First impressions of the new Saab 9-5 are extremely favourable. Back from the brink, the new executive saloon is Saab’s first model since its brush with oblivion, and the Swedish manufacturer is feeling positive. The first song on the Saab-compiled playlist that accompanies our drives is Stone Roses classic I Am The Resurrection.
The styling is a good mix of forward-looking design and some traditional Saab touches, and it’s a car with real presence, especially when compared to the German execs.
The new 9-5 exec will line up against the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF, not to mention models from Volvo, Infiniti, Lexus and Alfa Romeo.
It’s a tricky sector with some heavy hitters, and the new 9-5 will still have the lingering scent of GM about it, which becomes more evident inside the car.
For while the new 9-5 is aggressive, sleek and individual from the outside, it’s a bit of a let-down inside. Some typically weak GM-esque interiors let the side down, with some horrible shiny plastic surrounding the central stack.
It’s a shame, as the aerospace-inspired details like the green dials, Night Panel switch that de-illuminates most of the dash and multimedia, and too-cool Head-Up Display – the latter an option on lower models – are innovative touches that set the Swedish exec apart from the other contenders. But what would a Jaguar XF owner make of this?
Ignition can now be located in the form of a starter button, while there’s a wraparound cockpit-style dash to keep Saab fans happy. It’s nice, but it doesn’t really knock your socks off the way the Jaguar interior does the first time you sit inside it.
The seats are fairly comfortable, the two-tone colour scheme in the test model attractive and the 9-5 feels very spacious – good news for all those sales reps who need comfort in the daily jaunts on the motorway but want something a little bit different to do it in. Rear head- and legroom looks generous, and the 515-litre boot appears cavernous.
Entry-level Vector models get leather seats, 17-inch alloys, dimming rear-view mirror, steering-wheel controls, AUX and USB sockets, heated front seats, Bluetooth, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, keyless stop and start ignition, nine-speaker CD player, rain-sensing wipers and front and rear parking sensors.
Move up to Aero and there’s full leather, HiPer strut suspension, a sporty bodykit, bi-xenon headlights, electric front seats, sport steering wheel, leather sports seats and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Options include the aforementioned HUD, a sports chassis, Harman-Kardon sound system, satnav, auto box and XWD, although some of these are standard depending on model.
On the road the 9-5 gets some admiring glances, particularly from a 9-3 driver who tails the 9-5 for some time, taking in the lines and flourishes. But the stilted, questioning voice of the female satnav and an undetectable rattle irritate.
The 217bhp petrol turbo engine has decent grunt across the board, even if it needs a bit of encouragement to get there. The sprint time is 7.6 seconds, top speed 149mph and combined economy an official 33.6mpg; 30.4mpg on the test.
The 2.8-litre XWD 9-5 is a different proposition altogether. Decked out in black it looks rather more purposeful, and with a hefty 297bhp of power and a good chunk of torque right through the rev range, it’s a bit of a beast. 62mph comes up in 6.6 seconds and it feels like it would keep going for a long time through the sometimes-vague autobox.
But while the cross-wheel drive, which splits torque between all four wheels and works in conjunction with an electronic LSD, lends more confidence when pushing the Saab, it also makes the 9-5 feel heavy.
However, the three-way driving dynamics settings do offer flexibility, depending on how you want to drive the 9-5.
Combined fuel consumption of 26.6mpg – closer to 22mpg during a brief, and spirited, drive – and CO2 emissions of 244g/km make the 2.8T a bit of a luxury too, though it certainly is fun.
A final drive in the 218bhp 2.0-litre auto feels more relaxed, albeit rather gruff lower down the rev range and the autobox saps performance and economy. The 9-5 doesn’t get anywhere near the official combined mileage of 30.1mpg, instead returning 23.6mpg on some fairly relaxed driving.
Diesel models, available with entry-level Vector trim, are the only models to offer really impressive economy and emissions, though a 1.6-litre petrol model is also available.
Overall, the new 9-5 hits the mark more often that it misses, but it still feels like an exec that’s too compromised to challenge the best in the sector.
Handling and ride don’t really match up to the German and British pace-setters, and the interior is some way off the best too.
But there’s something to build on here. The 9-5’s looks, interior space and brand are enough to make this a competitive car, and the desire of car-buyers to go for something off-the-beaten track – especially with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar becoming such a common sight on the road – should not be underestimated.
The new 9-5 doesn’t really represent the new Spyker-owned Saab, and seeing what more there is to come is a thrilling prospect. In the meantime, the 9-5 is another decent, but slightly underwhelming Saab.