Does The Saab 9-5 Hold Up in Person?

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At auto shows you can’t drive the cars that are on display. All you can do is judge them on aesthetics, interior room and whatever else the manufacturer tells you about its mechanics. At Saab’s stand – in a completely different hall from the rest of GM – the new 9-5 was open to scrutiny, and scrutinize is what I did. If this company is going to survive they need every new product to be a homerun. Right now, it’s as though Saab is in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a full count. This is an important swing.

We often say cars look better in person than in press photos and the 9-5 is no exception. I liked the proportions before coming to L.A., and now that I’ve stood next to it I like it even more. My only issue with the 9-5 is its interior.

The interior design is fantastic, with lots of intricate swoops on the doors, the trademark honeycomb vents and cool brushed metallic and carbon-fiber-like applications. The shift knob felt great in my hand, and the center-mounted ignition system is much less awkward now that it's a push-button start instead of a standard key.

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My main beef is in the dashboard materials and other large plastic pieces. They just seemed cheap for a car of this class. However, this is a show car and perhaps the production pieces will have a different sheen and feel. I sure hope so because everything else about the interior, including the slick leather seats, is terrific.

The driver’s seat was comfortable and well-contoured, and the sightlines seemed pretty good despite the odd C-pillar. I sat in the backseat behind the driver's seat, which I had adjusted to fit my 5-foot-10-inch frame, and found plenty of legroom. Headroom, however, was tight; the roof curves down dramatically at the door, so you could easily bump your head getting in and out of the 9-5.

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The other issues for the 9-5 — if it ever does come to market — will be its price and the competition. It’s not luxurious enough to compete with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and it’s bigger than the Audi A4 and Cadillac CTS. I'd say the 9-5 could compete against the Acura TL and the Volvo S80. On these three interiors, I'd give Volvo the edge on luxury feel; the TL and 9-5 are about neck and neck in aiming for a more sports-car-like cabin.

The price issue is perplexing because the 2009 9-5, which is quite outdated, goes for $42,000; to get into an S80 costs $39,200 and the TL is $35,105. Heck, the 305-horsepower TL with all-wheel drive costs $38,655 when loaded with everything but navigation.

Saab needs to match that price and value statement if they want to make a serious play in the U.S. They also need to revamp their marketing with some core values and the fact that they’re different, even quirky. Something along the lines of, “Smart. Stylish. Swedish.” People flock to Ikea for two reasons: it's cheap and has Swedish-style products. If Saab’s cost of entry is too high, no amount of exterior and interior finesse will sell one off the lot.

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Comments 

Zack

Cheap looking interior. Modified Audi grille, Jetta greenhouse and Lexus ES rump. Can't be that unoriginal for $45,000. The writer nailed it - maybe for 30K people would buy this car. Saab must cut its prices.

Here in the US, I'd be the majority of consumers would write Saab off as irrelevant...one car won't change that.

Alex

The hard thing about SAAB is that you can't really judge it without having driven it. I own a '06 9-5 which was a bargain (no 9-5's were sold for $42000 the last year, trust me) and it's a terrific car to drive and own. I think few of my friends would prefer a SAAB from an Audi or Bimmer, but that's the thing about SAAB. Some people "get it", some people don't.

Zack

Alex, I'd probably take the Saab over an Audi, but beating a BMW would be a tall order.

DL

Saab lately has been consistently poorly rated by journalists/magazines. It has lost its original reputation (most common i've heard was "Saabs are like tanks") without gaining an "edge." people think of BMW as "sporty," Audi as having the nicest interior on the market, Volvo as "safe."

Saab is just an expensive Swedish car that's neither sporty enough nor luxurious enough to warrant its price. i didn't even shop the Saab dealer when i was buy a couple of months ago, even though they look pretty nice and was having STEEP discounts of up to $13k off ...

jay

Well Ive owned alot of differant cars from peugeot audi & many other cars now I have had the chance to own my first saab & I would pick it over the audi any day audis nickle & dime you to death at just over 100k miles my saab just hit 170k pushing 12 years old
and every thing still works dont knock it tell you tryed it. And it still looks good I think you are just to over picky I just love that theres not to many people that drive my car makes it special.

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