000 MSRP. I wonder how their opinions would have changed if they knew the real price was 10-20% less out the door?

In another editor’s quick take, he mentioned how he felt the car was underpowered, yet doesn’t provide any info about the Hirsch package to boost the car up to 330HP for about $1,000 at your dealer which is coming in the next few weeks. Sure, that bit of information means possibly doing some homework and maybe visiting SaabsUnited or something and reading through some articles, but it’s an important bit of information for those convinced the car is underpowered relative to its German rivals. With Hirsch, it’s at par or better in terms of off-the-line performance relative to the V6 competition (and still costs considerably less). Think of Hirsch as Saab’s “sport” package.

Chalk up one of the most generous descriptions of the matte plastic center stack in the 9-5 to AutoWeek Motorsports Editor Mac Morrison.

I smiled at some of the carryover quirks, such as the dashboard air vents and matte-finished center stack. If this was not a Saab, I’d have probably felt like the center stack was direct from an unfinished preproduction prototype, but it just looks and feels natural in this car.

Of course he wasn’t told that the matte plastic dashboard was actually a mistake and holdover from the liquidation process that GM subjected Saab to last year. Sadly the supplier for the sexy dashboard Saab had planned never made it to production. He also doesn’t mention that in a few short months, the black pearl finish dashboard will be available on the ’12 models rolling out of Trollhättan.

The review I’d almost rather not present here because it may result in some less than pleasant emails for the reviewer, comes from Consumer Reports. To be fair, I stopped paying attention to these guys a long, long time ago when I needed to replace a washing machine I bought using their recommendation. If Consumer Reports had their way, everyone would be driving a Prius or Camry and the world auto market would be dominated by a few mega brands. I’ll just give my one argument, even though I found something wrong with almost everything negative he had to say. The reviewer found a problem with the Night Panel button– that it was in the spot normally associated with rivals like Lexus or VAG’s power button. Needless to say, other brands are relocating their power buttons to the center stack, Mercedes has had theirs down there on the gear lever for years. To complain that the Night Panel button could “confuse drivers” is the silliest argument I’ve heard in a while. If you own the car, it will take you maybe 3-4 weeks tops to get used to the new layout. Perhaps it will confuse the valet but that’s about it (and that I’d actually enjoy).
So, I’ve warned you, don’t break your computer screen and don’t fire off an angry rant at Jon Linkov, he’s just trying to give his best opinion based on the car he was given. He’s also victim to the MSRP discrepancy, as he’s really reviewing a $32-35K car, not a $40K one.

What it all comes down to in the end is a lack of a clear buyers guide for the 9-5. There’s a balance to be struck towards getting customers into dealers to sell a high volume of cars and trying to preserve margins for Saab’s sales outlets. I’m sensitive to the need to keep those margins high, but I also think that in light of huge inventories, it’s important to move as many units as possible to beef up Saab’s image and presence in the US for the mutual benefit of the brand, dealers, and consumers alike. I’m toying with the idea of creating a sort of buyers guide, highlighting dealers in each region with the best prices and good customer feedback, not to weed out bad ones but to promote those dealers who are doing something right. I want to potential Saab buyers that might otherwise be lost to BMW to have tools to bring with to their dealer to have the information we all seem to have that makes us so sure that Saab is the best value around. That information just doesn’t seem to be out there in a clear, easy to find place. Who knows, maybe it would even help auto journalists who are doing quick drive by pieces to get a more complete picture about Saab’s refreshed lineup?

What other features would you want on a SU Buyer’s Guide? Maybe individual owner reviews pointing out features they love vs. those they don’t really use and why? Sound off in comments.

Shoutouts to Quijote, John R., and Chris L. for the tips. ;)

50 responses to Latest 9-5 Reviews: It’s What They Don’t Know That Matters

  1. 300bhp underpowered?! Having driven one of these cars I can assure you that is definitely not the case. It’s quite amazing how quickly you pick up speed in said car as the HUD will tell you. Who reads CR these days, it’s a comic book for people who don’t know how to make their own purchase decisions.

    Saab Up!

    • The CR guy got the 220 HP 4-Cylinder, but he should have at least researched enough to see that the Hirsch Dealer-performed upgrade will bring the car to 260 HP, which for its weight and by all driving accounts makes the 9-5 a very nimble performer for its size.

    • They probably are saying that the 300hp Saab is about 1 second slower 0-60 than its “300hp” competitors, which actually have more like 350-370hp (the Audi 3.0T and BMW 3.0 turbo). The competitors reach 60mph in like 5 seconds. I agree it is totally asinine that a 160mph car is called “underpowered.” But it is purely a relative judgment compared to the ringer motors at German competitors (which are probably closer to 400hp than 300hp).

