- We like...Space, styling
- We don't...Ordinary to drive
This is the car that very nearly didn’t get made. Not so many months ago, it looked as if Saab would disappear for good. But here it is, boasting new owners and a fresh lease of life. Now the first 9-5 had been a great car in its day but, having been on sale for a full 12 years, it was way outclassed by newer rivals.
So the new 9-5 couldn’t come too soon. And it has a big job on its hands. It needs to be be cutting-edge, impressive enough to tempt company car drivers who would otherwise settle happily for a Mercedes-Benz E-class or a BMW 5-series. But it must also reward the faithful who’ll move into it from the previous 9-5 or current 9-3.
What’s it like, then? As you get close you’ll see that it looks fresh and very ‘now’ but still every inch a Saab. It’s a looker and that curvy screen and high front deck is much like the 1980s classic 900, while the glassed-over front lamps and wide-mouthed grilled link strongly to the current 9-3.
Pop inside and there are plenty more cues: the start-stop button between the seats is right where the ignition lock on older Saabs is found, while the little paddles that direct ventilation flow are another hallmark. Lastly, there’s that night panel switch, which kills illumination after dark to all but the speedo (the better to focus driver attention on the road).
But you may notice, too, that the steering wheel, instrument stalks and switches are lifted from the Vauxhall Insignia. Like all Saabs designed since 1990, the 9-5 shares many bits with cars made by its once-parent company, General Motors. Here, a third of its components are borrowed but more are adapted or tuned rather than all-new.
So can it be good enough to fulfil its role as a premium-grade car when so much of it has ordinary origins? To stand a chance, it has to be decisively better than the Insignia – a good car but not a great one and a class down from the Saab.
We drove the 9-5 2.0, 160bhp turbodiesel in Vector SE trim – the car that Saab expects to be the range favourite. Now this engine features, too, in the Insignia where it is a strong, if noisy performer. Saab has buffed away the coarser edges of its performance. It still makes more racket than you’d want if you push it but for the most part it is a cultured companion. And, while never quick, it does well to haul the car quietly and easily at the motorway maximum, also returning over 50mpg across a mix of trips. And for such a heavy car (some 9-5s weigh over two metric tonnes) its emissions output of 139g/km of CO2 is good, and will keep road tax and company car tax bills low.
It’s a restful and easy car in which to scroll away big mileages on multi-lane roads. The cabin is very comfortable and roomy, too, although an adult sat in the centre rear will find his head uncomfortably close to the roof lining: it’s best as a four seater.
But, seek out a fast country road and you learn that this model at least is no sports saloon. The steering says too little about what the front tyres are up to, while the ride becomes nervous on all but the best road surfaces. Move up to the top-end models and the suspension changes to one that gives a sportier, more connected feel.
You pick between two diesel engines and three petrols, ranged in size from 1.6 to 2.8 litres. As you’d expect given Saab’s past, all are turbocharged. There are three trim levels: Linear, Vector and Aero all of which’ll be familiar to current and past owners. Even the cheapest cars are well kitted out but an aircraft-style display that projects current speed on to the windscreen is standard only on the dearest ones. And this, while in theory a nice to have gadget, also beamed distracting reflections back at the driver in a couple of 9-5s we tried – even if you turned it off. All told, the car is nicely finished, but so many switches and other items sourced from Vauxhall detracts from efforts to create a luxury feel about the cabin.
Should you buy one? 9-5 prices are, at time of writing, cheaper than those for its key rivals: the BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz’s E-class and Audi’s A6. And if you want an alternative to these, it’s superior to the Volvo S80 that you might also be thinking of. But, for us, the BMW and Mercedes are the best cars in this sector, with the A6 following closely. It may be good looking and different, but for us the 9-5 lags in too many areas to mount a serious challenge.
* Insurance grouping quoted below is from new 1-50 rating system
- Engines2.0 turbodiesel
- 0-60 mph9.4secs
- Insurance groups24E*
Motors.co.uk value verdict: