DETROIT – It had been years since I drove a Saab. Heck, I think the last time I drove one of the Swedish automaker’s products was when the company was actually run by Swedes.
In 1990, General Motors acquired a half interest in Saab and then it acquired the other half of the company a decade later. Forced into a quick down and dirty bankruptcy, GM sold Saab last year to the Dutch-owned Spyker Car Co.
Saab was so broken up about becoming an independent again that it threw itself a party. Anyway, in the global convoluted world that is auto manufacturing, Saab’s new 2011 9-5 sedan was actually developed when the company was owned by GM.
The short story is that Saab has some work to do, but its new 9-5 is an indication that it is up to the task.
My test car was the 9-5 Turbo4 Premium Sedan. That car was powered by a turbocharged four cylinder engine that made 220 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque and it was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual transmission is available as well as a 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 that makes 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
Still, my turbocharged four-cylinder had plenty of spunk. Saab is a pioneer in turbocharged car engines introducing its first in 1976. Anyway, my test vehicle excelled in handling, the suspension was more than effective on the pothole-strewn streets here and of course acceleration was impressive.
I was particularly taken with my 9-5’s interior. Scandinavian design features clean lines, sharp angles and a no frills application. The template for the instrument panel and center stack looked like one piece of wood and it was about as flat surfaced as anything I’ve seen in a motor vehicle. The instrument controls seemed flush with the surface and fit and finish were outstanding.
Saabs have always had a unique look and though it has been updated, the new 9-5 is no different. Insideline.com put it well by saying that the 9-5 has rediscovered the company’s airline heritage with a sleek design that brings to mind an airline fuselage.
My test car had a porpoise nose, a high brow and a swept back roofline that dove downwards toward the trunk. Its exterior lines were clean, angular, there weren’t many curves and my 2011 Saab 9-5 had presence. It got its share of second glances.
Before I move on, I’d like to talk about the 9-5’s interior space. It was striking. At about six-feet tall, I had plenty of leg and head room in the back seat. With opera seating, those rear seats were also noticeably higher than the front seats. And the sight lines were great. I just didn’t get a closed in feel when I sat in the back seats.
If there was an upside to being owned by GM, it would be access to the automaker’s equipment bin. My test car was loaded even though it was far from the top of the line Saab 9-5.
My test vehicle had OnStar, Bluetooth, adaptive-Xenon headlamps, engine start and stop as well as keyless entry, a lane departure warning system, park assist, a head up display, a panoramic sunroof, a premium sound system that included auxiliary and USB jacks, a navigation system and satellite radio were among my test car’s equipment.
The sticker on my 2011 Saab 9-5 was $50,140. And therein lay Saab’s challenge. The company has to get its prices lower or raise the offerings of its vehicles. Right now, anyway, I doubt that American consumers put Saab in the same category of German luxury carmakers, but its prices do.
Still, there are American consumers who worship the tread marks that Saabs have left on U.S. pavement. And that is not a bad place for the Swedish automaker to start after regaining its independent footing.
Frank S. Washington is managing partner/editor of AboutThatCar.com.