UK CAR Road Test

Saab 9-5 2.3 SE Turbo 
2001 Estate

 Movie Clips of this Car

Exterior Movie Interior Movie

 

For a good while Saab has left the estate market to their cousins at Volvo and it's been a long time coming but, finally, Saab have filled a yawning gap in their marketing and produced an estate. Granted, they have always had executive hatchbacks available but the estate moves Saab up a few notches on the space front.

And, shock horror, it's a Swedish estate with looks that do not embarrass you. In fact it's very swish, much more from the Audi mould than the Volvo box.

Swish it is indeed, yet another car that it's pictures do not do justice to. In the first publicity picture the 3/4 treatment looked a little odd to say the least but in the flesh it works very well, giving the rear a hunched forward racy look with (whisper it) hints of maybe Impreza or Galant. Note the way the roof bar supports slants forward at the same angle, it gives you a real impression that Saab thought long and hard about the estate version and did not just weld a box to the rear of an existing car. 

It is a big, big car but this colour helps disguise it well and the integration of the bumpers and wrap-around lights also seem to make it visually smaller, even the clam-like bonnet fails to disrupt the smooth lines. Overall it retains its obvious Saab-ness without  any strange kookiness that has gone before. Even the overhangs do not seem as exaggerated as they once were. 

Even the alloys are restrained nowadays, no more of the old cheese graters off the 99 turbo shame.

Lots of  space and leg room front

and rear

The interior is truly inviting, despite dark colours. The use of dark grey seems to lighten up the whole interior as opposed to the more normal dark black. 

I am not strictly a lover of wood trim but by restraining it to the dash and centre console Saab carries it off well. It seems to suit the precipitous cliff face of the dash board. At least it's not the  Swedish pine so beloved by patrons of IKEA.

The leather trim is simple but sumptuous and a perfect compliment to the quality plastics that make up the heavily moulded doors and dash.

The dash readout is simple to read and uncluttered, dominated as it is by the big central speedo but the needle arrangement is fussy and irks me. Every single needle starts off at a differing angle - the rev counter transcribes a 180degree arc, the speedo 350degrees and the smaller gauges around 100degrees.

Still, the existence of that top right little dancing item gives a clue to the 9-5's character, that's the boost gauge as fitted to the high pressure turbo models only.

Well stocked dash looks tall 
but is easy to see over

Triple washer jets 
give the screen a good blasting

 

 

Adjustable Steering Column
Adjustable Steering Column
Centre Arm Rest Front
Centre Arm Rest Front
Centre Arm Rest Rear
Centre Arm Rest Rear
Drivers seat Lumbar Support
Drivers seat Lumbar Support
Front Door Bins
Front Door Bins
Head Rests (front & rear)
Head Rests (front & rear)
Heated Front Seats
Heated Front Seats
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Pollen Filter
Pollen Filter
Remote Boot Release
Remote Boot Release
Remote Petrol Cap Release
Remote Petrol Cap Release
Split rear seats
Split rear seats
Time Clock
Time Clock
Velour Trim

The pictures give a clue, with the plethora of buttons and knobs, as to how well specified this car indeed is.  You could spend a couple of days just discovering the functions and their subtleties. 

Big button activates (or should that be de-activates) traction control.
Note expansive array of heater/aircon controls: heater of course toasty enough for Scandanavian winter.
Skeletal pop out cup holder probably added 500,000 to the development budget.

Odd  ignition key spot locks gearbox into reverse to make theft difficult and is much more elegant than those bright yellow steel items we have floating around our footwells.
Heated seats are fantastic as long as your trousers are not damp to start with.

  

Auto dipping rear view mirror stops you getting blinded by people trailing you in winter.

Twin double folding sun visor shades both sides at once, for those low winter suns.

 

Fog lights front and rear light up the gloom.

Headlamp wash wipe keep the powerful lights in tip top shape.

Of course, a lot of the Saab extras are what the Swedes would describe as safety and comfort basics for the long, cold winters. Much is superfluous come spring/summer in Britain but, in the grip of the alternating snow drifts and monsoons that we call winter, they make driving the Saab 9-5 as pleasant an experience as possible in foul weather.

