Review: Saab 9-5 (2010 – 2011)
Distinctive design. Comfortable cabin. Impressive rear passenger room and large boot. Fuel efficient 2.0 TiD engine. Well equipped as standard.
Firm ride. Notchy manual gearbox. Interior doesn't feel as upmarket as it should given the price. Liquidation likely to seriously affect parts supply.
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Saab 9-5 (2010 – 2011): At A Glance
The 9-5 was the most important car the Swedish firm had ever built. Saab had a tough time in recent years. With no new product coming through the Scandanavian manufacturer, under ownership of General Motors, has had to make do with its existing cars while other firms have launched all-new models. The future looked bleak when GM wanted to sell the brand and for a while it seemed like the end for Saab.
However, in 2010 Saab was bought by Dutch high-performance sports car manufacturer, Spyker Cars, securing a hopefully brighter future for the firm. And this is why the 9-5 is such a key car. The old Saab 9-5 soldiered on for 13 years but by the end naturally felt very dated. This new model has much to prove if Saab is to retain its image as a manufacturer of high-quality cars.
The looks are certainly a great start. This is every inch a Saab with its distinctive grille, while the coupe-like shape hides a long body and gives it a very sleek appearance. The rear is just as good with its modern light clusters and sculpted boot. It's not strikingly different from other current saloon car designs, but the smooth shape is in-keeping with traditional Saab styling.
Inside there's a fresh new cabin with some neat touches, while rear passenger space is mightily impressive - as is the boot. Unfortunately some of the quality isn't quite up to the standards you'd expect on a premium saloon, but it feels pretty solid overall. It's also well equipped as standard and there are a host of high-tech options available, including a clever head-up display similar to the one BMW offers.
The engine range isn't huge but includes a decent 2.0 TiD diesel with low CO2 emissions of 139g/km and economy of more than 50mpg, plus there are some rapid turbocharged petrols including a great 2.0T with 220bhp. On the move the Saab is composed with keen steering and very tidy handling so despite a firm ride, it's enjoyable to drive. If this is the future for Saab, it looks very promising indeed. But eventually the end came.
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Saab 9-5 (2010 – 2011): What's It Like Inside?
As with the exterior of this fresh Saab 9-5, the interior also manages to capture some of the traditional Saab design features, while still appearing modern. Unfortunately it's not quite as sleek as the outside and it doesn't exude that high quality and sophisticated feel that you'd expect on a premium saloon of this price.
It's very spacious though and nowhere is this more evident than in the back. Compared to the previous 9-5, this model has a longer wheelbase which means an extra 58mm of legroom added on to what was already a generous space. Even with the front seats slid all the way back, there's still masses of legroom for people sitting in the back plus impressive headroom. So although it doesn't feel quite as spacious as the Skoda Superb, it's certainly not far behind.
The boot is huge too with 515 litres of luggage space - that's more than the considerably larger BMW 7 Series, plus the boot opening is wide and tall, so getting heavy suitcases in and out isn't a problem. There's a 60/40 split folding seatback which includes a load-through 'ski hatch' for longer items. Such as skis...
It's from behind the wheel that the Saab 9-5 doesn't feel quite as impressive. The quality of the materials used is fairly good, but some of the plastics don't feel like they belong in a premium car and the layout is fairly ordinary, especially when you compare it to that other Scandanavian manufacturer, Volvo, which seems to do minimalist and stylish interiors so well.
Some of the fit and finish is a little underwhelming too and on the cars we've driven, there have been various squeeks and rattles when on the move. Not what you'd want if you are to spend long hours behind the wheel. It's not all negative though. The deeply recessed instruments are very neat with green needles and stylish white back-lit dials, plus they include a rolling 'altimeter' speed read-out - a reference to Saab's aviation heritage.
The swooping central console is a nice piece of design and thanks to an electronic parking brake, it looks neat and uncluttered. The stereo and ventilation controls are easy to use and clearly laid out and although the main dash seems a little button heavy, it works well. There's a large colour screen (in fact one of the largest we've seen in a car) that displays the stereo and (if fitted) the satellite navigation display.
One high-tech option is the digital head-up display - or HUD as it's known. This projects the speed (as well as revs, navigation instructions and warning mesages if you want it to) onto the windscreen. It means you don't have to take your eyes of the road and it's a useful continual reminder of your precise speed. It's shown as a virtual image, seemingly about two meters ahead, within the driver's natural eye focus.
The display is controlled and adjusted via two switches, allowing you to change the brightness and move it up and down. It's a similar option to the one offered by BMW on many of its models, but the Saab one struggles in bright sunshine. Light reflects off the panel that is projecting the display, making it very hard to read and more of a distraction than anything useful.
Equipment from launch (July 2010):
The entry-level Saab 9-5 specification comes with a keyless start/stop button, an electric parking brake, six-way adjustable driver and four-way adjustable passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, a seven-speaker audio system with an AUX-in socket, a leather steering wheel and a text information display. Inside, the upper andlower instrument panel, door cappings and decor trim are in Jet Black, with a choice of Jet Black or Parchment fabric seat upholstery, complemented by door inserts and armrests in a light or dark color.
This adds front seat squab storage pouches, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, an adjustable front arm-rest, cruise control, ambient interior lighting, a nine-speaker audio system with a USB connection and a graphic information display. The interior comes in a choice of Dark Pewter with Jet Black, or Dark Cocoa with Parchment for the instrument panel and doors, while the decor trim has a brushed metal look. The seats are upholstered with leather bolsters and fabric inserts in Jet Black, Parchment or Shark Grey.
