Saab roars back to life
Published 30/10/2010 | 05:00
This car had a strange effect on me. Let me tell you why. Last year, the chances of me reviewing it were remote. Saab was in its death throes. The obituaries were written. It was effectively on the scrapheap.
Yet by dint of perseverance and God knows what else, somehow it was salvaged. It now has a future. It now has plans.
You are probably ahead of me at this stage in thinking it is an excellent, I would say uplifting, example of how things can be turned around. Look, maybe I was clutching at straws and certainly I am over-simplifying matters, but can we not take something from it?
I am so numb with the gloom of economy and society at this stage I am beginning to wonder if we are anaesthetising ourselves with the bleakness. Sure, an economy is not like a carmaker but there are parallels. And we have to believe we can do a Saab.
I'm not saying the 9-5 is a perfect example of the phoenix rising from the ashes. It has its flaws and failings but it is up and running. It was quite an experience to drive something that quite easily could never have materialised.
Saab was previously owned by General Motors and there are easily drawn comparisons and parallels with that era. But they have managed, just about in some areas, to make it feel more like a Saab. And no doubt they will work hard to deepen that impression because it has to be distinctive and appeal on its own merits to be successful. There is a long road ahead but they have taken the first steps.
That said, it still has to compete in the real world and by golly that remains a tough place. I mean they don't come much tougher than the likes of BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class rivals.
Nonetheless there is a loyal following out there. They will be happy and disappointed with elements of this. The 9-5 is a big, comfortable motor. I have always liked the way they do cabins, especially the instrumentation and the way the dashboard and central console wrap around you.
This follows the trail, though I do believe the cabin is duller than it could or should be. Still, on a long ould journey back from Roscommon it was just what I needed -- solid and comfortable.
It does not have the driving or handling vivacity of either the Beemer or Merc. The suspension felt a tad heavy, less responsive than I'd like and in need of a sportier tuning (for my preference anyway). It was a lovely drive on the motorways that now knit our communities but a bit clunky over the roads that still remind us of how poor matters used to be.
The two-litre diesel engine worked well though I wasn't that happy with the gear spacing. Getting first gear was a little difficult initially and I'd have liked a little more pulling power in fifth and sixth -- in fairness that is quibbling a bit.
There's grand boot space and rear seat room is sufficient to take three adults in reasonable comfort (thanks to an increase in wheelbase).
The big solid and lumbar-adjustable seats made driving it a pleasure for me. I don't think one can over-emphasise that element of any car.
There are a few seats out there -- and I have complained about them here -- that simply do not provide the level of support that is warranted.
Of course, safety is always high on the Saab menu and there's a plethora of technology and equipment to avert or minimise damage. Little wonder it has a five-star European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) rating.
One of the safety features, the active front headrests, is worthy of mention. These are now fairly common but I don't know if people realise how big a role they can play. These effectively move forward to 'cup' your neck /head in the event of a rear-end shunt, which as you know, is a prime cause of whiplash. Just think of the pain and misery those headrests can save.
I wish we had the equivalent for dealing with the whiplash of budget cuts. We don't. But we might take some heart from the Saab experience. We can bounce back. No doubt at all about that. And what a great symbol it would be if we could get the ministers out of their big state cars and into a few Saabs. It might stand as a daily reminder of what can be achieved.
What: Saab 9-5 mid-size executive saloon 2.0 TiD, Vector ( 1,956cc, 160bhp), 6spd gearbox, CO2 of 139g/km; VRT is 16pc. €156 annual road tax.
Cost: From €36,500. Vector version tested €39,500. Delivery, related charges extra
Target market: Executives, families.
Plus: Space, comfort, equipment.
Minus: Lags main rivals on handling and ride, concerns over future values.
Standard Equipment: Front foglamps, auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, heated mirrors, MP3 integration and electronic park brake.
Linear spec: Cruise control, dual zone air con, lumbar support front seats, several airbags, electronic parking brake, electric/heated mirrors, ninespeaker audio system, active front headrests. And Vector spec adds front/rear park assist, heated front seats, leather upholstery.
Others to consider: Mercedes EClass, BMW 5-series, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS, Volvo S80.
Rating: 79 / 100