    • CR also has bad information on Audi and BMW.
      They love the Far Eastern brands; I don’t.
      I don’t bother with CR anymore.
      I.E., a Forrester is better tah an Audi Q5? I think not.

  2. Ok. Consumer Reports was terrible. Confusing the buttons? Idiots.

    Saab has to drop the price of the 9-5 or they will continue to get blasted in these reviews.

    And you mention the supplier never got the dash to production? Is that the ice-block dash you are talking about?

    • I thought the same of them confusing the buttons, even though “NIGHT PANEL” and “ENGINE START/STOP” is written on them…

  3. The Autoweek review (which I tipped SaabsUnited.com on btw, thanks for the shout out, or lackthereof…), is legit. Its generally quite good, and the negatives are points I can’t argue. A review will never mention what the negotiated price can be, they’ll just stick with the sticker and bypass the drama. Its Saab’s fault they don’t price accordingly, and its also their fault concerning the failed supplier situation for the dashboard’s finishing.

    The Consumer Reports review is an absolute joke, and the reviewer displays a patronizing gait rendering him as someone who few will take seriously. Sorry you are “downright insulted” that the 9-5 doesn’t include a backup camera. lol wow, a bit sensitive are we?

    • Besides, Saab’s parking assistance with directions on the center display is much less confusing than a backup camera, and it’s not even mentioned in the video… The sonar is probably much more accurate than a camera, too…

    • FYI, a backup camera will be available on the 2012s.

  4. I drove a 9-5 220bhp automatic XWD when it was just on the market. The power is enough (though I agree with him about the sound, it makes the feel a bit cheap) for regular quick driving and even past 140mph it goes like stink. The aspect that stroke me in particular was the view! A big screen and so well designed that the A-pillar does not tamper with your sight much. There are some other comments that are ridiculous (night vision button) and his conclusion about the role that this car is going to play is very farfetched. If he’d be driving as a proper reviewer would do and test the XWD system, he’d be surprised (like many others). On the other hand, you can’t compare the ruggedness of the materials in the interior to brands like BMW, Volvo, etc.. but it’s a thing that could be changed in the future. Do keep in mind that this is the car presented to him and he doesn’t have to care for stuff that will be altered in the future. It’s a mega-biased review, but not everything is untrue about it.

    The better question to ask is: how many people in the US intensely rely on their reviews to buy a car?

  5. Just for the record, I have cancelled my subscription to Consumer Reports.

    Thought you would want to know.

    And, I will be keeping my two Saab 9-3s, thank you.

  6. Up until a few years ago, I always had at least one subscription to Car and Driver, Road and Track or Motor Trend (and sometimes subscriptions on all three) since 1977. Close to thirty years worth of magazines which I often read, in the old days, from cover to cover. What you learn over that time is the bias of the magazines and their authors and also begin to suspect that the magazines themselves tread lightly on their best advertisers.

    They have always had their biases. But you must remember they test hundreds of cars and really don’t get to spend much time in any of them. I’m sure every almost brand would have a legitimate complaint that at least one of their cars was not given a fair chance for review. Too little time for so many cars.

    I finally dropped my subscriptions when it became very clear to me that safety was not a real concern of the magazines or their authors. Safety is the most important thing to me. Most magazines highly prize performance. Consumer Reports prizes reliability. But none prize safety. I have yet to read an article that discusses in depth real world safety and the very reliable data concerning the real world safety of cars. All you ever get is a token mention of how the car did in crash tests and a brief mention of air bags and braking, etc. So the magazines were not informative to me at all. I had to dig to get the safety information I wanted from a whole host of sources.

    Those who buy cars based on automotive reviews are going to be victims of the bias of the magazines and their authors. The solution is to read enough (over the years) to truly become informed.

  7. CR reviewers can’t read. the night panel button says ‘Night Panel’. Power says ‘Power”. What da heck?! That’s one stupid review.

  8. Think of Hirsch as Saab’s ‘muscle’ package.

  9. The 9-5 is not competitive at it’s current MSRP price points in the US. The reviewers are not in the wrong for saying so. Saab is overpricing the cars. If the argument is that they would actually be competitive at $38k, but they are just marked with a make-believe higher price by Saab but nobody really pays that, then Saab deserves to be criticized for the mistake in the first place. I don’t think the reviewers are being unjust. Other cars are reviewed with their MSRP in mind. Saab doesn’t get special treatment.

