Saab 9-5 Sportwagon

New owners have rescued the Swedish carmaker and its engineers have redeemed its rough ride

Saab, about a year ago, Phoenix-like from death at the hand of its recent custodian, General Motors, produced the very handsome Saab 9-5.

But it did not get the positive reception from UK pundits that its creators would have liked. Part of the problem lay in the perceived dourness of its dashboard, although, to me, this resolute blackness suggested single-minded, Swedish-tinged functionality rather than darkness of spirit.

More worrying was that the press demonstration cars all had Sport suspension and glamorous, big-diameter wheels shod with racy low-profile tyres. These Saabs looked great – to my eyes the most handsome of today's big saloons – but they dealt miserably with the lumps and bumps that disfigure our roads.

I then drove a 9-5 with Comfort suspension and higher-profile tyres, and it was fine. So good, in fact, that I included it in my European Car of the Year shortlist. Many of the cars sold in the UK have been similarly equipped, and Saab's UK importer says there have been no complaints about them. However, the criticism still hurt pride and, probably, sales.

Then the reborn Saab company ran out of money again and production ground to a halt. Cue another rescue, this time by two hitherto unknown players in the world's largest and fastest-growing car market: China. The companies are Pang Da Automobile Trade and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile (nothing to do with Lotus sports cars). Between them they now co-own a significant portion of the Dutch company, Spyker, which itself acquired most of Saab from GM.

It's complicated, but it means Saabs are back in production once again. While this has been going on, Saab's engineers have been sorting out the suspension of the 9-5. The changes involve making the ride softer over bumps without spoiling the precision of steering response.

With these revisions comes the Sportwagon, a new estate-car alternative to the existing saloon priced from £29,880. An unusually handsome machine with sleek lines, it has the expected estate-car features, including a large and flat load bay which optionally contains a "U-rail" system in which a pair of posts is joined by telescopic bars. You can move the posts around the U to create a load divider anywhere on the boot floor and at any angle as needed.

To drive, the Sportwagon feels just like the saloon even down to sharing the same degree of road noise insulation at the back, which is not always the case with estate cars. The examples I drove featured the recalibrated suspension systems in various guises, some more successful than others.

The relatively basic 2.0 TiD still felt fidgety despite standard Comfort calibration because it was running on the racy 18in wheels. On smaller wheels it would probably be fine, but buyers demand the big ones and Saab's engineers are determined to give the fashion victims decent comfort. Testing continues before UK sales begin in September. Next, more diesel power and optional adaptive dampers, which felt loose over sharp bumps in Comfort mode, too restless in Sport mode, almost as good as the final car in Intelligent.

That final car had the HiPer strut suspension in Sport specification, a smooth and lusty 220bhp petrol turbo engine, and standard, non-adaptive dampers. This was the one; its steering was crisp, progressive and natural, its ride was supple but controlled. This is how a 9-5 should be, even on 18in wheels, and it shows how good a 9-5 can be. Saab's own engineers like it best, and so do I.

Would it make me buy a 9-5 Sportwagon over an obvious German rival? I do believe it would, not least because it's a refreshing and worthwhile break from the default choices. Own a Saab, and it's clear you've thought about it. And that, in today's brand-obsessed world, has to be a good thing.

The Rivals

Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TFSI: from £29,090, 170bhp, 174g/km

Latest generation A6 has an improved interior, more technology and sharper driving dynamics.

BMW 523i Touring: from £34,990, 204bhp, 185g/km

Cheapest petrol-fuelled 5-series is very expensive, and not quite the driving machine the breed once was.

Mercedes-Benz E200 CGi estate: from £31,310, 184bhp, 184g/km

Lowliest E-class is, perhaps unexpectedly, a more enjoyable drive than the BMW. Latest Mercs ooze old-school quality, too.

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Geography Teacher

    £130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

    Do you want to work in Education?

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

    Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit