Saab’s newcomer is set to take on two established products whose lives have not been interrupted by such embarrassments as ownership and subsequent abandonment by General Motors. The BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-class have had the unfettered attention of their respective manufacturers in nurturing the cars’ engineering values and image. Saab’s products have not been so lucky.
While we were latterly frustrated with Saab’s increasingly dated and flawed products in the days before General Motors stepped in, the cars had an eccentric integrity and fine build quality that gave the cars a distinct personality. If this was ultimately not enough to make up for the increasingly obvious limitations of the cars’ ageing designs, still it made the driving experience interesting at least, and it engendered loyalty among owners. By sharp contrast, we could never find much enthusiasm for the cars designed under G.M. They seemed deeply ordinary; and if construction quality was still good, there was no sense of occasion in driving them. The feeling of ‘specialness’ had gone.
The observant will note that the new 9-5 is very much a product of the General Motors era. We have yet to see first hand how effectively the Swedish company has asserted its own Scandinavian personality in the execution of the new car.
According to Saab, the new 9-5 has been ‘chiefly engineered in Sweden’ and its development has been ‘guided’ from Sweden. The Swedishness of the 9-5 seems to be a glass that can be half full or half empty.
Saab 9-5 production line, Trollhättan, Sweden.
Saab’s first boast about the new 9-5 concerns the quantity of electronic gadgetry that will be fitted to it. There’s a head-up information display; adaptive lighting (Bi-Xenon Smart Beam); adaptive cruise control; Drive-sense adaptive chassis with active damping control; keyless entry and starting; dual-zone air conditioning; and dynamic parking assistance. Additionally, some versions of the 9-5 will be available with Saab’s XWD four-wheel drive system, familiar from the 9-3, which features an electronic limited-slip differential.
All of the engines set to be deployed in the 9-5 range are turbocharged. All but one have four cylinders — a 2.8-litre V6 tops the range.
Interior ergonomics and styling are strongly reminiscent of the original 900 from 30 years ago, which is largely a compliment. We continue to be worried, though, at the lack of a convincing answer to the problem of how safely to control the myrid electronic systems integrated into modern cars. Even the latest version of BMW’s i-drive, for example, is only a partial success, and it is hard to envisage how so many function can be accessed on the fly without the driver actually having to read a display or navigate his way through a forest of switchgear. Saab has opted to use a panel of switches in the centre console; we shall see how easy and intuitive the various systems are to operate on the road.
Although the 9-5 is now keyless, the car’s start/stop button is between the seats near the gear lever, where Saabs have had their ignition switches since the days of the 99.
‘Infotainment’ equipment available in the 9-5 includes a Harman Kardon audio system, and a 20cm touchscreen navigation unit with hard disk storage for map data and 10GB of music files. Connections for several portable devices through USB and AUX ports are provided in the centre console, alongside a conventional 12V power socket.
Rear passengers can listen to their own audio or watch a DVD. The rear seat entertainment unit in the back of the centre console incorporates audio controls; fold-out viewing screens are installed in the backs of the front seats. Wired and wireless headphones are provided.
The rear seats can be folded to extend luggage-space, and a ski-hatch is fitted behind the recess that houses the central arm-rest.
Saab’s XWD all-wheel drive system is offered with all engines except the 1.6-litre petrol and 2.0TiD 160PS diesel.
Adaptive chassis control is available with all engines except the standard diesel and the 1.6-litre petrol. The driver selects his chosen setting through the car’s ‘Drive-sense’ control. Settings for damping rate, throttle response and steering assistance are adjusted according to driving conditions in the usual way, using accelerometers and other sensors.
The default Drive-sense operating mode is called ‘Intelligent’. Additionally, ‘Sport’ and ‘Comfort’ modes can be selected using a control next to the gear lever.
‘Intelligent’ mode adjusts the damping rates and other settings according to driving style. For example, when the car is being driven energetically, the damping rate is increased, the throttle pedal response is made sharper and steering assistance is reduced.
The ‘Sport’ setting specifies a firmer range of adjustment for the dampers, sharpens the throttle response and reduces the level of power steering assistance. Additionally, the gear-change points are raised if automatic transmission is fitted. If the car has XWD, more drive torque is sent to the rear wheels.
‘Comfort’ mode specifies softer settings for the dampers and a gentler throttle pedal action.
Saab’s XWD all-wheel drive system is optional for 2.0-litre petrol and twin-turbo diesel variants; the system is standard with the 2.8 V6 engine.
XWD is an ‘active’ system, using a multi-plate Haldex clutch unit to vary drive torque between the front and rear. Rear drive is used in brisk driving to balance understeer.
An optional, electronically-controlled rear limited-slip differential transfers up to 50 per cent. of rear axle torque to whichever wheel has more grip.
