Saab 9-5

Wrested from the clutches of General Motors, the Swedish car-maker is back in business – and playing to its traditional strengths

Never has a new car been so important to a car-maker. Saab depends on the new 9-5 for its survival: if the car fails, so does the company. Cast adrift by General Motors, its owner since 1990, Saab was in the process of liquidation and wind-down as part of GM's own survival and restructuring plan.

The popular view is that GM never really understood Saab, its strange Swedish outpost with the unusual solutions to common design problems, and it relied on the name alone to impart the required premium aura. Starved of investment, sidelined in its influence, Saab withered as its products aged.

The truth is less harsh than that, although once loyal customers did defect to other brands as the Saabishness of Saabs evaporated. GM had tried to broaden Saab's appeal, which meant watering it down. Out with the bathwater went the baby.

However, GM had invested handsomely in the Trollhattan factory. In the end, though, GM in its disarray took a schizophrenic approach to Saab. While winding the factory down, it simultaneously invited bids for the business. Several players emerged, but in the end Victor Muller, whose business interests include Dutch supercar maker Spyker, took control. GM has retained a few non-voting preference shares and the European Investment Bank has made a loan.

So Saab is back in business, with new models planned, freedom to deal with partners of its choosing (including GM for existing technology), and a pledge to regain the customers it lost by making "proper" Saabs again.

The relief and enthusiasm at Trollhattan are tangible. Worldwide "Save Saab" rallies showed great goodwill for the brand and Mr Muller says they helped seal its future. He and Saab CEO Jan-Ake Jonsson both took part in the prestigious Mille Miglia historic rally in two-stroke Saab 93s, to tumultuous encouragement. The signs are good.

Now the acid test: the new 9-5. It was designed during GM's last throes of Saab ownership and uses a stretched version of the new, sophisticated platform that underpins the Vauxhall Insignia, but it shows that in the end, GM was finally starting to understand Saab. The look is streamlined and futuristic but unmistakably Saab. Inside, as well as ample space we find a refreshingly clean, simple take on interior design, some typical Saabisms including joystick-controlled air vents made up of multi-layered grids, some beautifully-constructed dials and displays with green needles and, on one setting, an on-screen rendering of a "rotating drum" speedometer.

Wood is absent, textures and finishes are sumptuous. Engines? The range (£26,695 to £37,795) starts with a 180bhp, 1.6-litre petrol turbo, and is topped by a 2.8-litre, twin-turbo V6 with a healthy 300bhp. This version, fitted with four-wheel drive, was used to demonstrate the disdainful ease with which the 9-5 can dispatch twists, turns, crests and dips on a very scenic Swedish test track. Playing with its DriveSense controls, which alter damping, steering weight, engine response and (in a 4wd 9-5) the way the torque is distributed between front and rear axles, I could turn the 9-5 from a languid but confident boulevardier to a proper sports saloon, or somewhere in between.

This 2.8T is an unflustered but very rapid machine. Many more buyers, however, will go for the 2.0-litre TiD diesel, in either 160bhp or 190bhp forms. I tried the latter; it was lively enough but it never really shed its gruffness. Core of the range, and the most true to the way Saabs have been over the past quarter-century, is the 2.0T whose 220bhp is enough for plentiful pace. It pulls well from low speeds, thanks to a twin-scroll turbo and direct fuel injection which together minimise the response lag found in older turbo engines, and it suits the 9-5 very well. That said, the manual-transmission example had a mushy gearchange, while the automatic example made the engine seem smoother but suffered from a rumble at 1,850rpm (a "fix" is in hand).

These 2.0T cars had front-wheel drive and handled sweetly. All these 9-5s also proved adept at smothering bumps but, as ever, the larger-wheels option is best avoided for broken British roads. These are good cars.

As good as the German rivals? The Saab is certainly a lot more interesting and, to my eyes, rather better looking. I also like the idea of supporting the underdog at this vital time. (Don't worry, the dealer chain is fully intact.) Given a choice of an A6, a 5-series, an E-class or a Saab 9-5, I'd take the Saab and enjoy the difference.

The Rivals

Audi A6 2.0 TFSI 211: from £26,270.

Good-looking, well-made, but not very exciting. Sells on quality and image; Audi is where disaffected Saab buyers most often turned.

BMW 523i SE: £31,360.

Actually a 3.0-litre, 204bhp straight-six despite the misleading name, but the cheapest petrol-fuelled 5-series. Not the "driving machine" it once was.

Mercedes-Benz E200 CGI: from £28,360.

A 1,796cc, four-cylinder, supercharged engine with 184bhp powers this frugal Mercedes. Infused with traditional Benz values.

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power