The top model comes with electrically adjustable and heated front seats with an extending under-thigh support while the interior is further distinguished by a full color information display and an 'Aero' embossed, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with a perforated leather grip. There is also an all-leather interior with a unique Clear Zone finish inserted in the wraparound instrument panel. The rest of the front fascia and door trims are in Jet Black with dark, bushed metal decor trim.
Child seats that fit a Saab 9-5 (2010 – 2011)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Saab 9-5 (2010 – 2011) like to drive?
Although the 9-5 heralds a new beginning for Saab, it continues the Saab tradition of using turbocharged engines, which has obvious benefits for performance as well as fuel economy. Plus all use maintenance-free, chain-driven camshafts. It's quite a surprise that there's only one diesel engine though, particularly when most people who choose a car like this tend to spend lots of time on the motorway - ideal conditions for efficient diesels.
The diesel in the 9-5 is a 2.0 TiD unit with 160bhp and 350Nm of torque, giving it plenty of in-gear surge when needed - ideal for safe overtaking and motorway cruising. It's not the quietest of diesels, but it's smooth enough and will average 53.3mpg on the combined cycle while CO2 emissions of 139g/km are impressively low and mean annual car tax is very reasonable. A more powerful 2.0 TTiD with 190bhp is also available.
It's a shame that the six-speed manual gearbox that comes as standard is on the notchy side. It's positive enough but not especially slick and is much happier when it's not being rushed. There's also a six-speed automatic gearbox available with the diesel which works surprisingly well and shifts quickly and smoothly, but with this fitted, CO2 emissions rocket up to 179g/km while economy drops to 41.5mpg.
The petrol engines suit the Saab 9-5 better, starting with the 1.6T. This may seem far too small for a car of this size but thanks to a turbocharger, it produces an impressive 180bhp and covers the 0-62mph sprint in 9.5 seconds. But for more performance the 2.0T is a better choice. It boasts 220bhp and feels very lively with an impressive turn of pace and good torque too, so you don't need to continually change gear as in some larger petrol saloons.
As a result, 0-62mph takes just 7.6 seconds but it's the way it pulls from around 50mph which is really impressive and will be more useful in everyday driving. It uses a twin-scroll turbocharger, which virtually eliminates turbo lag at low engine speeds. The one downside to this engine, however, is economy which is only 33.6mpg while emissions are pretty high too.
This engine is available with the standard front-wheel drive set-up or with Saab's clever XWD all-wheel drive system, that's also used on the Saab 9-3X. This can vary the amount of torque between the front and rear wheels so it means better traction in wet or slippery conditions and is ideal if you intend to use the 9-5 for towing (across wet fields for example).
Standard front-wheel drive versions of the Saab 9-5 feel pretty planted to the road, although hard acceleration will see the front end become light and start to squirm a little. But overall, it's a very comfortable and relaxing car to drive with precise controls. The clutch is light and the throttle pedal responsive but what's most surprising is how precise the steering is. It only requires fairly small inputs to change direction, so tackling tight corners is enjoyable, helped by the fact the Saab 9-5 handles very well with limited body roll.
The 9-5 is also the first Saab to come with real time damping control through Saab DriveSense, which includes adjustments that help the car adapt to the way it is being driven. In addition to the default Intelligent mode, two further settings, Sport and Comfort, can be selected via a rotary knob next to the gear shift. The sport mode sharpens the throttle, reduces the level of power steering assistance and raises the gear shifting points on the automatic gearbox.
However, the main gripe is the firm ride. There is a sport chassis option (standard with Saab XWD and optional with front-wheel drive models) which includes a 10mm lower ride height, a stiffer front anti-roll bar, stiffer springs and dampers, and greater steering feel. It certainly gives the 9-5 a more driver-focussed feel, but it can be very bumpy on uneven surfaces and really struggles on poorly maintained country roads.
Even the standard Saab 9-5 without this chassis feels on the firm side and rarely rides smoothly, with a very busy feeling on most roads. At higher speeds there's always noticeable tyre noise, although it's very quiet in every other respect.
The top engine in the line-up is the 2.8T - a V6 petrol with 300bhp and 400Nm of torque, giving it great performance. It comes with XWD as standard along with the six-speed automatic gearbox, highlighting its top-of-the-range position. It sounds great on start-up with a deep rumble, while on the move you're always aware this is a powerful V6 unit. The sprint from 0-62mph takes just 6.9 seconds and it's a really enjoyable engine to drive. Of course, fuel economy isn't a strong point as you'd expect, with an average of just 24.8mpg.
|1.6T||36 mpg||9.5 s||178 g/km|
|2.0 TiD||53 mpg||9.9 s||125 g/km|
|2.0 TiD Automatic||42 mpg||10.1 s||171 g/km|
|2.0 TTiD||47 mpg||8.8 s||142 g/km|
|2.0 TTiD XWD||42 mpg||9.2 s||170 g/km|
|2.0T||34 mpg||7.9 s||181 g/km|
|2.0T Automatic||31 mpg||8.5 s||204 g/km|
|2.0T XWD||32 mpg||8.0 s||196 g/km|
|2.0T XWD Automatic||29 mpg||8.8 s||215 g/km|
|2.8 XWD||27 mpg||6.9 s||234 g/km|
Real MPG average for a Saab 9-5 (2010 – 2011)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.
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