Robin M, often referred to here as Saab’s unofficial ambassador to the UK, recently enjoyed a chance to pilot a new Saab 9-5 for a little while.
Given the opportunity for a long-ish test, many would be inclined to take the car for a drive in the country, maybe a number of trips to the shops. Robin packed up the family – wife Kerry and daughter Azabeth – picked up a couple of friends and went to Switzerland for IntSaab.
Here’s their story:
Our adventure started on the Monday evening when our Fjord Blue 9-5 arrived, ready to take us to the Saab International in Switzerland. The planned route was via the tunnel and down the side of France, crossing into and out of Belgium via Luxembourg and entering into Switzerland, from France just north of Neuchâtel.
This test drive was going to be an endurance event – a fully loaded car with five people and a boot full of luggage.
Okay, back to the Monday evening and a quick look around the car to get myself familiarised with the layout.
I had sat in many new 9-5s, but this was the first with the steering wheel on the ‘correct’ side. This model has no key to start the engine. Instead, a starter button is positioned between the two front seats. A good safety feature on this car is the fact that you need to put your foot on the clutch before the engine will fire. I think more car manufacturers should adopt this practice. With the seat adjusted and mirrors positioned I pressed the button and the 160bhp diesel fired into life.
Francine is the name we gave to the computer for the journey. As we were going to be spending a lot of time in French speaking countries we thought giving it a name a nice touch.
This new 9-5 is so well insulated, you do not realise you have a diesel under the bonnet. The next bit of pulling away was new to me; an electronic hand brake. Francine told me to put my foot on the brake before she would let me drive away. Mission accomplished and I was on my way over to the other side of Yeovil to see Alex. We were interested to see what it was like compared to his Mondeo. Alex is not short of height so we adjusted the seat to fit him and took it for a short spin into the country. Nothing but positives was mentioned as we cruised along: the comfort of the seats, the response of the engine, and the visibility as you looked forward as well as the ease of reaching for the items you need while driving. All in all, good reviews from Alex.
Tuesday morning we were up with the larks to get the car ready for the great adventure. Two big suitcases, two holdalls, enough shoes for a year, rain coats, cool box, and a box of gifts for our hosts were all piled into the enormous boot space. This was great because it meant the cabin space would be free of clutter which helps a journey of this scale no end.
Azzy had her space in the middle, Kerry and I seated in the front. After picking up Clive and Jill we were on the road heading for Folkestone. Once on the A303 and in 6th gear we were cruising and enjoying the aforementioned comfort of the new Saab seats. The gear box is very positive and the gear changes were very precise. Our Saab was running on 17in wheels and followed the road fantastically and we found the new 9-5 was so enjoyable to drive that we felt we had been driving it for months.
Whilst this new model is considerably bigger than the previous generation, and some say too big, we felt the seize was right for an executive car. The acceleration was fantastic for a diesel and steering so positive you could, if you wanted, drive it with one finger.
Before we knew it we were at the Euro Tunnel and ahead of schedule. Plenty of time to have a cuppa and a cake. We returned to the car park to find a few people were admiring the new Saab, some of them having never seen one in the flesh before. All of them were saying that the New 9-5 looks far better in the flesh, or should I say metal, than in the pictures. This turned out to be a regular occurrence during the next week, one that we would enjoy a lot. Every time we stopped for a short break, people would come over and chat about the mysterious new Saab. This car was getting a lot of exposure on its journey to the Alps and back and, being a Saab loving family, we were happy to be part of it.
While travelling on the train we set up the sat-nav, which is an option in this model. The instructions were very easy to follow and we plotted our route towards Lille. Once off the train, Francine popped into life again and kept us on the straight and narrow, guiding us though the countries as we headed to the Swiss border. The instructions were very clear and accurate, and we gave her 10 out of 10 for the European part of the trip, we could not fault her.
Another new feature on the new 9-5 is a USB port in the centre storage area. This is a plug and play system and sure enough our music came over the sound system when requested. This saves taking dozens of CDs into the car. The doubled layer of the centre storage area came into its own too, we were able to keep our collection of different currencies out of sight but within reach at all times, without losing it into the depths of the main storage bin.
The rolling altimeter in the middle of the speedo is a fantastic addition to the new 9-5’s dash board. We loved it, we had it set to KPH for most of the journey and this gave us the two readings of speed. I know there are KPH digits on most British cars but this was so much easier to see at a glance. This is one item I hope stays in every Saab from here on.
Around 10pm we arrived at our overnight hotel which was only a few miles from the Swiss border. Francine had just told us she was getting thirsty! We had managed to go from Yeovil to the Swiss border on one tank of diesel! How’s that for fuel economy?
None of us got out the car feeling any fatigue whatsoever, the seats were certainly up to the standard of comfort that we are used to in our Saabs.
The next morning arrived with a very sunny start and we headed to the local Hypermarket. After giving Francine a drink and getting some provisions we were approached by some French locals interested in the strange new car. We did not realise that the new 9-5 would not be launched for another month in France and the people admiring our Saab were happy to see a real one on the roads.
The landscape had turned mountainous as we headed for the Swiss border, the sat-nav was very accurate and even with five up and a boot full of luggage the car was handling very well indeed. The steering was coming into its own, not once did we feel unsafe, it was so positive and tracked the road the way it had been designed to.
