In 1999, the human population topped 6 billion, Wayne Gretzky retired, Britney Spears was an innocent teen and a 17-year-old song by Prince became relevant again. It was also the last time we got an all-new Saab 9-5, a car that lived to be about 160 in human years. Finally Saab has escaped its suspended animation under GM ownership and new management is directing the company, although its engineering partnership with Opel, GM's European brand, remains.
Although a few examples of the new Saab 9-5 trickled out of dealerships last year, the 2011 Saab 9-5 is now available in a variety of trim levels. Though this midsize luxury sedan is based on the same Opel-derived platform as the Buick Regal, shares engines with the Regal and Cadillac SRX, and has its share of interior bits from the GM parts bin, the Saab 9-5 emerges from the factory in Trollhattan, Sweden, as a unique-looking car that establishes a new design language for Saab. The trademark grille remains, but it has been enlarged and emboldened. The A-pillars are blacked out, removing visual bulk from the car, while the C-pillars taper aggressively back into a teardrop tail dominated by full-width LED lighting. Much as the Jaguar XF made V8-powered midsize luxury sedans seem dull by comparison, so too does the 9-5 outshine its V6-powered rivals from other brands.
For 2011, the full 9-5 lineup emerges. The Turbo6 XWD shares the loaded Aero model's powertrain, minus its enhanced handling features and sporty trim. The Turbo4 is the new entry-level model, featuring a turbocharged four-cylinder that produces an underwhelming 220 horsepower but a sufficient 258 pound-feet of torque. Some may scoff at a four-cylinder engine in a $40,000 car, but it's a Saab trademark and Audi's A4 proves that it can work. The expected fuel economy benefit helps as well.
A loaded 2011 Saab 9-5 Aero rings up at more than $50,000, a seemingly shocking sum for a Saab. But consider that a similarly equipped 2011 BMW 535i xDrive or 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic costs about $10,000 more, and it begins to sound reasonable.
After barely surviving the GM noose last year, Saab has emerged from the gallows with a car that hopefully gives it life for years to come. It may not have the panache or engineering polish of its German rivals, but we think the 2011 Saab 9-5 offers a lot of driving fun, equipment and style for the money.
The 2011 Saab 9-5 is a midsize luxury sedan available in Turbo4, Turbo4 Premium, Turbo6 XWD and Aero trim levels. The 4 and 6 suffixes indicate the engine's cylinder count. Standard equipment on the Turbo4 includes 17-inch wheels, foglamps, automatic wipers, keyless ignition, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Turbo4 Premium adds 18-inch wheels, headlight washers, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, power-folding and auto-dimming exterior mirrors, keyless ignition/entry and remote ignition. The Turbo6 XWD adds the same equipment, plus a V6 and all-wheel drive. Both models can be equipped with a pair of options packages. The Technology package includes a lane-departure warning system, advanced parking assist, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and a head-up display. The Rear Passenger package adds tri-zone automatic climate control, rear seat audio controls, and a DVD entertainment system with two front-headrest-mounted screens. A navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen and 10GB of digital music storage is also optional.
The 9-5 Aero gets slightly different front and rear fascia designs, different 18-inch wheels, upgraded rear brakes, sport-tuned adjustable suspension, an electronic limited-slip rear differential, adjustable drive settings, paddle shifters, a sport steering wheel, sport seats and alloy pedals. The navigation system and Rear Passenger package are optional.
In Saab tradition, the 9-5's center control stack wraps toward the driver, bringing all controls within easy reach. Other Saab hallmarks include the egg-crate air outlets, Night Panel switch that dims instrument light at a single touch and (of course) the ignition switch, though this is now a keyless button. The seats are pretty darn comfortable too, though not in the over-stuffed, body-enveloping way of past Saabs.
The many climate and electronics interfaces have been lifted wholesale from General Motors, and the graphics look awfully familiar. The layout is unique to Saab, though, and the backlighting is a very Saab green. The bits are actually quite nice, but like the rest of the interior, just aren't up to Audi or Mercedes standards.
With the exception of rear headroom for taller folks, interior space is excellent within the Saab 9-5. The trunk is an especially large 18.2 cubic feet, allowing for at least two golf bags and several roll-on suitcases.
The 2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, along with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional on the base Turbo4 and standard on all other 9-5 models. EPA-estimated fuel economy with this engine is an impressive 20 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the manual, but this falls considerably to 18/28/21 with the more popular automatic.
The 9-5 Turbo6 XWD and Aero get a turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 that produces 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and Saab's advanced all-wheel-drive system are standard. In Edmunds performance testing, the 9-5 Aero went from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds -- a decent midpack time for all-wheel-drive sedans of this type. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined -- slightly better than average for all-wheel-drive sedans with this sort of power.
We have yet to drive the Turbo4 or Turbo6 models, but the 2011 Saab 9-5 Aero surprised us with its communicative steering and a very neutral balance through quick corners. Saab's all-wheel-drive system (which includes an electronic limited-slip differential) is one of the best, proportioning power seamlessly among the wheels for maximum traction and balance. We actually found the 9-5 Aero to be a more rewarding and involving driver's car than the new BMW 5 Series. We also found its adjustable drive settings (known as DriveSense) to be more adjustable and better sorted than BMW's similar system.
The 9-5 Aero's sport-tuned suspension is on the firm side for the class, especially when you engage Sport in DriveSense. The ride is far more forgiving and feels more substantial than the Infiniti M37, however, while being far from uncomfortable. We suspect the non-Aero models will be rather supple, though the Turbo4's front-wheel-drive layout is guaranteed to exhibit less impressive handling acumen.
Every 2011 Saab 9-5 comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, the 9-5 Aero came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 113 feet.
The top-line 2011 Saab 9-5 Aero is joined by a less expensive Turbo6 six-cylinder trim as well as a base model powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder. Equipment and options availability were also slightly changed for the Aero.