Extra little nice touches like the triple screen washers  show the deep level of thought that goes into producing a winterized Swedish car, without going as far as 4x4 which the Swedes seem to strangely shy away from.

Now, I have to admit I did not notice them from inside the car, but apparently the 9-5 has rain sensor wipers and, to quote SAAB, they adjust their speed to match rainfall, minimising electrical load and improving fuel economy (I have to wonder how much petrol you need to save to pay for this gadget).

Certainly, seated in the fully adjustable heated seat, wheel adjusted to just the right reach, belt height adjusted to stop it chafing, elbows perched on the softly padded arm rest and heater blasting out dozens of cubic meters of hot air through the pollen filters,  you feel relaxed and cosy whatever the conditions.

 

 

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating
12000 14 Band (D)
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
16 Valve DOHC Turbo 170 2290 Yes
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
4 Double 4 Turbo Charger
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
137mph 8.7seconds 108
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
20.8mpg 36.7mpg 28.5mpg Unleaded

Okay, the dancing dash dial indicating boost gives the game away.  This nominally 2.3 litre sixteen valve dohc straight four pumps out 170bhp. Now, early eighties Talbot Lotus Sunbeams gave 150bhp from 2.2 litres and we often see 2 litres pushing the same figure so you could be forgiven for believing that the turbo gets little involvement apart from sticking on a surplus 20 horse power to the top end.  

But power delivery is smooth and wide and the boost gauge very active from low revs to the top end. Above 4000rpm the turbo whistle begins its tune, giving a fleet footed top end. Saab's constant development of the turbo concept long since stopped the endless pursuit of massive top end output and, instead, concentrates on smooth delivery, fast  pickup and strong mid range urge.

Although noticeably quicker at the top end than the LPT, the HPT  gives an even more noticeable shove through the mid range and really starts to give the chassis a workout. 

Noise suppression is impressive, only the intrusion of the Turbo above 4000rpm is really noticeable from the engine and most of you would probably pay extra for that. Wind noise from the surprisingly slippery shape is negligible and tyre noise is kept well in check with the aid of sensibly sized, but not too large, tyres.

As in the 9-3 LPT, the gearbox could hardly be described as slick but there is little to complain about, it take just a little heft to shift it, but again it feels perfectly attuned to the car and its other controls. Everything else has a built-in hefty feel and the change matches that. Note: we are not talking stiff and imprecise, just a nice weighted slightly notchy feel, the diametric opposite of a Japanese gearbox with their super weightless efforts.  I, for one, prefer to feel a little something just to assure me I'm actually doing something, rather that the feeling that I am swapping electrical contacts in an arcade game.

Not that its gear box is a major point of disscussion though, as the engine's superb flexibility allows you to drive around any minor imperfections. You can rev the nuts off it and smack through hurried changes or you can be more relaxed change, earlier and ride the stomping wave of mid range torque.

The revs have to be very low indeed to be caught with the turbo not boosting and a slight lag can be felt as the turbo quickly spins up and generates warp drive.  

Alloy Wheels
Alloy Wheels
Catalytic Converter
Catalytic Converter
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Halogen Head Lights
Halogen Head Lights
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Independent Suspension
Independent Suspension
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Power Assisted Steering
Power Assisted Steering
Rev Counter

 

GM might be the parent and responsible for some of the parts bin raiding, which is only to be expected for them to achieve economies of scale without wholesale badge engineering, but it feels like no GM-based car you'd care to name.

It handles and steers with aplomb in most situations though, like most Saabs, the handling can hardly be described as delicate. It's much more charging-rhino-intent-on-following-its-course-to-its-logical-conclusion. The power steering is light enough not to cause complaint but relays mostly a sense of solid stability.  The traction control helps to dim the obvious problems of high powered front wheel drive chassis design.

Door treatment is sweet, though pockets end up 
a bit on the mean side

 

Hurdy gurdy, you forget to shut doors!
Duh! Like I didn't notice.

For the most part it has that benign feeling that front wheel drive induces, go hard to get understeer, go even harder and get more understeer.

You can catch it and the TCS out though, and hammer-headed throttle treatment through the mid range on and off the boost can overcome the TCS and induce some torque steer through the steering wheel and some kick back to the hands, though granted it was in the wet and it still felt safe.