At Biaufond, we crossed over a red bridge and into Switzerland. There waiting for us was Fred, our Swiss friend in his 9-3 Convertible. The next couple of days was spent sight seeing in the Neuchâtel area, including wine tasting and tobogganing and of course showing off the New 9-5. The car was already on sale in Switzerland and people had witnessed it in the showrooms, but seeing one in a car park was still a treat for them.
On the Friday we travelled across to St Gallen to visit Manfred and the Hirsch development centre. Most of you will know that Hirsch are a tuning company for Saab. We were shown around the buildings and saw many items that Hirsch had been and were working on. They even had an identical 9-5 to ours but with many things missing, ‘all in the name of development.’ We were fed and watered while there and would like to thank Manfred and his team for their fantastic hospitality.
We said our goodbyes and along with Germans, Swedes, Russians and Dutch to name but a few we headed for Interlaken to join up with the International Saab meeting hosted by the Swiss Saab Club. Crossing Switzerland is no quick drive and eventually we made it to Interlaken. You know you must be getting there as the road gradient get steeper and the corners tighter, but that was not a problem for us and we travelled along as if on rails.
We did encounter a lot of rain so a nice feature on this Saab is the automatic rain sensor. I was so impressed with this option that I left it on all the time. Another item I enjoyed was the cruise control; this was a real boom, especially in road works where you have to keep to the working limit. It’s very easy to set and use and also saved on any speeding tickets.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Interlaken was to locate our hotel and have some food before heading to the main event to meet up with the other English people we knew would be there. We also met up with Margrit Guldbrandsen who presented us with our welcome pack and a few extra chocolates for Azabeth.
Quite a few hundred Saabs would be at the show over the weekend and the local dealers had a variety of new 9-5’s for the purpose of demonstrations and test drives, ours was the only private (sort of) new 9-5 and we parked amongst the lines of other Saabs in the main show. Francine got a lot attention; she was the only dark blue one there and certainly the only right hand drive version to be seen.
Sunday afternoon soon came around and, after seeing our hosts win a prize for their Saab 99, we bid everyone good bye and drove towards Wilderswil to take a look at the giant waterfalls. It was here that it started to rain and did not really stop for the next 27 hours. Our route out of Switzerland also included the Susten Pass and although we did not get many of the spectacular views that can be seen on a clear day, we certainly knew we were climbing. Our speed averaged around 20 mph as we climbed and climbed, corner after corner, not once feeling out of control inside our sound proofed and water tight Saab. We even saw a herd of cows being milked on the side of the mountain just before we reached the top.
The roof of the mountain was to be found as we exited a long misty tunnel, there was a break in the cloud and we were able to see a bit of road and a very steep drop down. The only thing stopping you going over the edge were the occasional blocks of stone. The journey down the Susten Pass was a lot quicker than the drive up. Although we did stop for a few photos now and then, getting soaked while jumping in and out the car, but the heated seats soon dried us off. Back at base level we put the car in cruise and headed for Germany.
When we crossed the border we had a few kilometres where we could try out the full acceleration and managed to get 130mph on one occasion. This was smooth and steady and remember we were five up. There was absolutely no wobble on the wheels and we all felt as safe as houses. Once mission accomplished it was down to 80mph until the French border and Mulhouse for the night.
Once we checked into our hotel, we asked Francine to find us a petrol station and a restaurant. Again 100%, this system on the continent is first class and if you are driving abroad I would recommend it as an option.
Our final morning in Mainland Europe started with rain just as it ended the night before, but as we were in no rush to get away, Clive and I went to see the museum that Mulhouse is famous for, The Schlumpf Collection. If you are in this region of France it is well worth the visit. We only had a couple of hours but you could easily spend half a day there.
Lunchtime came and it was time to reload our Saab with all the cases and extras we had purchased while away and head north. Half the route was A roads, the other half, motorway. When we joined the motorway system the heavens opened all the more but the stability of our Saab was so fantastic that we were able to cruise along at speeds of 80mph with no worries at all. My passengers in the back said they would be very happy to be chauffeured around in this car all the time; it would be a great addition to any chauffeuring company.
Before too long we were in Calais and heading for the tunnel, our time abroad in the New 9-5 was at an end, we were ushered into our carriage and speedily taken to the UK. Even as we headed towards our last hours with our Saab friends, they were wanting to chat about our experiences of this last week, to take a seat and to try it out, and talk about the new and improved innovations that had come out of this reborn factory in Trollhättan.
At 10am Tuesday morning our beautiful Saab 9-5 was picked up. I had just finished cleaning her out when the kind gentleman from Saab arrived to take her back to Luton. It had been a great week and a great experience. Before we left Yeovil just over a week previously I cleared the fuel reading memory and when I checked it again, we had averaged 45mpg and driven just under 2,000 miles (That’s 37mpg US). 45mpg with five people on fast motorways, though many town centres and up and down mountains is a fantastic achievement for such a large car. We were very pleased with the overall performance and would happily recommend this 2.0l diesel to anyone.
Our biggest thanks go to David Pugh, who was very kind to arrange all this for us and to give us this great opportunity. But also a thank you to ‘Francine’ who kept us comfortable and safe at all times and who made the whole journey a truly great experience.
Thank you, Francine. I wonder what she is called now!