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First drive: Saab's overhauled 9-5 goes gothic!

Nose-job: New-look 9-5 features heavy chassis revisions too.

Saab takes the scalpel to its 9-5 luxury model but are the changes extensive enough?

2 May 2006

REPUTATIONS mean a lot at Saab.

It has built an enviable one for being the sensible Swede, with cars respected around the world for high safety levels, sweet turbocharged engines and intrinsically Swedish design thinking and engineering. But is that enough in today’s killer automotive environment? Saab Australia New Zealand director, Ralph Stevenson, thinks so, saying that the heavily facelifted 9-5 range would increase Saab’s appeal among "independent-minded and discerning customers with a strong design aesthetic".

Saab’s own research shows that about three-quarters of its current 9-5 drivers have previously owned another 9-5.

"This is an enormous vote of confidence in the vehicle and the brand," Mr Stevenson said.

Almost 90 per cent of owners base their buying decision on "driving comfort" of the vehicle.

"Our customers are very clear about what they like about the car, it’s roadholding, handling and overall quality and performance," he said.

With modest sales expectations of just 250 9-5 sales over the next 12 months the brand is essentially in a holding pattern until much-needed newer products arrive over the next four years, including a new replacement for the 9-5, due by 2009.

Last year Saab sold 175 9-5s locally.

Although Mr Stevenson refused to talk product, Saab is believed to be working on a crossover all-wheel drive and smaller sedan/hatch that will fit under the 9-3. Both will provide much-needed volume.

However, the focus is on the refreshed 9-5, which has undergone significant chassis, suspension and body changes to keep it fresh.

38 center imageThe front sub-frame has been extended and strengthened, the MacPherson strut front suspension has been "de-coupled" to separate spring and damper load paths to improve control and afford better insulation from road shocks.

There is also a thick – 21mm – front anti-roll bar, as used in the Aero. The front shock absorbers offer 15 per cent more damping power, which is said to assist body control.

Visually the styling changes were done in-house at Saab’s brand centre in Sweden and the grille and headlights borrow heavily from the 9X concept car.

The look is harmonious, forward looking and gives a glimpse of where Saab design is headed over the next few years.

At the rear, the bumper and boot have been reprofiled for a smoother look and the car’s profile. The rear track has increased 6mm to enhance the car’s sportier stance.

The newcomer boasts a 40 per cent more rigid front assembly than the previous model – it has a five-star EuroNCAP rating - and the engineering emphasis has focused on better road-holding, steering precision and sportier dynamics.

Inside the door and seat trims are new, while the dashboard has been revised to be more functional and easier to use.

Five variants will be available – three sedans and two wagons – all powered by turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engines in low, mid-pressure and high-output turbo (HOT) tunes.

A higher-spec Vector model essentially replaces the Arc model while it and the Vector also benefit from a $2000 price cut.

The five-speed manual 136kW/280Nm Linear sedan is the entry point and Saab expects it to be the volume seller with 70 per cent of sales.

Next step up is the 162kW/310Nm Vector sedan and 191kW/350Nm Aero sedan, while the Linear SportEstate and Aero SportEstate round out the range.

Unlike the 9-3, no V6 is planned as Saab claims the Aero’s 2.3HOT engine actually develops a wider spread of torque over the rev-range than the new Holden-sourced V6 available in the 9-3.

The 2.3HOT engine develops 7kW more power compared to the previous Aero. Maximum torque is available between 1800rpm and 5200rpm, compared to 1900rpm and 4000rpm for the previous Aero.

A five-speed Aisin auto with Sentronic gear buttons on the steering wheel is standard on all models but a $2500 option on Linear.

A manual Aero is available on special order but Saab expects a low-takeup as prestige buyers tend to opt for automatics.

In manual form the Aero includes an "superboost" facility that automatically engages at full throttle openings, lifting torque to 370Nm for up to 20 seconds for even swifter overtaking.

Standard equipment on the Linear runs to climate control, ESP, ABS, traction control, four airbags, 16-inch alloys, heated front seats, leather upholstery, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and power windows/mirrors.

The Vector adds 17-inch alloys, colour-coded bodywork, parking sonar, front foglights, electric front seats, sports leather trim and different trim.

The top-of-the-range Aero further delivers with 17-inch alloys, six-stacker in-dash CD player, high-intensity headlights, colour-coded body work, sunroof, upgraded sports suspension, two-tone leather trim and tint-chrome dashboard and trim.

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