The 9-5, the eldest steed in Saab's stable has been given new life with a distinctive facelift, and first drive impressions of the Aero variant, producing 191kW from its 'high output turbo' (HOT) power unit would indicate it's not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
The new face and long bonnet area is reminiscent of the old 900 body shape, but bares styling cues taking from Saab's Aero X concept vehicle. The triplicate section grill that pays homage to the company's aeronautical heritage has given way to a cleaner single section item. The trio design though is still evident in the chrome framed headlight assemblies.
Interior styling retains the practical layout of the previous 9-5 model, but includes more contemporary colour treatments, new seats and door panels. Aviation themes are evident here also, with the front 'eyeball' map light and integrated fasten seatbelt sign that could've come from the Saab 340A aircraft parts bin.
The 9-5's Auckland launch recently also gave kiwi press the opportunity to meet Saab Australia's new Director, Parveen Batish.
Batish comes from 10 years in Saab UK's operations, the last six of which he spent as Marketing Manager. It is now his task to grow the brand in the colonies, a challenging task considering Saab's virtual non-existence in the market place as the Holden merger was taking place.
He recognises being a Saab customer here over the last couple of years has meant you may have felt somewhat neglected, but is quick to assure change and says one of the 9-5's strongest selling points is the loyalty from Saab cliental.
"Around three-quarters of our current 9-5 drivers in Australia and New Zealand have previously owned another 9-5. This is an enormous vote of confidence from our customers in the vehicle and the brand," said Batish.
The 9-5 sedan comes in three levels of specification, entry level Linear, mid spec Vector and range topper Aero, a Sports Estate version is also available in Linear or Aero trim. Impressive levels of kit are offered across the board, leather upholstered seating, heated front seats, rain sensing wipers, cruise control and dual zone climate control are all available at no additional cost.
Saab is also quick to point out the brand's safety reputation. Proof is in the pudding, and Saab claim "computer simulations and crash testing at Saab are designed to replicate what happens in real collisions on real roads, based on the findings of a database covering more than 6,100 real-life accidents, including the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 on Swedish roads.
Saab's safety record is given further credit by the carmaker's commendable statistics in the AA's 2006 used car safety rating guide, and further confirmation comes by way of 5-star Euro NCAP ratings for all of Saab's current model line-up.
The vehicle's cleverly designed safety structure aside, safety features include ABS, Electronic Stability (ESP), active front headrests, dual stage front airbags, head and thorax side airbags and ISOFIX child restraint mountings.
Chassis and suspension components have been re-tuned for sharper handling. Thicker anti-roll bars and wider rear track have improved stability through bends, and our short drive in the stiffer Aero impressed. Offering a good balance of sporting enthusiasm and ride control.
All models are fitted with the same 2290cc engine, and in keeping with Saab's dedication to turbo technology, all are equipped with turbochargers. SAAB likes to identify this by sticking the letter 't' after the model designation. Seems simple enough, but here's where it gets interesting.
Dependant on specification level, engine output also varies. The Linear 2.3t's engine management system has been programmed to bleed off partial boost from the turbo, limiting it to low pressure. Hence the appointment of a small t.
The Mid level Vector 2.3T's programming allows mid-level boost, and is thus assigned the more affirming capital, along with 162kW and 310Nm torque, over the Linear's 136kW and 280Nm.
But the most potent T in the line up resides at the end of the Aero's 2.3HOT nameplate; engine management mapping is less restrictive giving the turbo the green light to force air into the Aero engine internals. Torque on the high output application climbs to 350Nm and is available longer throughout the rev range.
Given the reprogrammable nature of modern engine control units (ECU), it is entirely possible for Saab's dealer network to reprogram an ECU and optimise entry-level turbo's performance to rival the more lavishly equipped models. Along with upgrading the brakes to Aero spec naturally. This would also apply to the four cylinder models in their new 9-3 line up released in May. Although it's unlikely Saab's new vehicle warranty will allow this easy in-house enhancement.
Why? This allows room, once the Swedish carmaker has reclaimed some ground in the market place lost in recent years, to introduce their performance partner, Hirsch to Australasia.
Saab Australia's Marketing representative confirmed during a conversation at the new 9-5's launch, that the carmaker is considering marketing the Hirsch brand in the future. Much like Mercedes does with AMG, or more importantly, considering their GM global partnership, Holden does with HSV and Holden by design. This seems in keeping with Saab's targeting of a younger audience, with a sub $50k entry price point on the 9-3 model range.
The more spacious 9-5 2.3t sedan starts at $67,900 with a six-speed manual, which is available as a special order item on the rest of the range.
Saab is persevering with aging auto transmission technology in the 9-5, which receives only a five-speed auto, when the 9-3 gets a six-speeder.
To add insult to injury here the old hat five-speed auto seems pricey with a $3100 premium over the manual. This is the same price variance between the 9-3's manual and smoother six-speed transmission.