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Aaron Gold

First impressions: 2011 Saab 9-5

By September 22, 2010

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2011 Saab 9-5Last week I got a chance to take a very short drive in Saab's new 2011 9-5. So what's it like? Well, my first impression was that there are a lot of General Motors parts. (Saab was owned by GM until just a few months ago.) The steering wheel, column stalks, transmission selector, even the heads-up display are all from the GM parts bin. Even the start/stop switch is a GM part, even though they've moved it down to the center console, where Saabs normally have their ignition keys. I'd heard that the Saab folks were frustrated with GM's stewardship, and I could understand why.

2011 Saab 9-5 interiorBut after a few minutes sitting in the car, little bits of "Saabishness" began to peek through. I saw the egg-crate air vents, last seen on the old 9-5, as a bit of a sop to Saab loyalists. But then I noticed the almost complete lack of adornment surrounding them -- not my favorite Saab trait, but a Saab trait nonetheless. The 9-5 has the Night Panel feature, which darkens and shuts off all the gauges save the speedometer, only lighting them up if they need attention. And then there were the seats... oh, those seats! I don't know how Saab manages to make such comfortable seats, but they do. My drive wasn't long enough to form any meaningful driving impressions, but I did notice the snap of the turbo engine. No wonder GM borrowed that motor for other products, including the Cadillac SRX -- it's a gem.

Overall, the 9-5 feels like a car in a holding pattern. Maybe I'm projecting a bit, but I can see that the 9-5 was designed at a time when GM was squeezing Saab's budget. The smaller 9-3 is also based on a GM platform, but it doesn't seem to have as many corporately-generic details as the new 9-5. That said, it's not as if GM designs bad cars anymore; they don't (well, except for the Pontiac Solstice Coupe). The 9-5 is certainly not bad; it's just not as unique as I expect a Saab to be. Now that Saab is owned by Dutch automaker Spyker -- another fiercely independent company -- it is my hope that they will loosen up the reins and let Saab be Saab. Product development is a slow process, and it'll probably be at least two or three years before we see the results of Saab's new ownership.

With any luck, I'll be getting a 2011 Saab 9-5 for a full test soon. Who knows -- if a few minutes with the car revealed some surprises, perhaps a week with the 9-5 will reveal even more. -- Aaron Gold

More photos of the 2011 Saab 9-5

Photo Saab

September 22, 2010 at 6:40 am
(1) Eric says:

I sat in a 9-5 about a year ago and LOVED the way it sat. Looked all through the car and felt that it was a really good candidate for my next vehicle, even if it was essentially a “Saabified” GM product.

It isn’t surprising that this new car is still heavily GM influenced. There was just no way in the time that has elapsed since the sale of the Marque that Spyker could completely re-do whatever GM had initiated a couple of years ago and get the car out in a reasonable timeframe.

Sounds like the car is still very nice, and hopefully Spyker will do the Marque justice in the coming years by retaining Saab’s uniqueness, while moving it forward in technology.

September 22, 2010 at 9:17 am
(2) Brian says:

Oh I miss my 9-5. Love my Hondas but it was such a fun car to drive. As far as the new one goes, I absolutely love the styling-interior and exterior. However…I know SAABs have never been numbers cars, but…I just don’t think I could justify paying that much for a car that’s got so many sporting pretensions yet is so middling in acceleration. Cars have gotten so fast. And not just lux or near-lux cars. A Charger or an Altima could run circles around this car for so much less money. I know you don’t get all the bells and whistles. But…
If I got one, I’d quickly be looking to see what BSR, Maptun, Nordic or one of the other SAAB tuners could do for me.

September 22, 2010 at 9:53 am
(3) BrooklynBob says:

I’ll tell you something, you are right (!) about the seats in a Saab. My ’94 and then ’98 Saab 900s had the best seats of any car I’ve ever been in. Short or long trips, me keister never ached. My back never had an issue. And my shins, ankles, calves never bothered me a bit. It was the perfect driving car.

Now, it needed more power and the A-pillar was super thick, but damn that car had the best seats.

Go, seats!


September 22, 2010 at 10:12 am
(4) Gary from Atlanta says:

I can’t wait to see what Spyker can do, but I am very nervous about the price $$$. I do not have an extra 800 a month for a car payment.

May 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm
(5) Dave T says:

Hi, Oh those seats BS. Yes, all the previous seats were Saabs best feature. I owned 4 of them. But I went to try 4 new 9-5′s, and the seats were terrible. If you want a Buick Lacrosse seat, buy a Buick. The new Saab seat is the same. I was never more disappointed, especially with the backache I got after only driving for 15 minutes. Whoever wrote this previous article is just repeating previous tales about Saabs.(You forgot to make fun of the key in the middle too).duh I will wait for them to rip this horrible GM seat out of there before I purchase this car. The dealers were not really aware, just out to make a buck whatever they have in the showroom.
Wait a little! davet

June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm
(6) Clark says:

Where is the interior Pictures? Damn it!? Looks cool from the outside, but what about the inside?

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