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First drive: Saab flies its 9-5 flagship – finally

Here at last: Saab has released its first new 9-5 in 14 years in Australia.

New 9-5 tasked with getting Saab off to a solid start for new Aussie distributor

8 Apr 2011

SAAB'S first all-new 9-5 flagship sedan in 14 years has finally hit the Australian market, carrying the hopes of the fragile Swedish brand on its stylishly broad shoulders.

Launched locally with impeccably unlucky timing in a week when the Saab factory in Sweden has ground to a halt due to a shortage of parts from unpaid component makers due to cash-flow problems, the new 9-5 has been priced under rival European luxury competitors, with the cheapest of the three models launched at $71,900.

The new all-turbo 9-5 – built on the same General Motors platform as the Opel Insignia in a hangover from Saab's now-mostly-severed links with the American giant – was put on hold while Saab found a new future under Dutch sportscar-maker Spyker in February last year.

Now, more than a year later, the 9-5 has arrived in the new-look Saab Australia's slim dealership network of just eight outlets, where it joins fresh shipments of the ageing Saab 9-3 to drive the brand forward into its uncertain future.

Saab Australia managing director Stephen Nicholls said he expects the 9-5 to account for between 80 and 100 units this year – about a quarter of the 400-plus vehicles the fledgling Australian subsidiary hopes to move in 2011.

Launched in sedan format only – the 9-5 Combi wagon is expected Down Under in about October – the 9-5 range is available in two specification levels – Vector and Aero – with Saab Australia electing to leave the base Linear model back in Europe.

The front-drive Vector comes with a choice of two 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines – a Turbo4 petrol producing 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque, and a TiD4 diesel – the first diesel ever in a 9-5 – that bangs out 118kW of power and 350Nm of torque.

Due the the benefits of Australia's luxury car tax rules that slash the impost on cars that manage fuel efficiency better than 7.0 litres per 100km, the diesel is actually the cheapest model at $71,900. For the record, the diesel has a combined fuel consumption rating of 6.7L/100km, with the petrol four-cylinder coming in at 9.4L/100km and the V6 Aero at 11.3L/100km.

38 center imageThe petrol four-cylinder Vector steps the price up to $75,900, while the range-topping all-wheel-drive Aero Turbo6 XWD, with 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque from its Holden-made 2.8-litre turbo V6, stretches the price to $94,900.

By way of price comparison, fellow Swedish brand Volvo's cheapest S80 is $79,950, while Audi's most affordable A6 – which is due to be replaced in July – is list-priced at $77,000 for the 2.0-litre diesel. BMW's most affordable 5-Series, the 320d, is $83,300.

All 9-5 engines are linked with a six-speed torque-converter-type automatic transmission.

At more than five metres long, the new 9-5 is bigger in almost every dimension than its predecessor that petered out in Australia in September 2009 as Holden's GM Premium Brands – the previous importer – wound up its Saab operations in Australia when parent company GM prepared to give it the axe.

The extra size of the 9-5 not only greatly improves cabin space but puts to rest one of the perennial issues with the 9-5 – its similar size to the entry-level 9-3 that was not only cheaper but more contemporary. Now, the 9-5 really is more metal for the money.

Leg-room also is now competitive with Euro luxo rivals, and significantly greater than the cramped 9-3.

The styling borrows more heavily from Saab's aeronautical roots, with a wrap around windscreen and blacked-out A-pillars meant to represent a plane’s cockpit.

At the back, the 9-5 gets a bar of red LED lights across the car – part of Saab's new design signature, apparently. The traditional hockey-stick C pillar design stays.

Oddly, each of the three 9-5 variants rides on its own unique suspension set-up – not just in tune but also design.

The Vector diesel gets a MacPherson strut front suspension, with a multi-link rear arrangement. The Vector four-cylinder petrol model also shares the conventional MacPherson front set up, but it has an H-link design down the back, apparently to afford great stability for the more powerful vehicle.

The H-link design is also used in the V6 Aero XWD, but because of the need to guard against torque steer – a problem that many Saab drivers know plenty about – it has a unique front suspension that Saab calls HiPerstrut.

Likewise, the V6 turbo is only available with Saab's XWD drive system to help tame the torrent of torque and deliver greater grip. This system also includes an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential that can transfer torque between the rear wheels according to the available traction.

The flagship Aero gets a three-mode electronically controlled damping system called DriveSense that can be adjusted to a plush 'comfort', stiff 'sport' or 'intelligent' (an automatic setting that adjusts automatically according to driving vigour). The selection is made with a twist of a knob on the centre console.

This system is also a $1500 option on the petrol Vector, but unavailable on the diesel Vector.

Cars equipped with DriveSense also get variable power steering assistance.

Saab aficionados will be disappointed to learn that Saab has given the traditional centre console key start the boot, but at least the keyless system has a start-stop button in its place. Keyless entry is also standard.

Leather is standard across the range (with the Aero getting a more sporty black perforated texture), as is a aeroplane-style head up display projected on to the windscreen, with three modes than can include a digital tacho and outside temperature reading, depending on driver preference. Taking the Saab aeronautical heritage to new levels, the 'conventional' tacho in the middle of the round speedo in the driver's instrument binnacle rolls like an aircraft altimeter.

Standard features on all models include sat-nav with an eight-inch screen, Bluetooth and other forms of connectivity, plus a Harman/Kardon sound system with a 10Gb hard drive.

Vector models get 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, while the Aero steps up to 19-inch alloys with a turbine-like spoke pattern. A full-size (steel) spare wheel is standard.

The Aero also rides a little lower than the Vector on its sports chassis, and it can also be distinguished by sportier front and rear bumper designs and dual exhaust outlets.

Advanced park assist is standard on the Aero for automated parallel parking (the Vector gets standard parking sensors).

Bi-xenon headlights are standard on all models, but the Aero gets a smart feature that adjusts the beam according to speed and cornering. The headlights have a blue tinge that Saab calls 'ice block' – a style trait that is likely to appear on more Saab products.

In current European style, LED running lights are now included, following the lower curve of the headlights. Fog lights are also standard.

The Saab 9-5 safety has already been rated five starts by EuroNCAP – a rating that is expected to carry over into Australia.

The 9-5's warranty is an industry standard three years, 100,000km.

2011 Saab 9-5 pricing:
Vector TiD4 $71,990
Vector Turbo4 petrol $75,900
Aero Turbo6 XWD $94,900

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