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First Oz drive: Saab 9-5 vectors in on sport

Taking flight: The Aero has been bolstered with a 184kW engine.

New names, new equipment and new pricing for Saab's mid-size luxury car

18 Oct 2001

SAAB has upgraded, renamed and re-priced its range of 9-5 luxury sedans and wagons that go on sale November 1, promising a sportier drive into the bargain.

In total, the Swedish manufacturer says there have been 1265 design and engineering changes to the 9-5, although you'd struggle to pick many of them externally.

Look hard and you'll see smoother bumpers, clear lenses for the headlights, new-design alloy wheels, revised badging and rear bumper curtains for most models. The sedan is also 22mm and the wagon 20mm longer.

The nomenclature for the range has been abandoned, with new designations called "forms" - said to be inspired by the Scandinavian architecture - taking their place.

This means the old 2.0 and S are replaced by Linear, the SE by Arc and a new model line introduced called Vector. The Aero badge is retained for the sports model.

The wagon is now officially referred to as a SportEstate and is not available as a 2.0, while the Griffin V6 turbo sedan has been dropped.

It's the Aero which gets a lot of the attention, with engine power from its 2.3-litre high output turbo engine climbing from 169kW to 184kw courtesy of changes to the engine management system and boost in turbo pressure to 1.5 bar. Torque lifts in auto form from 330Nm to 350Nm to match the manual, although the latter still benefits from a 20-second 20Nm overboost function.

Curiously, Saab is claiming no performance improvement for the new engine, which it says will accelerate the Aero manual from 0-100 in 6.9 seconds and the auto in 8.2 seconds. Combined fuel consumption is slightly improved on the old car at 9.06L/100km.

The 2.0-litre 110kW and 2.3-litre 136kW low pressure turbo engines in the rest of the range are unchanged.

All engines are now mated to a five-speed auto transmission, an upgrade from the previous four-speeder. Manual gearboxes are now a special order option only.

The new auto's first gear is reduced by 26 per cent compared to the old unit, is adaptive and offers Normal, Sport and Winter modes.

The Aero is also fitted with an electronic stability programme (ESP) for the first time, along with an improved anti-lock braking and traction control system.

From early to mid-2002 the Aero will also come standard with Bi-Xenon headlights.

The chassis of all models has been reworked in search of sportier behaviour and improved steering. These changes include stiffening the springs, increasing the anti-roll bar by 1.0mm, firmer damper settings, stiffening the front subframe and bushes for the rear trailing arms, new-generation Michelin tyres and coupling longer steering arms to the steering rack.

On the safety front all models have new adaptive airbags with a passenger-sensing system, retuned seatbelt performance, improved interior headlining, better knee protection for front seat passengers and Isofix child-seat mounting points.

Pricing has gone up across the range, by between $1900 and $6900, although Saab argues that the rises are more than accounted for by increased specification.

Compared to the old S 2.0, the Linear 2.0 adds comfort features like leather door inserts, rain sensing wipers and new-design steel wheel covers. The 2.3t adds new-design 16-inch alloy wheels.

Compared to the SE, the Arc adds a power sunroof, parking assistance, ventilated leather seats, new-design 16-inch alloy wheels and light walnut woodgrain.

The new Vector is priced to match Arc, but has a more performance-oriented equipment list including sports leather seats, leather door inserts, sports leather steering wheel, metallic trim finish dashboard, new-design 17-inch wheels and integrated sports body kit.

The Aero adds sports leather seats, metallic trim finish dashboard, rain sensing wipers and new-design 17-inch alloy wheels.

9-5 Linear 2.0t auto $61,900
9-5 Linear 2.3t auto $66,900
9-5 Linear 2.3t auto SportEstate $68,900
9-5 Arc 2.3t auto $75,900
9-5 Arc 2.3t auto SportEstate $77,900
9-5 Vector 2.3t auto $75,900
9-5 Vector 2.3t auto SportEstate $77,900
9-5 Aero 2.3t auto $83,900
9-5 Aero 2.3t auto SportEstate $85,900


THE 9-5 has never been regarded as a trendsetter in a market category that is dominated by two of the biggest names in the luxury game: BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Nevertheless it has earned a reputation for being a solid, comfortable and commodious transporter, and that's something that hasn't changed for this mid-life update.

Our drive impression was limited to the Aero, which continues to impress for its combination of sporting good looks and above average performance from the now boosted high performance turbo engine.

There's no shortage of go here, with peak torque spread between 1900 and 4500rpm and peak power at 5300rpm. Anywhere you plant your foot the response is strong, smooth and quiet.

But not seamless, there was some lag from the new gearbox and the down changes were quite noticeable when accelerating out of tight corners.

The Aero's sporting proposition also meant the ride was quite firm with some bump-thump from the suspension and aggressive 17-inch tyres, which also made quite a lot noise on coarser road surfaces.

With its new sports seats and metallic finish trim the Aero's interior further emphasises the sporting intent, but managed also to retain the comfort, space and flexibility the 9-5 is renowned for. The SportEstate simply underlines this point further.

Saab is looking for growth in 9-5 sales at the end of year, which has not been a strong one for its flagship. However, a $1.5 million advertising spend between November and Christmas promoting the update should mean some more attention will be paid to it.

Saab 9-3 changes

THE Saab 9-3 range has also been adjusted, with the S replaced by the Turbo Anniversary, which as the name suggests celebrates 25 years of Saab turbo power.

There are a series of exterior and interior changes including new 16-inch alloy wheels, turbo embossing on the leather seats and a woodgrain dashboard. Body styles remain the same, with three and five-door hatches and a convertible offered.

The 9-3 Aero range gains a carbon-fibre dashboard, in-dash CD player and power sunroof.

Pricing is up across the range.

9-3 Turbo Anniversary three-door $48,900
9-3 Turbo Anniversary three-door auto $51,000
9-3 Turbo Anniversary five-door $50,900
9-3 Turbo Anniversary five-door auto $53,000
9-3 Turbo Anniversary convertible $67,900
9-3 Turbo Anniversary convertible auto $70,000
9-3 Aero three-door $60,900
9-3 Aero three-door auto $63,000
9-3 Aero five-door $62,900
9-3 Aero five-door auto $65,000
9-3 Aero convertible $84,900
9-3 Aero convertible auto $87,000

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