The 9-5’s built-in SatNav – a tale of misery and woes

Although I love my 9-5 to bits, there are one or two features I cannot reward with a full “thumb’s up”. Time has come to discuss the 9-5’s built-in satnav system.

Short detours

First niggle when using the satnav is the definition of “short”. The short version is this: Selecting “short” can get you into trouble fast.

Mariestad to Oslo -- the short (& sane) route
I live in Mariestad and work in Oslo. Even though I know the road by heart, it still helps to tell the satnav just where I am going. That way I receive relevant traffic updates and, if I am lucky/adventurous, I might even get directions to avoid said obstacles. (In reality, it is hard to tell the difference between a one hour standoff and a five minute delay, but at least I have some choice in the matter)

Google Maps suggests two different routes. One goes south of Mariestad and is a little bit longer, but most of it is on the E6 which is very nice road to drive on if you want to get anywhere fast. The other goes north and ends up on the E18 which, in spots, is a good alternative. E18 is a little shorter, but my experience is that it adds at least 10-15 minutes to the drive and you more easily get stuck in traffic moving at lorry-speeds.

A man wronged by my car's satnav
So, it boils down to fast versus short? Almost. The built-in satnav nearly suggests the same routes, with one exception: It has found that going through the village of Hasselrör will cut a few yards off the total distance. There is a similar section on the Norwegian side of this route as well which I haven’t explored, but it certainly is possible to cut a few yards here as well and the satnav knows it all too well.

What the built-in satnav lacks is the option of “short, but still reasonably sane”. I once took years off dear Swade’s life expectancy by choosing ‘short’ on our short road-trip up north in Sweden a year ago. He blames me, and I blame the satnav (maybe I should post a poll on this subject?). Luckily I think enough time has passed for us to look back on that ordeal and have a good laugh about it.

What I sometimes do now is to first select ‘short’ to get a rough idea of which direction and then select ‘fast’. Eventually it will re-calculate the ‘fast’ route properly and everybody wins. More often than not, I simply pick ‘fast’ all the way. I have a feeling this was not what the designer of the satnav intended.

The atheist with-in

On a personal note, I fancy myself as a man of science. If you have seen Santa Claus — good for you, but don’t bother telling me without some evidence to back up your observation. That said, having an entire category of POIs ripped out makes the satnav that much less useful. Yesterday, as my wife and I attended the Christening of Tompa’s daughter Ellen, I mentioned to Ellen’s god father RobinM that I had to consult my Garmin GPS. The reason ‘why’ is that the mighty (yet small) Garmin has a category of POIs known as “Places of Worship”. In Sweden, almost every little town and hamlet features a Church. If you are going someplace new to visit someone, a good place to start is “well, I found the church, now where do I go next?”.

This has nothing to do with the user’s personal faith (or lack thereof). Just another practical tool in the navigator’s tool-box.

Custom POIs

…a problem easily solved by adding your own custom POIs. Not so with the built-in satnav. I have yet to figure out how to accomplish this task which by all means should be a simple requirement.

My preferable choice of fuel is E85. There are people out there who collects POIs showing the location of E85 pumps all around Europe. I have such a list on my Garmin, but not in my car’s built-in satnav.

Or how about an updated list of POIs for speed traps? (that information should ideally pop up in the HUD btw)


In the ‘vehicle’ category of POIs, there is a sub-category known as “GM”. This is where you will find your local Saab-dealership. I guess Saab did not have much time to adapt this generic GM satnav system to the 9-5. This is a very minor niggle, but one that had me a little bit stumped nonetheless.

Early onset of Alzheimer’s

Want to enter a new address? My satnav always suggest Belgium as the default country. It doesn’t matter that I usually enter addresses in Sweden or that both me and the car is currently in the middle of Sweden and has been for the last week or so. Still it figures out a good place to start is Belgium. I have no idea why Belgium is the first choice. Why not Austria (alphabetically A comes before B)?

Mix this with its inability to remember what album it was playing, and any doctor would be excused for concluding the unit is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Insisting on driving through hamlets like an old person would be apt to doing pretty much seals the deal.

BTW: The first track on the built-in drive is (I can’t get no) Satisfaction. The parentheses, of course, means this song is first in the sort order. (more on that later)

The reset can come at any time. Even just stopping to refuel the car can be enough to reset the satnav. (curiously enough: I have never seen it forget a destination or waypoint)


Last summer my wife and I headed to Georgia through Turkey. One of the problems that presented itself was the satnav’s complete unfamiliarity with European countries like Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. In Hungary we were apparently driving around a big magic flat field that did not contain any features whatsoever, let alone a road.

Eventually even the satnav got bored with this, so when we left Hungary it showed a fancy compass needle that was actually more helpful but still a bit short of what I needed. Again my old Garmin came out of the pocket and saved the day.


