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2006 Saab 9-5 Overview

As Scandinavian as Ikea Meatballs

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By Jason Fogelson

Picture of 2006 Saab 9-5

Round, bulbous... Saab!

© Jason Fogelson
Saab has always been known as a quirky car maker. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors, that quirkiness has been threatened in recent years, much to the horror of the "Saabatistas" who love the Swedish brand. With its redesign of the 2006 Saab 9-5, Saab is making a statement: We're here, we're quirky, get used to it. The 2006 Saab 9-5 is available in Sedan and "Sport-Combi" (station wagon) setup, with base prices from $34,820 to $35,820, carrying a 4 year/50,000 mile warranty.

First Glance: Look closely to spot the changes

The 2006 9-5 isn't a total reinvention of the line - it's more like a freshening. If you sit a 2005 9-5 next to a 2006 9-5, the differences are subtle, yet noticeable, with improvements all around. The '06 sits a little lower in the front and slightly higher in the back for a more aggressive stance. The new front fascia is rounder, a little more bulbous-looking than before, hearkening back to the heyday of Saab design. Deeply set, horizontally arranged headlights wrap around the corners of the hood. From the front windshield back, the 9-5 is a bit more conventional. The sedan body and rear have a vaguely Volkswagen look. The rear taillights are odd - they bleed across from the rear fender to the trunk lid, but they don't match up. Obviously an intentional design choice, but weird to my eye.

The Sport-Combi is identical to the Sedan except for the rear quarter, where a slightly rounded greenhouse with wrap-around rear glass replaces the trunk section. It's not traditional station wagon. The Sport-Combi manages to mirror the quirkiness of the front end with a unique look all its own. Both models will appeal to the Saab faithful, but if you've never been a big admirer of the Saab look, the 9.5 won't convert you.

Continued below...

In the Driver's Seat: Comfortable and mildly jet-like

Picture of 2006 Saab 9-5

The Saab 9-3's dash should look so good.

© Jason Fogelson
Saab's new advertising campaign trumpets its aircraft heritage: "Born from Jets." Saab was founded by 16 aircraft engineers, and the legacy is most alive in the 9-5's cockpit. Slide into the driver's seat and you can easily imagine that you're sitting at the controls of a jet. All of the instruments and gauges are canted toward the driver, creating a cocoon of control. The white on black scheme of the gauges is easily read in daylight or at night, and wisely avoids the distracting multi-color gimmickry that's so popular these days.

The driver's seat is incredibly comfortable, with quality leather seating surfaces and great side support. Power adjustment is standard, as are heated front and rear seats (it's cold in Sweden). Power window controls are clustered in front of the center console, rather than on the driver's door. The steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach, and houses cruise and audio controls.

The entire interior is well fit and finished, and exudes quality more than luxury. The design is tasteful and accomplished, leaning toward Scandinavian starkness.

In a nod to Saab heritage, the ignition key location is still next to the driver's thigh in the center console - it just wouldn't be a Saab otherwise.

On the Road: Quick, sharp and safe

Saab simplified the engine choices in the 9-5 for 2006 -- there's just one, the 2.3 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 260 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can choose between a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The manual gets a hydraulic clutch, a slick shifter and access to a little bit more torque (273 lb-ft). Both transmissions drive the front wheels, and can propel the 9-5 in a rush.

Saab has been fitting turbochargers to its motors for many years, and this one is well-matched to the engine and chassis. There's a gauge that lets you know when boost has been engaged. The turbo is very smooth, with none of the lash that turbos are so infamous for. You just get linear power, and a little bit of jet-like noise from under the hood. Cool!

The 9-5 handles very well, with good road feel that's balanced with a smooth ride. The 9-5 inspires confidence in a driver, with excellent road manners and ample power.

Saab is very proud of its safety features, and has racked up some impressive awards in Sweden - home to another very safe car, the Volvo. From body structure to airbags to head restraints, the 9-5 is at the top of the ratings in the US and in Europe. Nice to know, and hope you never have to test.

Journey's End: Simplification works

Picture of 2006 Saab 9-5

Rear end: unique design or just wacky?

© Jason Fogelson
Saab made some very Swedish choices on the current 9-5. They simplified trim choices, engine choices, and design. The result is a better 9-5. With modest sales goals, Saab has a chance to be that rarity - a successful niche brand within the big machine of General Motors, and a car brand with real character.

If you're considering a 9-5, you are probably measuring it against other European brands. You'll want to drive the BMW 3 series, the benchmark for midsize sports-luxury sedans. You'll definitely want to drive the Volvo S60, Saab's Swedish rival. Audi's A6 is a strong choice, as is Mercedes E-class, though both are more expensive than the Saab when comparably equipped. Don't overlook the Japanese -- the Acura TL is an excellent car, as is the Lexus' IS 350. The Infiniti G35 is my personal favorite in the class. The Dodge Charger and Pontiac GTO are blunt instruments that may do the job as well.

If you've just got to have quirky, though, the Saab 9-5 may be the choice for you. The streets of America may never be flooded with Saabs, but there are certainly plenty of Saabatista garages out there looking for a new Swedish creature. The 2006 Saab 9-5 is a great alternative to Ikea for your Scandinavian design fix.

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