In a time when many manufacturers are doing everything they can to keep a competitive edge in the midsize luxury sedan segment, it's almost impossible to believe that the 2009 Saab 9-5 is still, for the most part, the same car that debuted 10 years ago. Although driving dynamics have improved and the styling has been tweaked over the course of this decade-old generation, the Saab 9-5 remains one of the oldest cars on the market.
Saab offers the 9-5 as both a sedan and a wagon, something not all automakers do these days. The 9-5 also boasts a comfortable interior and comes standard with an impressive number of features. But these attributes are dwarfed by the car's list of negatives, which include a lackluster powertrain and a notable lack of refinement and new technology features.
In this tough segment, the Saab 9-5 is up against sedans like the Acura TL, the Infiniti G35 and the Lexus ES 350, as well as wagons and small crossovers such as the Acura RDX and Volkswagen Passat. With lots of standard features, the 2009 Saab 9-5 provides compelling value, but so do its competitors. Even the 9-5's less expensive sibling, the 9-3, is a better choice. There's just no getting around the fact that the 2009 Saab 9-5 is well past its sell-by date; keep in mind, though, that a complete redesign is expected next year.
The 2009 Saab 9-5 is available as a wagon (called the SportCombi) or a midsize sedan. Each is available in two trim levels: the 2.3T base model and the sportier, more powerful Aero version. The 2.3T features standard 17-inch wheels; a sunroof; leather upholstery; eight-way front sport seats; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; heated front and rear seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; a cooled glovebox; rain-sensing windshield wipers; and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The largely similar Aero adds a sport-tuned suspension, different 17-inch wheels, special interior trim and two-tone leather seats.
Major options include the Visibility Package, which adds xenon headlights, rear parking assist and outside mirrors that are power-folding and auto-dimming. Stand-alone options include cooled front seats and a touchscreen navigation system. The standard in-dash CD changer is unavailable with the navigation system -- buyers must choose whether to keep the satellite radio or instead opt for a trunk-mounted CD changer at no cost.
The 9-5's overall design hasn't changed much since the car was first introduced, although the original dash layout has since been replaced with a less quirky, more ergonomically friendly GM treatment. The quality of the interior features leaves something to be desired, however.
Otherwise, the 9-5 is a comfortable place to spend time, with ample passenger room and exceptionally comfortable seats -- especially when equipped with the ventilation feature. For those who need extra cargo capacity, the SportCombi wagon is a good alternative to an SUV, as it supplies 37 cubic feet of luggage capacity with the rear seats in use and 73 cubes with them folded. That's more space than some luxury compact SUVs, such as the Acura RDX.
All 9-5 sedans and SportCombi wagons have front-wheel drive and are powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4 that makes 260 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard and a five-speed manual is optional. And although many cars in this class offer six-speed versions of both types of transmission, the Saab's EPA fuel economy is still respectable; the automatic 2.3T model gets 17 mpg city/26 mpg city and 20 mpg combined.
Once the turbo kicks in, the 2.3-liter delivers plenty of power for this class, although it's not particularly refined. Unlike most sport sedans and wagons, the 2009 Saab 9-5 performs best with the automatic transmission, as its shorter gearing is better suited to the turbo engine's unusual power band. And although the 9-5's relatively low curb weight gives it a nimble feel around corners, the 9-5 still suffers from torque steer under hard acceleration. Overall, this Saab just can't quite match the sharpness of some of its younger, peppier rivals.
Standard safety equipment on the 2009 Saab 9-5 includes antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, active head restraints and front-seat side airbags that provide head and torso protection. Side curtain airbags that protect rear occupants are not available. The OnStar communications system is standard.
In government crash tests, the 9-5 earned a perfect five stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts. In the side-impact test, the 9-5 received five stars for front passenger protection and four stars for rear protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 9-5 the best possible rating of "Good" in frontal-offset crash testing and a second-best "Acceptable" for side-impact protection.
There are no significant changes to the Saab 9-5 for 2009.