    • $38K for a 300bhp car when a similarly equipped 5 series would be closer to $65K? I’m of the opinion it’s not the price that’s the issue anymore it’s the lack of marketing this beautiful car.

      Saab Up!

      • It’s a mind game. Reviewers will forgive a lot of little things if they can say “but for $low_price it still represents quite a bargain.” If they think the price is over the top, they will slam it home every chance they can get.

        Saab’s name isn’t worth much right now, so they need every advantage they can get. They really need to play up the reasonable real-world price right now, especially to the people doing all the talking, and that is communicated with MSRP.

    • RS said on July 18, 2011

      Saab has a $38k 9-5 already in the US. It’s called Turbo4.
      I cannot for the life of me understand why SCNA doesn’t advertise this one aggressively and sell people the upgrade variant. The minute they’d lower the MSRP the Aero, the premium position would go down the tube immediately.
      It’s competing against A, B and M-B. It can’t be cheap. How many 5-series drivers would buy something else because it’s more affordable? No one. It’s got to be as good. A few grand saved makes no difference if your looking for prestige or want to be different.

      It’s so important to offer stuff that not everyone can afford. That’s what sell all those German cars.
      The Aero has sold poorly because people don’t know how freakin good it is -especially in the long run- as Saab marketing seems unable to explaining the customers reasons for buying one…

      You guys in the US should simply take advantage the low prices that are caused by Independence hiccups as the prices aren’t going to get any lower in the future. I bet everyone feels like driving a $50k+ car whatever they managed to pick it up for.
      As I’ve said a hundred times, if Saabs became “affordable” like Fords, KIA’s or Buicks I’d start to question quality right away. The 9-5 is not volkswagen and should not become one.

      PS. I wouldn’t have driven happily 7 hours today with a ‘transportation appliance’ or a “luxury” car with bad seats.

  10. In a SAAB buyers guide, a nice feature would be quotes coming from converts from the competing brands.
    I am amazed at the efforts the SU crew are willing to contribute to help SAAB sell cars. Kudos to you all.

  11. We picked up our fifth Saab (and fourth 9-5) at Secor Saab-Volvo in New London, CT this April. There are several dealers closer to where we live, but this is our dealer of choice. They are passionate about the brand, offer quality service and have the kind of people who you fully trust and like. The new 9-5 is incrementally better. When more of the GM DNA is gone, it will be better still. The ride is a tad bouncy.

    I appreciate what you are doing with SaabsUnited. It is the kind of loyalty and enthusiasm that exemplifies the brand. Saab should get through this rough patch because of its loyal base. We just need to convert more intelligent people to the cause. Alan

  12. A few quotes from Andrew Stroy worth reading:

    But as the drive continued, the car began to show me its various sides and I softened toward the new sedan. First, the interior: Saab seats are, hands down, the best in the business. And I discovered the lack of a multicolor, multifunction nav/XM/etc. display smack dab in the middle of the dash actually caused me to focus even more than usual on the road ahead and the feel of the wheel in my hands.

    And the thick, flat-bottomed Aero wheel felt good. It’s connected to a well-tuned steering system that brings the Saab around corners with nice progression; I found it neither too quick nor too slow, and the XWD system seemed to complement the steering feel on both sweepers and quick turns. In fact, I tried to overcook it a bit on one backroad left and the lack of drama almost disappointed me.

    As for the engine, it felt like a Saab turbocharged six-cylinder. That’s the only way I can describe it; not overly potent but if you watch the boost gauge (and thank you Saab for including one, an oversight on many manufacturer’s new turbo cars) and drive with an eye toward on-boost engine load vs. rpm, the 9-5 is faster than it feels. All in all it reminds me a lot of the 9-X I drove a few years back. Saab aficionados will be at home here.

    I went back to the article to check out comments and the SAAB croud is doing a great job. I ticked a lot of «like» and added a few of my own. Truly amazing response.
    Griffen up

    Read more: http://www.autoweek.com/article/20110715/CARREVIEWS/110719923#ixzz1SIXOaeKb

  13. Perhas a 9-5 Buyers Guide can be a PDF that is updated with new information as it becomes available. I don’t think it needs to highlight dealers for a variety of reasons including how it would tick off those not on the list that were doing good things with pricing, sales experience and service.

    The value of a PDF is that it can be printed easily and in a nice format. It can have URLs to many sources (on-line reviews, SU posts, SCNA info, etc). Those links can be accessed when the PDF is used on the computer.

