Vi Bilägare Crowns 9-5 Winter Driving King

Respected Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare recently tested 5 very different cars in a head to head comparison to see what car best handles Swedish winter roads. Unsurprisingly to us (but surprising to them), the Saab 9-5 not only performed well in a variety of snowy, slushy, cold conditions, but was actually fun to drive while doing so. They were happy to report that their long term 9-5 test vehicle hasn’t had any issues since it first had an unfortunate software malfunction which left them stranded (and very unhappy) on the side of the road. Since then, Saab issued a fix and the problem hasn’t resurfaced. That they were able to give the car top billing after an early production glitch is a good sign of their character as auto journalists.

Anyone who drives this car comes away impressed, whether they try a 2.0T or Aero V6. When I recently spoke with my dealer’s owner, he said he had to turn in his 9-5 Aero demo because he got 2 speeding tickets in a matter of weeks. This is in snowy upstate New York, where we get on average 100″+ of snow. If you haven’t tested a 9-5 yet and you’re even remotely in the market for one, get to your dealer and try one out. I don’t need to sell you on it, the car sells itself. Full translation of the article after the break.

DRIFTING SNOW and Arctic cold were waiting for us when we test drove five new long term test cars, putting them through every winter driving scenario we could think of. A week in the Dala mountains revealed how capable our vehicles are in a harsh winter climates. The winner was unexpected, but the Saab 9-5 was without a doubt the best in the snow.

Sweden experienced its coldest December in 150 years and if only all of our new long test cars been delivered in time, we could have simply done our winter test in Stockholm. But the team wasn’t delivered until January, when all five cars were fitted with studded winter tires.

Then, winter suddenly paused. The roads in central Sweden were transformed into salty slush which is more suitable for testing a carwash than performance on snow.

A day’s journey to the northwest, we found the climate we needed. Outside the Mora’s, the road salt disappeared and when we went to the Dalecarlia mountains, Highway 70 became dry, icy and slippery – just the way we wanted it! Our destination was Grövelsjön where we found a base station for a host of hungry car testing. Storsätra Mountain Hotel has a place in the White Guide which lists Sweden’s best restaurants.

Between Stockholm and Grövelsjön is about 50 mil – ie ten mil in each of the test cars. When we arrived we had little idea about how the test week would turn out.

“There is no obvious winter winner,” said Tommy Wahlstrom.

Constant ESP-blink

It was safe to say that we would have a hard time ranking these five cars. Our new long term test cars are safe, well equipped and comfortable. But they’re not without annoying features: The driver of the Dacia Duster ended up on the wire – literally – behind their colleagues on the winding road between Idre and Grövelsjön.

The high Dacia was not fun to drive on the slippery road. The ESP light blinking at nearly every turn and the car felt inclined cable, shaky and generally unsafe.

Listening to the radio was a way to pass the time during the long, monotonous miles on the way up to Mora. But the one in the Ford C-Max made it hard to find good stations.

“I gave up,” said Micke Schultz after he unsuccessfully tried to find his way around all the buttons on the center console.

Our Opel Meriva held its place in the queue but not without effort. The driver was often downshifting to keep up. There are no big strengths in its diesel engine.

“It was a long time since I felt that a car is under powered, but the Meriva is, although it has 95 horses,” said Hakan Bäcklund.

Some complaints were heard on the Meriva’s engine but not from the Volvo V60, whose 1.6-liter turbo and the automatic transmission Powershift box work together seamlessly. At the most crooked road sections, the Volvo left the other test cars far behind.

But when plowing became worse and the road was covered with snow-tracks, the Volvo stumbled. The V60 has unwavering stability on hard ground, but has a hard time finding a foothold in powder.

Our 9-5 appeared indifferent to the road conditions. Everyone was impressed by how smooth and supple it ran. But the question was whether 9-5 would manage the entire test week without getting into trouble. Thankfully we haven’t had any trouble with of our car since its computer malfunctioned in our early tests last year, and among other things at one point wouldn’t start. [Saab fixed this problem with very early production runs and hasn’t encountered it since, the car has been rock solid since.]

We still felt a bit insecure that we were 19 mil from the nearest Saab Workshop in Mora.

Dense and hot-tempered packed snow

Our winter test is to examine the car’s characteristics on slippery and slushy road conditions, through darkness and cold weather. In Grövelsjön we got everything we could wish for. Dala Fells showed off its most stubborn side.

We brought a lively buzzing Bobcat to shovel snow from the parking lot on the very first morning. There were five igloos, covered with a couple of inches of new snow. It was a pure training session to sweep and scrape clean the cars before the days tests.

Usually we use most of the sunny days for tests and shoots, but the snowy skies hid most of the light. It seemed tight and tense the first test day.

“Packed snow.” explained Norrlanders Micke.

We fled into the hotel’s well-organized workshop to examine the cars a bit closer. In winter it is especially important that all lights and electrical functions work. But if one bulb goes out or a fuse blows, it can be both expensive and inconvenient to repair on some models. Unfortunately it happened to our team’s mechanic Erik Rönnblom.

