EVO talk about British Saab 9-5 road tests

The Saab 9-5 received very good reviews except when tested by British motoring magazines. This has obviously been pretty distressing because Great Britain seems to alternate between being #2 or #3 on the Saab sales chart.

EVO were one of the few British publications to come out and proclaim an enthusiastic admiration for the Saab 9-5, so like many of us, they were wondering why the Saab 9-5 had been panned by the their countrymen.

In a piece that’s actually written about the 2011 European Car of the Year winner (the Nissan Leaf), they come up with an answer:

Other cars which weren’t on my shortlist were the Meriva (all doors and no driving delight), the Volvo (nothing outstanding here at all) and the Dacia Duster (cleverly designed to be remarkably good for something so cheap, but old in technology and hardly a Car of the Year). So my hit-rate was just three out of seven. My four that got away were the Jaguar XJ (it should have won, given the opposition, but it’s against today’s austerity mood), the Peugeot RCZ, the Nissan Juke and – a wildcard, this – the Saab 9-5.

Let me tell you about the 9-5. It felt good on the press launch in Sweden, but has been almost universally panned here on the basis of the UK-market road test cars. The combination of a lumpy, agitated ride and an overall wooden-ness of feel are the chief reasons, although some have disliked the cabin’s pervading blackness. Saab GB made the disastrous mistake of specifying its press cars with Sport suspension, big wheels and ultra-low-profile tyres, and this was the result.

Stung by the criticism, Saab converted one car to non-Sport spec. I tried this car on disintegrating UK roads and it was brilliant: crisp but fluent, agile well beyond its size, an unexpectedly capable cross-country weapon. This was the car I had in mind when I said on the launch that I’d rather have one than a new 5-series or an A6, and it was a relief not to have to change that view. It deserved its place on my shortlist, being rather more engaging than the Volvo. Sadly, perhaps because some judges hadn’t experienced the Saab in the correct form, too few others agreed with me.

Chalk it up to experience. An expensive experience, but experience nonetheless. Saab have to get these launches right, first impressions and all that.

Thanks to “Me” for the link.

What to do about the WhatCar? survey

Jon B had some comments about the WhatCar? survey published last week. Saab were condemned in this user-content survey, whilst Skoda prevailed as #1.

What does it all mean and how can we help? Jon has some ideas and suggestions.

Jon has worked in the automotive industry for some time, and as mentioned in his text he recently has a stint with Audi.

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For me the biggest issue is that the reader review section of WhatCar? will ONLY reflect the reviews of those who bother to post.

As was noted on another manufacturers enthusiast site, no-one posts about “well that’s another 1000 miles this month and nothing has gone wrong”. Generally people going on to a WhatCar? style site tend to have something on their mind.

The cars that do well (and Skoda is a prime example) tend to come from a base of low expectations, as witnessed by the frankly unfair comments about Skoda from some commenters. Skoda drivers are either lifelong enthusiasts who will defend the car to the death (does that remind you of the supporters of a certain Swedish Brand?) or newcomers genuinely astonished buy how good the car is compared to its reputation. These are the individuals who take the time to write a piece on the website spreading the gospel about their car.

On the flip side, sometimes expectations not met. Saabs (and any prestige car) are expected to perform without fault. This may be unrealistic but it happens; I certainly saw that repairing Audis. If a fault is repaired without a fuss then it is less likely soemone will go to the bother of slating the car on a web forum. In short, happy customers are less likely to praise a Saab on WhatCar? and more likely post on any (perceived?) faults (in my opinion).

Are there problems with UK Saabs?

Well, yes and no. I have run diesels for 5 years now and have a 75k mile Peugeot 407 as a daily hack. At 65k miles the clutch and dual mass flywheel needed to be replaced at a cost of £1000 (not paid for by me btw). At 80k the diesel particulate filter (DPF) will need to be replaced at a cost of £600 – £1000. These are considered “wear and tear” items.

The exhaust gas recirculation valve on all short run cars frequently clogs and needs to be repaired/replaced. This causes the issues raised by unhappy punters on WhatCar?. The inlet swirl flaps can break up and wreck the engine – an issue on several cars according to the Honest John Website. Check this for potential problems.

The main problem is that many people do not realise this; they are used to stories of million mile Mercedes and Peugeot diesels running on chip fat, without realising that within the last 10 years BHP and Torque have risen by maybe 100% from the same basic engine. So yes, there are reliability issues but often they are down to to inappropriate (constant urban use) or hard (flooring the car in 2nd and 3rd at every opportunity) abuse.

Diesels are VERY expensive to maintain over 60k miles and the Fiat engine in the 9-3 and 9-5 is no better in this respect than any other car and possibly worse than some. Guess what’s the best selling engine for UK Saabs (and therefore the likely cause of complaint)?

Aggressive driving and stop start conditions can aggravate these issues and cause them to occur earlier. Owners then get on the web with a complaint that can be genuine but also due to their own driving style and poor advice and guidance from the salesman.