Ride quality is excellent over most all surfaces without resorting to wallowing spring settings. The Saab 9-5 has a good balance between ride and roll control.

All round disc brakes are excellent and the ABS are unobtrusive, unlike many GM models I could mention.

 

 

Alarm
Alarm
Antilock Braking System
Antilock Braking System
Child Locks
Child Locks
Engine Immobiliser
Engine Immobiliser
Front Side Air Bags
Front Side Air Bags
Front Twin Airbags
Front Twin Airbags
High level brake Light
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap
Locking Fuel Cap
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Remote Central Locking
Remote Central Locking
Side Impact Protection
Side Impact Protection
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts

 

 

As you so often find in Swedes, it sprouts more airbags than a series of The Prisoner. No curtain ones in here as yet but give it time. Needless to say if you can get them all to go off, then the cost of replacement will  not matter as the rest of the car will be trashed.  At least you will be cosseted within the bouncy castle that the interior will become and if you do not suffocate you should walk away with the minimum possible damage. Of course, air bags do not a replacement for a solid platform design make. Saabs have always be solidly engineered. As a bonus, the air bags are adaptive dual stage items with differing inflation rates and volumes depending on the weight of the crash.

The bumpers are good and large, despite appearance, and the car runs a thick rubbing strip all round to help shrug off those little knocks and scrapes. 

Even the specs here do not tell you the extra bits of safety designed in such as the (SAHR) active headrests to reduce neck injury in a crash situation.  

To reduce eye strain at night the dash panel can be dimmed off (other than the speedo), only coming back on if there is an unlikely malfunction.

Remote central locking on top of the alarm, immobiliser and that reverse gearbox lock at least make it a real pain to steal. At around Group 14 it almost starts to sound reasonable, considering the performance and cost.

12 V Accessory Power Point
12 V Accessory Power Point
Chrome Grille
Chrome Grille
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Mirrors
Colour Coded Mirrors
Digital Odometer
Digital Odometer
Exterior Side Mouldings
Exterior Side Mouldings
Headlamp Wash Wipe
Headlamp Wash Wipe
Headlamp Wipers
Headlamp Wipers
Heated Rear Window
Heated Rear Window
Rear Load Cover
Rear Load Cover
Rear Wash Wipe
Rear Wash Wipe
Roof Rails
Roof Rails
Tinted Windows

There's loads to entertain oneself  with when stuck in the jams and the car's performance is enough to entertain when the roads are clear but it remains an estate and, of course, should have even more practicality than entertainment value.

Seats are lovely to sit in 
from start to finish.

Optional cruise control 
helps take the drag out of motorways

Interior space is excellent with all areas well endowed in the dimension department. Rear leg room looks and feels especially massive and should cope with the occasional Viking or three in the rear without bringing out fits of the berserker, especially with its very flat floor in the centre.

The boot is a cavernous black hole of a space, again flat floored and sided with a opening lip that comes right down to its base to aid sliding in of large objects. Fold down the rear seats and tuck away the boot cover and make that very, very, very large objects indeed..

Load nets, a sliding load floor (on some models), CargoTracks(TM) and roof racks ensure that the Saab 9-5 Estate offers the versatile luggage handling. Carrying capacity is 1,498 litres.

Estates are under serious pressure from MPV in the market. MPVs tend to have lots of nooks crannys, pockets, trays, holders, folders and tables, etc. In this respect you may find the Saab a trifle lacking, though I tend to find many  MPVs overkill on the small storage and people space and under endowed in the boot area. 

Government-stated fuel economy looks very average but, then again, I've never heard a Saab owner complain about economy.  There are high thirties to be had if you can restrain yourself but keep the turbo spinning hard just to hear its whistle and chatter and you will pay for it at the filling station. 

Instead, they tend to wax lyrical about the low, long term running costs of these very solid motors.  Saab owners do tend to be a very loyal bunch too, so perhaps they have got something of a point there and you should look at this as a longer term investment, rather than this year's toy.  It is, after all, a  lovely car that's well thought-out, well appointed and well built.  

If you need a big estate but more style than your average Estate/MPV affords, then the Saab 9-5, former What Car? Estate of the Year, fits the bill as a stylish and spacious package.

 

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