    Basically, the story that SU has told about the 9-5 has to be pulled together in one place to give our biased picture of the value of the 9-5. That includes what can be done with the Hirsch upgrades. Most of the material is available — the important part is putting it all together as one resource.

    I see there being categories to discuss (safety, performance, fuel econoly, design, comfort, utility, etc.) All the universal good things that appear in the reviews (best seats in business) get mentioned and we rebut or balance the not as good and/or more subjective things that have appeared in reviews. Of course the pricing gets discussed to help potential buyers understand as well as the changes for 2012 that fix the things the reviewers have complained about in the 2010 and 2011 models.

    Hope that helps.

  14. Here’s to hoping that Saab finds the resources to keep this car competitive. It seems like nobody has any real issues with the chassis, handling, etc which is good because that’s the hardest part to change. If I were Saab though, I’d look for every possible way to differentiate this car from the unrelentingly competent competition.

    Though the CR guy is an idiot, his observation about the camera is quite valid, and it’s a shame that Saab, once able to play the gadget game with the best of them, is to behind the curve when it comes to things like adaptive cruise control, blind spot/lane departure warning, backup cameras, etc. That stuff isn’t at all related to the driving experience, and has a middling effect on actual safety, but Saab either needs to be working on those things or have a damn good reason for not offering them.

    Were it up to me, I’d slash $5k off the MSRP to get cars off the lots and into people’s garages, while upping the Aero’s hp numbers to match the hirsch tune, if only so they can say they offer MORE power than the 535/A6 3.0T for less money. It’s all about telling the consumer about whatever concrete things they can get with your product and nobody else’s.

  15. Doesn’t all brands in the US have a higher MSRP than the actual cars sells for? In Sweden they sell a Mercedes B 180 with a discount of 66000 kr! That is a huge discount! MSRP for that particular car is 256000 kr and is now selling for 190000 kr at Hedin bil in Göteborg.

    What I’m saying is that I don’t think the referenced MSRP in a review has a noticeable effect on potential buyers, a to low value might even scare away some BMW/Merc drivers since you want to show off your money for your neighbor and therefore you want an expensive car :)

    To not mention the Hirsch upgrade in a review is ok since almost everyone knows that every car can have a performance upgrade (maybe not with an intact warranty).

    All reviews are biased by the reviewers own preference and his/hers magazines preference (read ad money from companies…).

    The only thing that can help sales are marketing in a smart way to make Saab interesting again. Most people doesn’t even read car magazines/sites they just see an ad or happen to know that there are a dealer nearby.

    Even if I know that a review is biased it still pisses me off when they don’t know what they are talking about but there is nothing to do about that.

  16. I’m with you regarding Consumer Reports one would think that SAAB safety would be a big plus with them but they seem to ignore the facts. Sadly I must report the best SAAB dealer in the LA area has closed they were the only dedicated SAAB dealer in the area so we are left with 3 dealers who sell Caddys and none even mention the 9-4x on their sites.

  17. i think the problem is that all the reviewing media is all too happy to end with “not enough to save saab” line. it’s a pretty finite closer to an otherwise boring and lame review. so suddenly being negative on just about everything and then closing it with a quick one-liner makes it seem more palatable.

    doesn’t matter much here in the US anyway. i don’t know anyone who buys a car based on a CR review, but certainly SAAB needs to get much more aggressive to get folks in the showrooms and take a test drive.

  18. Overpricing to then be able to discount, in today’s market place is not really on.

    The BMW & other dealers of competing brands will use this against Saab, when trying to sell cars, like:

    ‘Yea, Saab’s say their cars are cheaper, but look at this price list….As expensive but without the name!!’

    I sincerely hope the Hirsch package is clearly highlighted in the Saab Retail Price lists, because @ $1000.extra, it might be worth installing it as a freebe upgrade

  19. Let’s hope that if someone get interested in the car, either by reading/watching car reviews, and visits a SAAB dealer, people there can actually bring up other important features. How many of us bought our cars considering reviews ? I bet the urge to have one came after driving it :)

  20. My Youtube comment (if it gets approved) regarding the CR video:
    “Complains about rear toe room without mentioning that it has more than 2 inches more rear leg room than all cars in its class? Wow! Must have big toes or he’s simply anti-Saab.”

  21. Am I the only one who wants to kick this guy in the nuts……OMG what an a**h***. The 9-5 is pure design perfection and this guy is talking about how he is unimpressed, f**** him and the Buick he drove in on.

    On a positive note i can say that I have seen many new 9-5’s in my little town of Ljungby, a very cool sight indeed. Am very happy that the 9-5 is catching on, it’s so cool to see a 9-5 in real life, and it really looks like a concept car beside a boring new 5 series BMW.

