Saab 9-5 SU review – part 2 – Aero V6 XWD on the road

Jetlag is still kicking my backside, so I’m re-posting this to allow it to breathe a little longer. New content tomorrow.

Related content: Part 1 of the SU review of the new Saab 9-5

This has been at least 5 years in the making. Saab is said to have had a new 9-5 ready mid-decade but that vehicle was cancelled at the say-so of Bob Lutz (yes, I name names) and so the old faithful 9-5 was forced to carry on for another 5 years. Owners were asked to lease yet another vehicle – sometimes their third or fourth car of the same series. As rock-solid as the 9-5 became, a replacement was long overdue.

An all-new Saab flagship vehicle is a rare thing. The last all-new Saab from Sweden was back in late 2002. The last all-new flagship was late 1997 and prior to that it was in the early-mid 1980’s. I don’t want to overplay the sense of occasion, but this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. Add to that the backstory about Saab’s survival against rather overwhelming odds and this really was a big day for a Saab enthusiast.

I started my Saab 9-5 launch experience with a day behind the wheel of the V6 Aero XWD model. This car has the high-feature V6 engine, assembled in Australia as it has been for the Saab 9-3 in the past. This engine is tweaked a little more so as to extract 300hp and 400Nm. That engine is matched to a six speed automatic with a manual mode that you can operate either via the shifter itself (slide it across) or via the flappy paddles on the steering wheel.

This V6 Aero had the XWD system and eLSD fitted, which means it also had the HiPerStrut front suspension and linked H-bar rear suspension.

HiPerStrut is a new dynamic system that delivers benefits similar to a double-wishbone layout. It’s Saab’s top-of-the-line suspension layout and is only available on the V6 XWD models at the moment. The H-arm rear suspension brings significant improvements in terms of reduced vibration and greater roadholding.

Whilst similar systems can be found on occasional other models from General Motors, all of the geometry and bushings found in the 9-5 are specific to the 9-5 only.

If Saab were looking for this new suspension setup to deliver a smooth, quiet ride in the new V6 Aero then they definitely succeeded. There’s a little bit of tyre noise present, but that’s about all you get. The V6 Aero struck me as being a similar driver to the Saab 9000 – a very capable vehicle that’s perfectly suited to long distance driving. Such is the smoothness of the V6, the quietness of the cabin and the comfort of the ride.

That V6 might be quiet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working. In fact, this engine’s characteristics brought Saab 9000 comparisons to my mind once again during my test drive. The Saab 9000 Aero was said to accelerate between passing speeds faster than a Ferrari Testarossa. Like its 1990’s predecessor, this car is lightning between 80km/h and 120 km/h (and well beyond). It’s super-smooth and seamless in delivering its power and the automatic transmission, combined with Saab’s Drivesense real-time damping and throttle control, can deliver either total comfort or ear-pinning acceleration.

The Drivesense system deserves a special mention here. Saabs have long had a Sport Mode button on them. This system is the evolution of Sport Mode to the next level. It has three settings – sport (more aggressive damping, throttle and steering response), comfort (less aggressive, more economical) and intelligent (responding to driving inputs). The intelligent mode is the party piece here, responding quickly but truly intelligently to the way you drive. If you start to hit the gas with intent, it will increase the responsiveness of the car, but if you’re on a bend, for example, it will delay heightening the steering response until such a time that heightened response doesn’t pose a risk in terms of unexpected change whilst steering is actively engaged.

On the B-roads leading into Trollhattan, I had the chance to test out the flexibility and acceleration of the V6 engine. In a few words, it’s breathtakingly fast. The only criticism I could muster is that perhaps the car is a little too refined for enthusiasts to really feel the sheer pace and strength of this car.

Perhaps that’s due in part to the lack of a manual gearshift. The automatic gearbox really is quite good. In manual mode and controlled with the flappy paddles, the transmission processes gearchanges a lot quicker than my previous experience with Saab paddle-boxes (from earlier 9-3s and 9-5s). Having also driven a 2.0T version of this car fitted with a manual gearbox, however, I have to admit that like many of you, I’d love to have a fully manual shifter on this car.

I’ve mentioned a lot of positives about this car already and there’s more I could delve into. The electronics, for example, including satnav, audio and trip computer controls, are the best I’ve ever seen in a Saab and are a credit to the team that designed and implemented them. I’ve written more about those in part 1 of this review.

The real jewel in the crown of this car, as with the Turbo X before it, is the XWD system fitted to it. This system is still a class leader and its implementation in the Saab 9-5 means that a somewhat heavy 5-meter long car holds the road like a new lover. The analogy mentioned to me was one of a car running on skis, cutting into the snow as the skier corners. It really is an accurate description. It offers not only outstanding traction and therefore superior handling for spirited driving, it’s also one of the most important safety features the car offers, especially if you live in a climate that brings slippery conditions in the colder months.

If you haven’t watched my video of the Saab 9-5 on the Hellerad handling track yet, then I can highly recommend it. That video will show you what this 9-5 can do on a soaking wet track, cornering violently at speeds over 100 km/h (it also gives a good demonstration of the DriveSense system).

The interior of the V6 XWD Aero, aside from the dashboard issue that’s been mentioned several times already in speaking about this car, is a very nice place to spend your time. My car had premium perforated leather seats that were both heated and ventilated. The Aero steering wheel has a slightly flat-bottomed edge and is perfect in thickness and diameter – something that was noticeably absent from the superb 2.0T.

The car had a large array of electronic gadgets including premium sound (which is very, very good), intuitive USB connection for carrying your own music, the best and clearest SatNav system I’ve ever seen and a collection of useful goodies like Advanced Parking Assist (I didn’t try it), Traffic Sign Recognition and the very useful Head-Up Display.

In summary, this new Saab 9-5 V6 XWD Aero offers no end of significant improvements for large Saab aspirants. The HiPerStrut and H-arm suspension, the smoother and more powerful V6, the XWD system and DriveSense all combine with an intuitive and beautifully integrated electronics package to deliver a superior driving experience.

Is it perfect? Not yet.

The dashboard needs some trim to elevate the interior experience to one that matches the driving experience.

Some might also find this car a little too heavy. It certainly feels a little heavier than the 2.0T and consequently, a little less engaging despite the superior acceleration and handling characteristics. The work that’s been done to quieten the cabin might make some people feel a little removed from the driving experience. The exhaust note is quite delightful when you can actually hear it, for example.

But these are largely subjective matters. I’m an enthusiast and like to drive in a certain way. Many of the people who will look to buy this car will have longer commutes and will appreciate the comfort, power and amenity of this car for what it is – the best Saab that they’ve ever bolted together.

As mentioned in part 1 of this review, Saab have not yet built the perfect car, but what they’ve done this year is debut the perfect launchpad for a new company.

It’s a superb vehicle by any standards.

My thanks to Charlie, Saab’s contracted photographer, for the images used in this review.

Disclosure: As with MSM journalists present, I attended the Saab 9-5 launch in Trollhattan, Sweden, at the invitation of Saab Automobile and at their cost.

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