A ‘Sport’ chassis is standard on twin-turbo diesel and XWD models, and optional across the rest of the range. The Sport chassis setup includes a 10mm lower ride height, a stiffer front anti-roll bar, stiffer springs and dampers, and greater steering feel as a result of reduced lateral compliance in the top strut mounts.
Unusually, the 9-5 offers three largely different suspension layouts. Which one you get depends on the engine you specify. Each arrangement is available with a Sport setup.
In a slightly odd twist — no joke intended — the more powerful models get a torsion-beam rear suspension arrangement, while the two least powerful variants get a fully-independent four-link setup. The front wheels are controlled by McPherson struts on all models, though V6 versions deploy a modified design — Hiperstrut — with a shorter and more upright kingpin and greater steering castor. The reason for fitting an apparently inferior rear suspension system to the more powerful cars is that Saab’s ‘H-beam’ torsion-beam arrangement is compatible with XWD, while the four-link setup isn’t.
The rear sub-frame of torsion-beam cars is isolated from the monocoque. Both types of rear suspension feature the use of shear bushes in the mounting of the dampers to the body structure. These are regarded as superior to compression mounts in dissipating road noise and high-frequency vibration.
The new 9-5’s wheelbase is 134mm longer than that of its predecessor. As it is wheelbase rather than overall length which determines passenger accommodation, it would not be unreasonable to expect roughly this much more legroom. There certainly is more: a 58mm increase in rear legroom, which apparently allows the 9-5 to exceed the rear room offered by all of its main competitors, and an extra 11mm at the front. No doubt the other 65mm is doing sterling service somewhere.
Ultimately, six engines will be available, all turbocharged. Three will be available immediately. Two of these are of two litres displacement — a 160PS diesel, and a petrol unit developing 220PS — while the third is a 2.8-litre V6 petrol engine delivering 300PS and 400Nm. The V6 is available only with XWD and an automatic transmission.
Shortly after launch, three further engines will become available — to wit, a 1.6-litre petrol engine with 180PS, a two-litre ‘Biopower’ E85-compatible unit, and a 190PS two-litre diesel with two turbochargers working sequentially.
All petrol engines feature direct ignition and four valves per cylinder operated by chain-driven camshafts. Turbochargers are water-cooled and use air-to-air intercooling. Piston crowns are cooled by oil jets on their undersides, and sodium-filled exhaust valves are used. The cylinder walls are laser-etched to produce a smooth finish. All engines are mounted transversely.
The entry-level engine delivers 180PS and 230Nm; this torque figure is available from 2200rpm to 5500rpm. The unit features an overboost facility, allowing 266Nm to be delivered for up to five seconds.
The cylinder block is cast iron, the head aluminium. A die-cast, structural aluminium oil pan adds stiffness, which helps with noise control. The camshafts are hollow for reduced weight. A dual-mass flywheel is used to decouple engine vibration from the rest of the drivetrain.
An electronically controlled and mapped thermostat raises the coolant temperature at low engine speeds and under light loads to reduce the viscosity of the lubricant.
2.0 petrol and Biopower
These are two variants of one all-aluminium alloy engine. The Biopower version can run on any combination of petrol and E85 fuel, which is 85 per cent. anhydrous bioethanol and 15 per cent. petrol. In both configurations, the unit delivers 220PS and 350Nm on petrol. We don’t have figures for the Biopower engine running on E85.
The two-litre petrol engines feature variable valve timing and direct injection. The camshafts use hydraulically-operated vane-type phasers which allow the inlet and exhaust camshafts to be adjusted independently according to engine speed and load.
A twin-scroll turbocharger is used. In this design of blower, there are two turbines on the primary side of the unit — that is, the side that’s driven by exhaust gases. Each of the two scrolls on the turbine is fed by a separate exhaust pipe: one from cylinders one and four, the other from cylinders two and three. A comparative freedom from turbo lag is promised, as the unit behaves — in terms of gas flow over the turbines — like two half-size blowers.
We can well recall the 900 turbos of the 1990s, 15 years after the company introduced its first turbocharged engine, taking as long as a second to respond to an abruptly-floored throttle at 3000rpm. There are times when a second can feel like a week.
Two counter-rotating balance shafts are deployed to cancel out the second-order vibrations inherent in an in-line four-cylinder engine. Aluminium pistons reduce reciprocating mass.
This engine is available with front-wheel drive or with Saab’s XWD system.
2.8 V6 petrol
Only one model is offered with this all-alloy engine. Four-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard. A dual-mass flywheel is used to decouple driveline vibration.
The 2.8 delivers 300PS and 400Nm. A single, twin-scroll turbocharger is mounted centrally above the transmission. In a similar arrangement to that used on the two-litre four, the two primary turbine scrolls are fed separately by the two banks of cylinders through separate pipes; this separates the exhaust gas pulses, improving gas flow onto the turbines.
The exhaust manifolds are double-skinned, with hydroformed stainless steel liners. This reduces heat loss through the manifold, directing more heat into the catalytic converter to achieve a quicker light-off after a cold start. Air injection into each exhaust manifold for up to 30 seconds after a cold start helps to heat the central pre-catalyst, positioned upstream of the main catalytic converter.
The forged steel crankshaft runs in four main bearings and the steel connecting rods are sinter forged. The polymer-coated aluminium pistons and the floating wrist-pins are cooled and further lubricated by triple under-skirt oil jets.
Eventually, two versions of Saab’s four-valve, two-litre turbodiesel will be available. The unit has a cast iron cylinder block with laser-etched cylinder walls and an aluminium alloy cylinder head. The camshafts are chain-driven. Fuelling is by the usual multiple-pulse common-rail arrangement.
Also common to both versions are a weight-saving plastic intake manifold, a dual-mass flywheel and a maintenance-free particulate filter.
The ‘normal’ version of the two-litre diesel delivers 160PS and 350Nm. It uses a variable geometry turbocharger rather than a twin-scroll device. Here, an electrically-powered and electronically-controlled flap alters the angle at which exhaust gases hit the vanes of the primary turbine.
An alloy head sits on a cast iron block. A dual-mass flywheel and maintenance-free particulate filter are fitted.
The more powerful, twin-turbo engine delivers 190PS and 400Nm. It will be available with both front-wheel drive and XWD.
The two turbochargers boost sequentially, in a way that’s now familiar from other engines. The blowers are of different sizes; bypass valves divide the exhaust gas stream between them. At low engine speeds, the small turbocharger supplies all of the boost, providing modest pressures but a quick response; at intermediate engine speeds and under higher loads, both the small and large turbochargers provide boost; at high engine speeds and loads, only the large turbocharger is operating, with the smaller one bypassed to reduce back-pressure and losses through the more restricted unit.
Adaptive Cruise Control is an optional extra. It automatically alters the chosen cruising speed to maintain a constant, safe distance to the vehicle on the road ahead. The driver can choose from a menu of three alternative safe distances.
The system uses a radar transponder in the grille. If the distance to the car in front drops below the set safety limit, the throttle setting is adjusted or, if necessary, the brakes are applied. Should heavy braking be required, a warning sounds to encourage the driver to take action. Once the appropriate distance is restored, the car will accelerate back up to the pre-set speed.
A conventional cruise control function is fitted as standard.
The head-up display projects useful information — vehicle speed, warning messages, turn indicator tell-tales and navigation instructions — on the lower part of the windscreen. The HUD is a virtual image two metres ahead of the screen, so the driver shouldn’t need to refocus to look at the display. The head-up display is controlled by means of two switches on the facia.
Bi-xenon smart beam headlamps swivel to improve lighting on bends. Additionally, light beam patterns are adjusted to suit the car’s speed. The light units also engage and disengage high beam automatically — a splendid idea if they always get it right.
At speeds below 31mph, the lighting system provides a wide, flat beam so that pedestrians or potential hazards at the roadside can be seen more clearly. This is ‘Town Light’. At speeds up to 62mph, ‘Country Light’ projects a longer beam, though there is still some emphasis on roadside illumination. ‘Motorway Light’ increases the beam length still further, to 140m, and is activated only above 62mph on straight, level roads.
When rain or snow is detected by the windscreen wipers’ rain sensor, ‘Adverse Weather Light’ provides a wide, asymmetric light pattern which allows the driver to see lane markings better.
In all light modes, ‘Dynamic Bend Light’ provides illumination into bends by swivelling the headlamps up to 15 degrees to the right or left, according to the vehicle speed and steering angle.
Advanced Park Assist is a feature that allows the driver to parallel park the car in tight spaces only a metre longer than the car’s length. APA uses ultrasonic sensors in the front, rear and side of the vehicle. The system identifies a suitable parking place and then plots a course into the gap. The driver is instructed how to turn the steering wheel by way of icons in the main instrument display and audible chimes.
The 9-5 is a keyless car. A start/stop button between the seats replaces the conventional ignition switch. The engine control unit detects and authenticates a coded signal from driver’s fob. A keyless entry system is offered: with this device, the car is automatically unlocked when the door handle is pulled while the fob is still in the driver’s pocket or handbag. The car is also automatically locked when the driver leaves it with the engine switched off. This feature circumvents the terrible chore of pressing the lock and unlock buttons on the standard fob.
A U-shaped track in the boot floor carries a telescopic cargo divider. This is a development of the cargo tracks offered on the outgoing 9-5 estate, and is based on the engineering that’s used to secure loads in the cargo holds of aircraft. There are also four bag-carrying hooks and an umbrella holder.