  22. I am very happy with my new 9-5. The car is as close to manufacturing perfection as I think you can get. I have made the comment to several of my friends that the car seems like it is built by people whose jobs depend on it.

    And I have had many comments about its looks. It does indeed look like a concept car compared to about everything else on the road.

    Where’s my Hirsch kit?

    • Better yet … where’s my free Hirsch kit that should have come with the car? The Hirsch upgrade puts it on par with the Buick Regal 2.0 turbo.

      • Could someone please give David a free Hirsch kit so that we can finish that bit and move on? ;)

        Is it true that the price, when available, is going to be $1,000? Ah, in Sweden it’s around 13,000 SEK, that’s almost closer to $1,985. Everything, and I mean everything, is cheaper in the US, VAT or no VAT.

        • I’ve been telling you guys to the US and purchase our Saabs. I’ve got a 99 9-5 that needs a motor I’ll be glad to sell. My dealer offered me a $100 for it the other day. Maybe you would pay me a Swedish price?

  23. About the expensive price of the 2011 9-5…. Here is a NEW 2011 9-5 listed in my city at $29,350. It is a manual transmission 2.0T, the car rated at 33 MPG. Yes, $29,350. I am linking this on SU because I think it is noteworthy for this discussion. http://www.stpaulsaab.com/VehicleDetails/new-2011-Saab-9_5-4dr_Sdn_Turbo4_Premium_*Ltd_Avail*-Maplewood-MN/1103726783

  24. Journalist are just humans with prejudice and tend to prefer several things or brands while unlike others.
    That’s the simple reason.

    One of the largest online car magazines in Hungary (Totalcar) wrote about Saab in the most negative way since the GM-free era started. Every time they posted a news or article they behaved like vultures, eagerly waiting for the last breath of their prey.

    • Ok, I was a bit too upset and the truth is not so dark regarding Totalcar.
      Although their review about new 9-5 was quite positive, but all other news since the recent crisis they told in that “vulture” style.

  25. Of course he wasn’t told that the matte plastic dashboard was actually a mistake and holdover from the liquidation process that GM subjected Saab to last year. Sadly the supplier for the sexy dashboard Saab had planned never made it to production. He also doesn’t mention that in a few short months, the black pearl finish dashboard will be available on the ’12 models rolling out of Trollhättan.

    Wow, I didnt know anything about this. The current dash looks nice as it is but Im curiois to see what the 2012 model’s dash will look like.

    All in all, I think the 9-5 is utterly stunning and well worth the price (especially if you are aware of its real price.

  26. Surface and not depth – that´s true analysis of what some journalists comment. I guess they just never really DROVE the car…

    I mean: yesterday I ran into some problem. I forgot that I drove the SAAB 9-5 without towbar to hang a new bought bicycle… ooops! (Got two 9-5s) What to do? Well, the car transformed into a truck in seconds! What car that pleases both car sport fanatics and families would do that?

    And this one: these journalists never drive the car in winding landscapes where all the fun begins! What happens in a sharp curve? Not the same shitty surprices that other cars performe…

    So these “tests” don´t seem to realistic to me. They write about surface, not the spirit of the car!

    • I saw a «car journalist» pull out the optional sliding floor on the FG 9-5SC. He said «I wonder what this is for?» He sat on it and went on «I guess you could use it as a picnick table».
      I rest my case your honour!

  27. They comment on subjective things that who knows if their opinion is correct. For example, they complain that too much tire and road noise is heard within the car. In my opinion, that is ridiculous. I owned a Toyota Avalon prior to purchasing my 9-5. They say the Avalon is serenly quiet. Well, to me, the Saab is just as quiet as my Avalon was and it has 100% more character. They complain about the Nav system and all the little buttons. I find the Nav system to be very intuitive and quickly got used to the buttons, including where the start button is located. They clearly do have a bias and hopefully anyone who has the good taste to consider a Saab will take the review with a grain of salt.

  28. Referencing the gentleman who referred to a bad recomendation for an appliance purchase by C.R…..They effectively review cars as if they were nothing more than “Transportation appliances”! Which I began treferring to as such their much beloved Honda and Toyota products to which they always give glowing reviews ! They also effectively published the same review of the 9-5 in their yearly new car consumer guide for a decade.Check out back issues ,it’s re-printed every year ,word for word.I am a bit of an electronics tech-head as well.Their recommendations for audio and video equipment are a joke compared to the true audio/videophile magazines.Consumer Reports: often quoted,often consulted,totally irrelevant!

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