Dealers need to be more upfront about petrol vs. diesel and set expectations accordingly. I know of a car sold to a customer from a dealership I worked for with a DPF, yet the customer only did 10 miles per day in stop/start traffic. The DPF never attained temperature long enough to regenerate and thus required 3 filters in a year. The customer thought his car was crap, it wasn’t – it just wasn’t the right car for his needs.

Ok so what can we do?

Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we deal with it. We could vent on SU all night but instead, the WhatCar? reader review section is open to all, so happy SU readers should use it to inform the wider world of how good their Saab is. WhatCar? slated my A5 Sportback – owners took the opportunity to set the record straight. Saab owners must do the same for 2012.

However, dealers have a part to play in winning unhappy customers back around, something Audi was excellent at when I worked there. I was frequently told by senior managers that all cars had problems, it was down to how the customer was handled that made the difference.

Saab GB have some work to do – Whatcar? survey ranks Saab last

A recent survey released by Whatcar? provides what I think is a very disturbing result. I don’t believe that it’s an accurate result, nor do I think it’s been responsibly reported. None of that matters, though. It is what it is – Whatcar? have named Saab as the worst manufacturer according to their reader survey results.

Saab’s new owner, Spkyer, will be hoping the new 9-5 impresses you more than the ageing 9-3. More than 200 of you reviewed the saloon, estate and convertible versions of the 9-3, giving it decidedly average verdicts.

The old 9-5 isn’t included because it’s no longer on sale, but even its ratings wouldn’t have lifted Saab off the bottom of our table.

According to Whatcar? readers, Skoda were the best manufacturer, with their vehicles having an average rating of 4.4 out of 5.

Saab were 31st, and last, with an average rating of 3.3.

These results are based on owner/user-based reviews of their own cars. I’d query the placements of more than a few manufacturers, but it would be a pointless exercise. The reviews are over and done. More importantly, they’re published and accessible.

Saab has had a reasonable amount of negative perception over the last year or so because of the near-closure and sale of the brand. As is noted in the quote, they also have an aging Saab 9-3 as their primary seller, which might not have helped (although the quality and reliability of the Saab 9-3 has been rated highly elsewhere).

Whatever the situation, part of Saab GB’s job is to help buyers feel that they’re getting value for money, to feel good about their purchase. Saab make good cars, but the volume of noise made by the press in the last year or so has dramatically outweighed the positive messages – the right messages – sent out by the company and in Great Britain, that’s Saab GB’s domain.

As always with car companies, it’s all about the product. But the right message helps a lot.

Thanks to Ronan for the link.

UPDATE – comments are now closed. Please click on the headline to this entry to read them. Thanks to all for the robust discussion, but I think we covered all that needed to be covered.

Friday Morning Snippets

Saab GB are printing their own money…..

Saab GB promotion

It’s been sent out to existing Saab customers as an incentive to come in and take delivery prior to December 31st (thus beating the VAT rise).

I think it’s brown because it’s a subliminal message – you want the Java. You need the Java….

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Bard Eker (one of the partners in the Koenigsegg Group) recently said that he’s launching a slow but hostile takeover of Saab, even if he has to buy it one car at a time.

I shot him an email to check the context and he said “We have started the process. Cvk purchased his second Saab…. – and I am still fully occupied with [teaching] my little 1.5 yr daughter how to drive her first – of many to come – Saab.”

Can we look forward to young Ms Eker taking a seat on the board some time soon?

🙂

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Arild loves the Head Up Display. In fact, as I did on my own test drive of the Saab 9-5, he’s finding it indispensable.

Pierre doesn’t love the wood interior.

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And finally….

Saab rally legend Per Eklund was interviewed at Rally America last weekend, where he was keeping an eagle eye on (winning) protege, Toomas Haikkinen

Click here for the video.

Saab sales data – Britain, Germany and others

More sales data is trickling in…..

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Great Britain

There were 377 Saabs registered in Great Britain in October, a rise of 12.5% over the 335 registered in the same month last year.

So far in 2010, there have been 4,554 Saabs registered in Great Britain. This number is still 34% down on the 6,991 registered Jan-Oct in 2009.

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Germany

Germany remains a problem market. Something needs to be done to get dealers on board and at the very least, get the website showing all the current models. One of my German contacts informs me as follows:

  • they advertise the 9-5 1,6T in magazines for four months now. But it can’t be found online
  • the build your Saab function for the 9-3 is not available “due to the change of the model year” – I think for at least two months now

Sorry, Saab Deutschland. Tough love. This should be such a bigger market for Saab.

Maybe one of those test-drive roadshows like they’re doing in Norway would get some bums on seats and help to overcome the reluctance of many German dealers to actually stock their showrooms.

There were 40 Saabs sold in Germany in October. I don’t have a comparative number, but there have been 557 sold this year.

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I know others have left comments scattered through other posts as to sales numbers in smaller markets.

If you could do so again here, it’d be good to have them all in the one place. I’ll update the post in the morning.

Saab 9-3 TTiD – A Star is born

Last time Auto Express tested the Saab 9-3 TTiD was when the new engine made its debut in the latter part of 2007.

Back then, AE gave the car with a new power plant 3 stars out of 5.

Their new review, published this week, covers the 2011 iteration of the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan. This new model comes with a choice of three new TTiD engines that emit less than 120g of CO2 per kilometer, making the car a very attractive option for those who are more conscious of their road tax costs.

How big an impression has the new engine lineup made?

You might have expected the Saab 9-3 to lose half a star given its advancing age relative to the competition. But the opposite has happened.

The Saab 9-3 is awarded 4 out of 5 stars in this new review and the praise for the new TTiD engine lineup is significant.

It has a mighty 400Nm of torque available from only 1,850rpm, so it’s powerful and flexible in any of its six gears. In addition, it’s superbly quiet and smooth on the go, feeling every bit as refined as the benchmark 2.0-litre TDI units from Volkswagen.

Saab has achieved the hikes in performance and economy by reducing friction in the engine, adding low-rolling resistance tyres, thinning some of the metal bodywork to reduce weight, and using lighter materials with the same soundproofing qualities…..

…..It all adds up to a car that hasn’t the slightest whiff of being an ‘eco’ model, yet delivers fuel economy that keeps up with the best the BMW 3-Series can offer. The front-wheel-drive Saab will never quite match the dynamic prowess of the 3-Series, but it still grips well, turns in sharply and is refined on the motorway. The only gripe is the lumpy gearchange.

You can click here to read the full review.

Saab GB offering loyalty bonus

The word from well placed sources is that Saab GB are now offering a loyalty bonus to current and former Saab owners on the purchase of a MY2010 or MY2011 Saab.

If you own a Saab at the moment, or you have proof of past ownership, you could be eligible for £3,000 in savings on either a 9-5 or a 9-3 (see below about the 9-3, it varies).

Here’s the official wording:

£3,000 Saab Loyalty offer*
For both current, and past owners of a Saab car… Saab Great Britain are pleased to announce that your loyalty is being rewarded with a £3,000* discount on a new Saab 9-3 or new Saab 9-5 registered before 31st December 2010 ….. and with the 2.5% VAT increase due 1st January 2011, this surely means there has never been a better incentive to get behind the wheel of a new Saab

* Terms and Conditions apply:
Loyalty reward includes VAT. £3,000 saving on any model year 9-5, whilst on the 9-3 range, the loyalty offer is £3,000 on a MY2010 but drops to £2,500 support on a factory order MY2011 car.

Note that the car has to be registered by December 31st, so custom orders for MY2011 cars would need to be in earlier than that – probably early November – to ensure delivery on time to claim the discount.

Press Release (UK): SAAB Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of Erik Carlsson’s First RAC Rally Victory

SAAB CELEBRATES 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF ERIK CARLSSON’S FIRST RAC RALLY VICTORY

*** Limited edition Saab 9-3 Aero Carlsson on sale now ***

In 1960, Erik ‘Mr Saab’ Carlsson exploded onto the world rally scene. Back then, the 31-year-old Swede was a relative unknown outside his native Scandinavia, but he immediately shook the rallying world by taking his three-cylinder, 750 cc Saab 96 to an emphatic victory in the RAC Rally – the first of a hat-trick of wins.

Erik would go on to win the Monte Carlo rally twice, as well as the Acropolis and San Remo Rallies. Such ‘David and Goliath’ exploits at the wheel of his diminutive Saab 96 against bigger, more powerful cars were the springboard for launching Saab as a global car brand.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that first RAC victory, Saab Great Britain is now offering motorists an exclusive opportunity to purchase one of just 96 limited edition Saab 9-3 Aero Carlsson models.

Powered by a 2.8-litre V6 turbo engine developing 280PS and exceptional torque of 400Nm, the Carlsson limited edition sprints from zero to 60mph in just 6.9 seconds. Equally impressively, 50-70mph acceleration is accomplished in just 6.3 seconds.

The vehicle is distinguished by exterior and interior enhancements including: 19”six-spoke alloy wheels, a sports chassis with rear body levelling, twin exhaust tailpipes, a rear boot lid spoiler, bi-xenon cornering headlights, a titanium-finish front grille and fog light surrounds, and a premium leather sports interior trim (including Nappa leather dashboard! – SW).

It is fitted with Saab’s advanced all-wheel-drive system, Saab XWD, complete with an electronic rear limited-slip differential. Drive torque is constantly distributed between the front and rear axles, and between the rear wheels, to ensure optimum grip and stability at all times. It is sophisticated technology Erik would have appreciated, had it been available 50 years ago.

Now 81 years old, Erik remains actively involved as an international ambassador for Saab, attending car launches, dealer and customer events around the world. “I’m very proud to have such a great car named after me,” he said. “Anyone who loves driving and is as passionate about the Saab brand as I am, will be excited about getting behind the wheel of this car.”

Jonathan Nash, Managing Director of Saab GB, said: “Erik Carlsson and the RAC Rally are key elements in Saab’s history and we are delighted to produce this special edition in his honour.

“Its design stays true to Saab’s Scandinavian roots and it includes great features that offer a powerful driving experience. I’m confident these Carlsson editions will be a great success with our customers and I’m sure they won’t be on dealer forecourts for long.”

The limited edition 9-3 Aero Carlsson is available from £26,495.

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