On the Opel Meriva, he used all his might to remove the glove box door, which conceals the battery fuse. It was impossible and was eventually a job for a specialized workshop.

The Volvo V60 forced Erik to fold himself into the boot to try so he could reach and change the rear light bulb. It would definitely be too crowded and difficult for an amateur mechanic without special tools.

The Ford C-Max snaked him on his back on the floor but still managed to not allow access to the fuses behind the glove box.

“In some cars, you need to be an acrobat to do small jobs that should be simple,” he sighed. “And instruction books seldom give any useful guidance. There usually shouldn’t be anything crowded or that you sometimes have to remove other components just to say, change a lamp.”

Two cars were in all cases accepted for their serviceability.

“Dacia’s may be outdated in many ways, but they’re logical,” said Erik. And the Saab admirably makes it smart and easy to change light bulbs and fuses.

When we opened the hood of the Saab 9-5 we had a pleasant surprise. A cleverly placed rubber strip protects the engine from road dirt. The two-liter turbo was neat as new, even though the car had over 500 miles.

Hissed like steam engines

The abundant snowfall moved away during the night and with the eastern blue dawn, we could see the North Star in a clear sky. As night turned into morning, it was the coldest and then we loaded the cars with thermometers. A rapidly rising and generous interior heat is one of the most important qualities that make a good Winter Car.

Our two Swedish long-term test cars are powered by gasoline engines, the rest with diesels. Heat tests showed clear differences in the two types of engines. Although diesels have electric heaters help, it took much longer for them to heat the interior air, although fans of the Ford C-Max and Dacia Duster hissed like steam engines.

We often reduced the Ford’s temperature down to 18 degrees to quiet the climate control’s irate fan.

When the sun finally came up over a sparkling mountain Simon Hamelius jumped out with his camera to play photographer. He put on his snowshoes and ran into the wild to create some beautiful images. The rest of us huddled in our cars and watched his antics with tripods, flashes, batteries and screens.

The temperature crept slowly to the 20 line, making sure every driver enjoyed our warm cars.

100 icy miles

Grövelsjön is just a few miles from the border with Norway. We made many visits to our neighbors during our cruises over högfjällsplatån. From the border it’s called path 221 and passes through Hedmark to the small community Elgå – a couple lovely miles, through white winter roads that we could attack without being disturbed by other traffic.

Mile after mile, our checklists were filled and after more than 1500 kilometers of driving in wintry roads, we finished.

January sun painted the mountain forest with gold light when we headed south, with fresh snow blowing on wheels. The green temperature sensor in the 9-5 showed minus 32 degrees C in the valleys, but inside the car felt like summer heat. The Saab drove in front. Looking back, the driver saw the ugly grinning Ford C-Max and a bit further back glistened the copper coated Volvo. We drove in the right order.

The Saab 9-5 suprised and impressed us. That Saab makes cars that perform well in Swedish winters is certainly not a secret. But that the new 9-5 would be fun- composing itself faultlessly throughout the test, we hadn’t imagined. Whatever happened with virus that afflicted our car’s computer system when we first received it has been fixed- they kept it in check throughout the week.

The main point is unanimous: the Saab 9-5 is by far the most competent winter car of our five new models. Too bad so few will notice it.

19 thoughts on “Vi Bilägare Crowns 9-5 Winter Driving King”

  1. Find test odd: Dacia against a 9-5… against some Opel…makes this North American’s head spin! I read it as a curiousity piece that doesn’t influence my buying choice a whit. Maybe this is the perfect case of car cultural difference ( not easily reconciled in the New World), and yet another reason why Saab is doing reasonably well in Sweden and not even registering on this Continent.

    Expected outcome — God help us if we would have lost against that lowly group.

    What would really make me perk up is a 9-5 Aero 6 XWD vs. Merc E350 (or 550 4matic) against Audi Quattro 6 vs. 535ix (or 55O ix) (with one of the higher end Infiniti’s thrown into the mix) because that’s it’s natural compeition, no? Or at least when I come to replace the Turbo X that’s what will influence me (whether or not I can afford them!). In Canada this is what would happen in a ‘shoot-out’. Merc and BMW are running ‘Winter Driving Academies” here in the Great White North.

    Otherwise we’re shooting fish in a barrel…

    We’re priced high in Canada… an Aero 9-5 …To The Tits… is $75,000 + (never mind Hirsch) so you’re playing with Big Boys. We have to aim higher if we’re planning on siphoning off any Audi, Merc buyer etc.

    On Saab Central, 2 people that I know well (in the ‘community sense’…as I like to think I know people here) with leases running out on their Turbo X have gone to the ‘other side’ : One to a Merc 63 AMG (at $75,000 CDN)…another to an Audi S4 (at 333 HP +) and 0-60 faster than any Saab (which even Hirshed unfortunately doesn’t come close) at $60,000 (remind that 220HP 9-3 ‘Turbo X’ Edition is $50,000 + in Canada!). And he’s paying 0.9 % on Finance!!!!

    Afraid, we will tread water here for a little longer. I may pull a contrarian move (as my friend Jorgen T is about to with a 9-5) but if my decision is reflected 20 times over in Canada that would be a stretch.

    As one of our long-term poster’s writes: “Just a thought”

    • This is a special test they do from time to time, where they take 5 or 6 cars of different priceranges and types and do a long-test for a couple of years. This to see how the cars hold up in the long run. You’ll never get a comparison between cars in the same category, only a test of how completely different cars hold up during a longer period of time.

      They have normal tests as well, last year I think they had a test comparing the 9-5 to an Audi A6, VW Passat and probably a Volvo.

    • I am not qualified to comment on prices or the more financial part of your posting Mark, but I will readily agree that this was a weird test.

      They spend very little time on telling us how these vehicles behaved on the road. OK, there is the odd ESP blink, and apparently the 9-5 is smooth as butter on the road. And they made similar comments about the Ovlov as I did a few months back. (it really can only be driven on smooth roads)

      Instead we can read about changing lightbulbs. Although a part of every car owner’s life… Tell us more about the driving characteristics please!

      I also get a bit tired of hearing them go on and on about their 9-5 not starting that one time… It sounds like the same problem Arild had a while back, and someone from Saab immediately replied explaining how to resolve that particular situation. Annoying, yes, but is it something that would influence any car buyer? Is it not much more important how a car actually behaves on the road?

      • I have also had this starting problem with my new 9/5 2 times.
        I was promised to get a software upgrade last week (week 11) but I have not heard anything from them yet so I am not sure that this problem is completely solved yet.

        • BengtP, what I meant/tried to say is that I believe there is a known workaround to the problem they described.

          From the comments to “Next time this happen: Do NOT press the brake, cycle power mode to OFF with the “start/stop”-button, then press the brake and push your start/stop-button, the car will start.”

          It sounds like a problem limited to the 9-5s who comes with automatic transmission. Of course they should fix this in an update, but it doesn’t hurt to have a workaround in the mean time.

          • Thanx Rune
            I know about this workaround but still a bit disapointed that, if this is a known issue, it takes such a long time for Saab to inform us owners about the workaround and provide a fix. My 2 incidents happened near my home in the evening and not far away, in the middle of the night, with -20 C . . .

      • As I said, this is a very long test and spans over a series of articles. I’m not saying it’s a good one, but let us at least see it as what it’s meant to be.

        This article was about how the cars handled a Swedish winter and how the different cars have solved common maintanence issues. Another article, in the very same test, may very well be about how it handles on the road. And also, for many many car owners, road handling is not that important. If I’m going to spend as much money on a car as a modern car costs, i definately want to know about different issues and especially how the manufacturer handles the issues. That’s why, I think,they do these tests; to get a chance to see how the car performs in so many more aspects than can be done in a short, one-day test of a specially selected car that the manufacturer has chosen for them (these cars are bought without the pretence of being subjected to a test).

    • I get that pricing in Canada is wonky, which makes little sense to me given how the dollar is at parity right now, but in the US it’s a completely different story. You can get a loaded 9-5 for around $50K once you take into account incentives and the dealer works out a deal with you, compared to $65-70K for an equivalent BMW or Merc with the same equipment and power.

      I think Canada may just be a little behind, and they’re working on it. Come down and buy your next Saab in Buffalo and just pay the taxes, NTP 🙂 I’ll take you out for lunch, lol.

    • The magazine runs a fleet of long-termers, like many other mags do. They simply took their long-term fleet for a proper vinter test, without further consideration.

      I hope that explains why such different cars were pitched against each other.

    • NTP,

      Apparently it costs a lot of money for Saab Canada to not have a proper web site or run any advertising! It’s pretty obvious that they will have a day of reckoning, sooner rather than later.

      I still firmly believe that Canada could be one of Saab’s best markets, but that’s just not going to happen if they price their cars 25% above the competition (and above what Saab charges in other markets such as the US and UK).

      Too bad. The cars really do perform outstandingly in Canadian conditions.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more. So sad and true how Saab is failing to realize and achieve it’s potential in the Great White North.

    • They say “Sweden’s largest auto magazine” in the logo/tag line. The reporting seems pretty “consumer oriented” in general, at a glance.

    • There is a large number of people reading Vi Bilägare and I actually like that they pick up a number of cars and drives them for at least one year. They have done this for many,many years now and use the cars in their normal lifes. You will always get reports of actual problems, costs etc something you never get in a short test drive in any of the other magazines.
      Last year they had a Saab 9-3 SportCombi 1,9 TiD that they drove 12 484 (swedish) mil/ 12 4840 km.
      You can read the (not so good) end report here (In swedish):

  2. Good to hear that this test has come to positive conclusions. I was really afraid that the early incidence with the car could become a thread to 9-5 sales.

  3. And for as much as some people complain about the current Saab cars having too much GM DNA still in them, notice how many times they mention in this article the smart, intelligent features that the 9-5 had compared to the other cars (easy to access and service fuses and bulbs, the rubber strip to keep dirt out of the engine bay, etc.). Those are the little details that show the Saab engineers are still thinking about how to design intelligent cars that are also fun to drive! If they can do all that with the constraints they had working as part of GM, think what they can do now as an independent company!

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