SAAB 9-5

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SAAB’S 50th year of plying for trade in the UK has seen a number of milestones – and the most significant must be the car that now tops their range, writes Robin Auchterlonie.

A topsy turvy time when the future of the marque looked in serious doubt was finally sorted by those most unlikely of knights on white chargers, the Dutch.

Spyker – previously known (and not very well known it has to be said) for producing exotic sports cars and dabbling in Formula One and sports car racing – now has a portfolio that includes a range of Swedish cars that never really did a great deal under the GM banner. Worthy cars, yes, but with a relatively select band of loyal owners.

But that was before they gave everyone a sneak peek at what they had lurking in the design studio. A car that now lurks in Saab showrooms and attracts many an admiring glance.

The all new Saab 9-5 Saloon signals the start of a new era for the brand. Sleek, sophisticated and unmistakably Saab, it’s got stand-out looks as well as a fair smattering of advanced technologies and brings a fresh alternative choice to the premium saloon segment.

That alternative choice extends to it being the first car I’ve ever driven with three speedos – your normal dial, a head-up display projected into the screen ahead of the driver, and a small tumbler-like gauge in the centre of one of the two main dials. No excuses, officer…

The driver-focused cockpit is pure traditional Saab, yet has an all-new feel in this car. The deep centre console sweeps up at a shallow angle around the driver into the main instrument display, which is topped by a neat ventilation zone. Deeply recessed main dials include an aircraft  instrument-style speed read-out, a reference to Saab’s aviation heritage from the Aero X concept. Driver displays, including the optional head-up display (HUD) in the windscreen, are predominantly illuminated in signature Saab green and have a crisp, floating appearance. The car’s ignition, now a start/stop button, remains between the front seats, next to the gear shift.

Viewed from just about any angle, 9-5 cuts a strong, powerful stance.

With frontal styling inspired by the award-winning Aero X concept car and a muscular, low-slung stance, the all new 9-5 certainly hints at a bold, more expressive design.

The all-turbo engine line-up starts at 1.6 litres and carries forward Saab’s rightsizing engine strategy, which focuses on responsible performance through the development of highly efficient and relatively small four cylinder turbo engines. There is a choice of two fuels – petrol and diesel - and the all new 9-5 offers CO2 emissions as low as 139 g/km.

The 2.0 litre 220hp petrol engine in our test car was the epitome of smoothness once first and second gear had been dispatched. Below that it proved difficult to iron out the fact that it was very eager to get up and running and hence eliminate jerky gearchanges.

No doubting the level of comfort though, which few can surpass.

“This car is the start of a new era for our brand,” says Jan Åke Jonsson, Saab Automobile’s CEO. “We have created an advanced and very distinctive product by leveraging the power of our roots in key areas, such as progressive Scandinavian design, sporty driving and responsible performance. The all new 9-5 delivers in all these respects, as will every future product from Saab.”

The array of high-tech features on offer here includes that aircraft-like head-up information display (HUD); adaptive lighting (Bi-Xenon Smart Beam); adaptive cruise control; DriveSense adaptive chassis with real-time damping control; keyless entry and starting; dual-zone air conditioning; dynamic parking assistance and XWD with electronic LSD, the industry-leading all-wheel-drive system.

Saab sales are up this year and are expected to rise on the back of the launch of the new 9-5, available in Vector SE or Aero trim.

That’ll be down to buyers going for a saloon that looks just that little bit different from the others flooding the market. And look different it certainly does.

AT A GLANCE

Saab 9-5 Aero 2.0T

£33,540 OTR

1998cc 4 cylinder turbocharged, 220hp, 350Nm@2500rpm

top speed 146mph, 0-62mph 7.9 secs

Six speed manual gearbox

198g/km

Fuel: urban 22.7, extra urban 42.1, combined 32.8 (figures for FWD)