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Car reviews - Saab - 9-5 - Griffin sedan

Our Opinion

We like
On-road poise, comfort, safety, performance
Room for improvement
Complicated radio controls, sanitized interior

29 Mar 2001

SAAB is hunting the BMW 528i, Audi A6 2.8, Mercedes-Benz E280 and - most particularly - Volvo S80 with its 9-5 Griffin, a car that, like the mythological beast after which it is named, is supposed to embody strength and intelligence.

It enjoys a slight price advantage over its rivals but time will tell whether this will be enough to sway potential buyers of the other brands.

In its favour, the Griffin has an equipment list above and beyond any of its competitors. Traction control, anti-lock brakes, an electric glass sunroof, six-stack CD changer, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual front and side airbags and a remote alarm with tilt sensor are among the standard features.

A woodgrain dash, wood and leather steering wheel, ventilated front seats, refrigerated glovebox, automatic climate control and a 200 watt audio system with Harman Kardon speakers and amplifiers are also part of the deal.

The Saab also takes the high ground on passive safety, having scored the best-ever rating in Euro NCAP testing. The safety stance is further helped by the inclusion of Saab's "active" front head restraints that cleverly reduce the chances of whiplash injury while returning to stand-by position after deployment so repair costs aren't an issue.

Of more dubious value but interesting nonetheless is the night-panel instrument illumination that can be used to minimise distraction at night by lighting up only the essential information At the Griffin's heart lies an asymmetrically turbocharged, 3.0-litre V6 engine that generates 147kW at 5000rpm and a healthy 310Nm from 2500rpm to 4000rpm.

Relaying power to the front wheels is an adaptive four-speed automatic transmission.

The asymmetrically title comes from the fact the engine only draws from one side of the V6 engine to draw exhaust manifold power for the low-pressure turbo. The result is a simplified installation and, because of the small turbo, no need for the usual "wastegate" that bleeds off turbo boost if it exceeds requirements.

As the figures suggest, the maximum power and torque figures arrive at relatively low engine speeds to ensure ample reserves of acceleration are easily accessible.

The boosted V6 delivers ready power from the outset and develops what, to most people, is an attractive but appropriately muted growl under acceleration.

On the open road the Griffin is a swift, sure projectile that feels firm and secure with minimal wind and road noise.

Saab says the Griffin's suspension has been uprated to reduce body roll, but not to such a degree that the ride suffers - it is, after all, primarily a luxury car.

The car's road manners are therefore a well-judged balance between rode quality and handling ability, largely made possible by the employment of decent-size wheels and tyres. Certainly the car does not suffer the decisive understeer to which many heavy front-drive cars are prone.

About the only negative is the car's tendency to allow some tyre noise to intrude.

Visually, the Griffin is distinguished from its lesser 9-5 siblings only by its discreet badging and the 16-spoke alloy wheels. In fact, viewed from the front there is nothing to distinguish the Griffin from the base 9-5 S model, while from the rear the only visual cue is the V6's twin-tailpipe exhaust.

That is something of a pity as the car deserves to look a little different to its rather cheaper siblings, which start around $25,000 less.

The interior looks initially a little plain considering the Griffin's upmarket role, but in typical Swedish fashion it effectively does its job of cosseting passengers and making the driver's job comfortable.

The wood/leather steering wheel oozes solidity and the ventilated front seats promise unheard of comfort in a leather-trimmed car during the summer.

The driving position, variable with the help of electric front seats and a multi-adjustable steering column, is outstanding and there is plenty of space in both front and back.

And, like the more prosaic 9-5 models, there is a massive boot made even more useable by the provision of a split-fold rear seat and a seat cushion that folds flat to maximise loading space.

Overall, the Griffin is an interesting alternative to its German rivals, particularly for those seeking the quirky charm of the Swedish brand.

- Automotive NetWorks 16/07/1999

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