First Glance: Look closely to spot the changes
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.
In the Driver's Seat: Comfortable and mildly jet-like
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 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
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.