Meanwhile, back in the old country, more and more roads pop out of nowhere. There are now two places in Sweden where the satnav thinks I have been driving 110-120 kph off-road. SU has been in touch with Saab Parts AB and we hope to have a meeting with them shortly. This will be one of the questions I hope we will get to the bottom of.

Speed and altitude

Altitude information can be useful
My Garmin, btw, can also give a more accurate speed reading than the car’s own speedometer. This however seems to be largely fixed now that I have 19” wheels, but more testing remains. I would love for the built-in unit to give me some feedback of various speeds measured.

I have yet to discover what altitude we are at. Our recent road-trip through Norway left us without the answer to “just how high up are we now?” when looking down at a waterfall. We had left our Garmin at home which turned out to be a rookie mistake.

A good satnav should not only be able to tell you how to get to your destination. It should also be able to give you some simple facts of where you are at right now. It is not without reason that every train station in Norway is marked not only with the name of the station but also its altitude. Tourists want to know. It is part of the whole mountain-trekking experience. Would you climb mount Kilimanjaro without remembering how high up you came? (It was 5895 meters — I’ve checked)

Comparing notes

My Garmin comes with a lot of software for my PC. One of the features I recently found useful was that it stores track information. The track information gives you a rough idea of where you have been driving when, at what speeds and altitude. When and where exactly did you stop for that lovely dinner after having filled up on gasoline? No worries, your hand-held GPS knows the answers to those questions. Just remember to transfer this information often.

The inept DJ

The satnav also controls my modest MP3 collection. I am an avid fan of The Rolling Stones and nearly all their songs (both live and studio versions) have been ripped from my CD collection.

A few problems have surfaced:

  1. Ripping CDs on my PC and simply copying the .mp3 files to the satnav resulted in the player messing up the track order. The player insists on playing the tracks alphabetically and not in the album order.
  2. Not able to figure out what id3 tags to resort to, I then ripped all my CDs in-situ. It now plays any one album just fine, but fails to continue playing the next album. It gets stuck playing the same album over and over again…
  3. I then switched to “shuffle mode”, preferring a random track over being forced to switch albums manually, which is a half-decent workaround…
  4. …until it forgets and simply starts playing the first song found on the drive.

Workaround: Put your collection on a USB-stick together with playlists. You will forfeit a USB socket (I have heard there are two USB sockets, but I have only managed to find one?), but at least it will stick with the playlists. However, at some point it will probably forget just where in those playlists it was, so I consider this a partial workaround at best.

In case of an emergency

In case of an accident, the satnav seems prone to display just the big Saab logo. One would think it more useful to display the last known coordinates (altitude information would also be nice…). I have yet to find this information anywhere, but I’m sure it is there someplace. It has to be, right? After all, the 9-5 will automatically start the emergency blinkers in case of the driver stepping on the brakes hard. Should it not also assume the driver may want to call and tell someone where he is at that point?


As I recall, the built-in satnav cost 15000 SEK (about 2000 USD). You can get awfully many modern Garmins and Tom-Toms for that price. A map update has yet to surface (though this being a GM sourced unit, one would think a Buick update would fit the bill) so it is difficult to say how much an update will cost. Updates for the previous generation 9-5’s satnav were quite expensive however, again costing more than what a stand-alone satnav unit would cost complete with hardware and a lifetime of upgrades.

The big redeeming feature is the HUD integration. As you approach an intersection or off-ramp, a big arrow appears together with a progress bar. Unless you are wearing polarized sunglasses you will find it difficult to miss your exit. I still sometimes struggle a bit with the graphics used to show where to go in a roundabout, but for roundabouts with four exits or less it usually gets the job done.

The IQON system promised to be a huge step in the right direction to address issues such as these. Maybe they would not have bundled the right navigation software out of the box, but Saab talked about letting people update it with trusted third-party software. I sincerely hope the good (ex-)engineers at Saab get a decent chance to finish the good work they started.

In the US, my 9-5’s nav continues to revert to Washington DC, no matter what state I’ve programmed in last. It’s got the other typical ailments that plague to system right now (clock an hour off, ‘cancel guidance’ being an option when you haven’t programmed anything, etc.), and I let my dealer know. They recently came back to me with a solution that they have tested on other 9-5s … I understand it fixes the clock issue … will have to see about the rest. I’ll get up there in June. They had to go to a GM dealer and… Read more »

Ah, lots of good information, thanks E!

The clock issue was mentioned on the NG 9-5 owner facebook group, but I’ve never experienced that myself.

Very interesting/encouraging that the 9-4X’s satnav behaves better.

