Saab 9-5 2.8T XWD Aero review

Saab's new BMW 5-series sports saloon rival reviewed. Is the new all-wheel drive 9-5 any good?

Evo rating
Price
from £37,795
  • Brilliant start to a new Saab era
  • Steering and transmission a touch aloof

Among the remarkable things about the new Saab 9-5 is that it’s here at all. Saab came close to death when cash-strapped GM switched off the life support while various bidders circled with varying degrees of credibility. Thanks to Victor Muller, the Dutch boss of supercar maker Spyker, Saab lives again, complete with its Trollhättan factory and a future product plan.

Now effectively independent, Saab can do what it used to do best: create cars with original solutions to common problems and sell them to buyers who shrink away from too-obvious German offerings. This 9-5 was created under GM’s ownership and is based on a stretched Insignia platform, but it’s a solid foundation. By the end of its Saab custody, even GM had worked out what Saab had to be if it were not to vanish down the corporate plughole.

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Seldom, possibly never, has one car been so vital to a company’s future. Get this one wrong and Saab’s rebirth will be an infant mortality. The mix of relief and tension is tangible at Trollhättan, the enthusiasm far beyond conventional business up-talking.

That this is one great-looking car, sleek and imposing and Saab-ish in a way photographs don’t quite convey, is a good start. Inside, space abounds. The roof’s projection into the top of the windscreen, the grid-louvred dashboard with its joystick vent controls and the clean, crisp, wood-free design are typically Saab. The needles are green, and inside the speedo is a second speed display in a rotating-drum style, like an aeroplane altimeter.

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Top of a range which begins with a front-drive 177bhp 1.6 turbo, in current downsizing fashion, is the 2.8 V6 Aero with two turbochargers, a six-speed auto, ‘XWD’ four-wheel drive, DriveSense adaptivity for steering, dampers, throttle response and torque split, and non-turning front struts with separately pivoting hub-carriers for optimum offset (like the Focus RS’s RevoKnuckle or Renaultsport Mégane’s PerfoHub).

On the road it’s smooth, gutsy, swift, quiet. The manual paddle-shifts aren’t very alert so it’s best left in auto, which adds to the sensation of effortless scything across a landscape. On optional 19in wheels the ride can be a touch knobbly; chassis engineer Stefan Rundqvist reckons both ride and handling are better on 18in wheels. After many laps of an undulating, twisting, deliberately distressed test track (Volvo’s, actually), I’d agree.

DriveSense has Comfort, Intelligent and Sport settings; in the last of these, you can ‘de-sport’ the parameters as you wish via a ‘config’ screen. With everything set to Comfort, the 9-5 wafts, sometimes wallows but never understeers; in fact its tail develops amusingly controllable yaw angles. Fully Sportified, the 9-5’s mass seems to evaporate and it becomes keen, pointable, tidy, very capable. A little more steering transparency would be good, but otherwise it’s very hard to fault.

I’d have one over a 5-series or an A6, no question. Objectively it’s as good, in some ways better. Subjectively, it’s about 200 per cent more interesting. Relief at Trollhättan, then.

Specifications

EngineV6, 2792cc, twin-turbo
Max power296bhp @ 5500rpm
Max torque295lb ft @ 2000rpm
0-606.9sec (claimed 0-62mph)
Top speed155mph
On saleNow, £37,795
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