BTW: Washington DC? Is the clue here that the satnav picks the political hub of the continent you are currently in? (Brussels is, arguably, the political centre of Europe)

For importing POIs, which data format did you use? (or are we talking past eachother? I am aware you can enter favorites one-by-one, but that is insufficient for what I need)


I think you may be onto something regarding the political hub … haha!

Yes … for the POIs, I was talking about one-on-one inputs. However, I know I got all kinds of gas stations within an x mile radius a few times … but that was when my fuel light came on and the nav did that automatically for me. It was really cool to see. I’ll have to fool around with the POI feature some more … been too busy driving. 😉

Again, great post.

Well, if you start by pressing the “Dest” button, you are half-way there. On the menu that presents itself, there should be a “place of interest” or similar. I forget the wording. You will be presented with a list of categories, one is “vehicle” (or something to that effect) and one of its sub-categories is “fuel stations”. At this point it will present the ones nearest you, but there is a “near…” button there I think which lets you select a different location where your target resides. It can be very useful to find a particular restaurant or parking facilities… Read more »

Re; when my fuel light came on and the nav did that automatically for me. It was really cool to see

Oh, for the joy of walking 10 miles with a fuel can……
Sorry Guys could not resist!!…

Come back SAAB, all is forgiven…………..



I think a lot of this comes down to how much one wants to depend on technology vs doing things yourself. You know the roads between Mariestad and Oslo. Why do you need the satnav? If you don’t know the roads, then you don’t know any better and will get what you get (like our side trip from Skelleftea!) – sometimes it’ll be good and sometimes not. I’ve always been a bigger fan of portable satnavs vs built-in units, for the reasons you cover here. More easily updated and customised. More flexible. Until built-in units go web-based, they’ll always be… Read more »

Thank you Steven, after our trip I’ve never played my Pink on the stereo, very good point Rune should listen to you! :))))

Cheers Swade! 🙂 Well, there are two reasons to plot even the familiar courses. One I mentioned (it will show relevant traffic messages) and the other is the ETA. I find it comforting to know at what time I will be home and even better when I see that time decreasing. (I wish the built-in unit would simply show the time of arrival rather than how many hours left) As for the technology lagging a step behind, I bought my Garmin early 2008 and my 9-5 late 2010. There had been more than two years to catch up, and many… Read more »

You can show time of arrival, at least on the older 9-5’s built-in satnav… how to make it do that, is written in the least read book in the world, the user-manual! 😉


With high quality free Satnav built into most phones these days I dont see why Saab can’t provide a good cheap experience to users in the future ( providing things go ok that is). I’ve got a $300 Nokia lumia 710 and the free navigation is great and updated all the time. Maybe Saab could cooperate with their Finnish neighbours.

belgian_roadster from Eupen, DG

Not only the US GM dealers are able to do an update to your NAV system.
Here in Belgium the dealerships also received an USB Memory Stick to fix some troubles.
Can’t remember what troubles, but it was specified inside the Service information (SI), that it has to be used only for the specified troubles written in the SI.
Hope this helps!

Bravada from GMI
That’s a really nice write-up, very enjoyable to read. If anybody would ever get down to restarting Saaba, I hope what they do first is read this and similar articles! The basic reason the satnav in the 9-5 is crappy US that it us NAVTEQ, an old public enemy brought about by GM. You are right in that they have little competition, once they land a contract for a platform it’s very hard to get rid of them. That’s why I like what Renault and Fiat did, teaming up with TomTom and offering built-in versions of their portable units (in… Read more »

Thanks for the kind words Bravada! It is good to see you old-timers are still around.

“once they land a contract for a platform it’s very hard to get rid of them” — your statement conjures up some rather disturbing mental images for me. 🙂 Somebody call the pest control guys!


Frankly I really don’t know what this “infotainment” is that people keep going on about, I looked in my Funk & Wagnall’s dictionary and it doesn’t even seem to be a real word!

In any event, I’m perfectly happy just having a radio and tape player and don’t much care for the idea of some sputnik in outer space tracking my movements via GPS.

Allan B
Rune, yours is an interesting tale. I do about 30,000km a year in my line of work, much of it spent travelling to places I have never been to before. Some observations: The way the infotainment system handles your MP3s sounds a bit irritating. It would drive me up the wall. I’m a Stones fan too, but I like to have my stray cats and fortune tellers in an order of my choosing, if you know what I mean. May I suggest you use a decent portable audio device with a good interface (I have a 20GB Creative Zen, which… Read more »
Always good to see another Stones fan! 🙂 Funny you should mention the Fortune Teller. I have been playing it a lot more after I started using the ‘Shuffle’ mode. Stray Cat Blues is ususally more my thing, heralding the start of the Stones’ best period (Beggars Banquet, Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers). As I alluded to in my posting, there is a USB socket (two?) present that supports the iPod with great success. It will let the iPod decide which tracks are played, while charging the iPod. I have not tried other MP3 players yet, but I have… Read more »
Allan B
Hey … did you miss out Let It Bleed intentionally? No, thought not. As it happens many of my favourite stones songs are mid-60s ones like The Last Time, Satisfaction and Paint It, Black – but you are dead right that from Jumpin’ Jack Flash to Tumblin’ Dice is the golden age. I remember reading that opinion from Philip Norman and Greil Marcus – and who are we to disagree? If only JJF had been included on BB and the rocking version of Honky-tonk Women was on LIB and maybe they cut one or two of the more yawnsome blues… Read more »
…but I need the entire album! I do not know why, but I prefer listening to the entire album rather than the odd selected track. Habit I suppose, but I like to think it helps add another dimension to the experience. LIB sometimes end up in my blind spot. I find ‘Country Honk’ quite endaering in its own way. Of course, the background story of how they recorded that fiddle, helps. Maybe it is Parachute Woman that kind of gets to me? The theme feels a bit dodgy to me now that I’m a married man. 🙂 But yeah, everything… Read more »

I use a good old fashioned road map and some common sense.

Angelo V.

Given a choice, I will never have a factory navigation system in my car again—unless something happens in the future that makes a factory, in-dash NAV so much better than today. I’d rather they devote the space to something else—-extra cup holders maybe! Seriously—-the expensive factory navigation system in my Toyota Prius company car doesn’t work nearly as well as the hundred dollar Magellan portable NAV I purchased. That one moves from car to car—-on vacation, I can even walk around the city with it—-works better too.

I have a five year old 9-5 Combi Anniversary with Sat Nav:- I guess it’s the previous system to the one discussed here (Has auto CD player in boot.) Disk is now obviously out-of-date as I encounter roundabouts not on the system and traffic light junctions where roundabouts used to be. I daren’t ask the cost of an updated disk (seem to recall the dealer telling me it was £400+) It does do some odd things though, that must be connected with the quality of the data used in the original programming. Within two miles of my home, when travelling… Read more »
BMW Rider

I find the sat nav in my ’11 9-5 to be OK, at least it gets me where I am going when I do use it for that. The problem with the car without the nav system is that the standard 9-5 radio looks totally out of place in a car of this class/price range.

I’m more worried now about not ever seeing and update for the 9-5 nav system. All inquiries to both GM and Navteq have been a dead end.

Angelo V.

Duct tape and a Garmin, Magellan or Tom Tom will correct that.

Tom Ryner

Nice piece Rune!

Good thing you brought your Garmin with you. You and Anna were the first on-site at the church. 🙂
Thanks for being there and thank you for Ellens guardian angel!!!
Lets hope we get to chat a bit more next time we see eachother…

Ps. I’d be a fool not to buy a TomTom Ds.

Pavel Chanov
I saw that you mentioned Bulgaria. Our problem with the satnav is even worse! There are no maps for Eastern Europe for 9-3ss MY 2006 and around that year. I don’t have observations on the 9-5 here but I assume they have the same problem. I bought my car from Hamburg, Germany and was shocked to see what followed after Austria on the map – a HUGE milky green medow! 😀 I know about attempts to insert DVDs from MAZDA and Range Rover but the GM guys did their job and the DVD’s were not compatible. But I love the… Read more »
I have tried asking around, and to the best of my knowledge there are no EE maps for the NG 9-5 either. Although I am frustrated with the satnav vendors, I also get the feeling that eastern european governments have not (until recently) been too happy about letting us westerns know where to drive? Or maybe it is just a question of someone locally getting the technology up and running to convert existing maps to whatever formats required by the more international map vendors? Whatever challenges there were (or still are), ideally Saab should have been pro-active in this area.… Read more »
Pavel Chanov

I’ve heard that it may be possible to “hack” the car’s computer and install Linux OS thus enabling the driver to use another navigation software.
I seriously doubt that it is government’s fault. I guess that the low number of sales in our region made the decision for GM. As far as I know Serbia doesn’t have a local dealer and as of April 2012 Bulgaria doesn’t either. Neverthless the number of Bulgarian fans grows!

Well, I have had quite some difficulties getting EE maps for my Garmin. It was not until quite recently that maps appeared for Georgia? I went to Serbia in 2008 and it was my distinct impression (from comments spotted around the net at the time) that the maps on offer were rather new (the maps were great though, except that in Belgrade it wanted me to first drive to Bulgaria and turn back so I could use the exit on the opposite side of the road). I dunno. It is just that when I grew up, most of us kept… Read more »

Methink: Get rid of built-in navigation! (more bloody biased opinion on swadeology re the new Saab)