Saab’s Swede taste of success

New owner, new car – the future looks bright for Saab, says Andy Russell.

I was not alone in thinking we might not get to see the new Saab 9-5 make it to the road.

With owner General Motors looking to offload the relatively low-volume Swedish brand it began to look as if Saab might follow the route of other great automotive brands and be consigned to motoring history. That was until Dutch car company Spyker finally stepped in which loyal Saab fans will probably see as a better match than giant GM.

So no wonder Saab says the 9-5 saloon and estate signal the start of a new era for the brand – both in terms of ownership and design.

The 9-5 heralds the next generation in Saab design without losing sight of traditional values and styling cues that are part of its car and aircraft heritage.

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The 9-5 saloon is a big, imposing car with real road presence – hardly surprising given that it draws inspiration from the stunning Aero X concept car – with a deep front grille, wrapround windscreen and disguised side pillars designed to create the impression of an aircraft cockpit and bold, and sculpted body lines that flow smoothly front to back.

Here is a car that can hold its own looks-wise with the best the prestige sector has to offer – no mean achievement in a market dominated by the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

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Staying true to Saab's tradition for turbo charged engines and its 'rightsizing' strategy, the 9-5 is powered by 180hp 1.6 and 220hp 2.0 four-cylinder and 300hp 2.8 V6 turbo petrol engines and 160hp and 190hp 2.0 diesels, the latter with twin turbos – a line-up also found in the Vauxhall Insignia.

It's interesting that the cheapest model, albeit by �200, is the single turbo diesel, aimed at the fleet market with low CO2 emissions and frugal fuel economy.

I drove the six-speed automatic version and found it a pleasant experience both around town with its smooth shifts and on the open road where it cruises comfortably and kicks down readily – if you want a bit more fun you can shift it manually via the gear lever or paddles behind the steering wheel with virtually no hesitation.

It's a little gruff at low speeds and when worked hard but well muted once cruising, making it a relaxing and capable mile-muncher. But you pay the penalty of the automatic gearbox compared to the manual with fuel economy and emissions, losing nearly 12mpg overall and putting out an extra 40g/km of CO2 which means company car drivers will be hit by a much bigger tax bill.

The lower-powered diesel and petrol engines are available only in Vector SE and not sporty Aero which means you get the softer suspension set-up and that's no bad thing as the standard chassis is already pretty firm which shows when travelling slowly over poor surfaces. It's more composed at speed, but tyre noise is noticeable.

Handling is well mannered and sure-footed – not as entertaining as the benchmark BMW – but for a big car it holds the road well and answers the helm responsively.

Inside, if you need to carry five people they will appreciate the cavernous cabin with its generous legroom in the back, width across the rear seat and shapely, supportive seating. It has a prestige feel and look for the most part but some of the lower plastic trim is not up to same quality and the centre console creaked when I rested my left leg against it.

The fascia is pure Saab with distinctive swivel mesh grille airvents, the night panel to switch off all dashboard lighting save for the speedometer and the turbo boost gauge. It's good to look at and intuitive to use with clear controls for the audio system and heating and ventilation and a self-releasing electronic parking brake.

For drivers who want serious cargo capacity the estate is the best bet but don't dismiss the saloon for the huge 515-litre boot will swallow a lot of luggage even though its shape is compromised by a raised bulkhead at the back of the load bay. For longer loads rear seats backs split 60/40 and fold flat.

Only two specifications are offered – Vector SE and sporty Aero. Safety and equipment levels are good with the Vector SE coming with part leather seats, 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, keyless ignition, nine-speaker audio system with auxiliary and USB sockets, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth phone connections and auto-dimming rear-view mirror and rain-sensing wipers.

Someone asked whether I would buy the 9-5 over a prestige German rival. The new 9-5 has its own charisma and, not being such a big seller, a certain exclusivity about it and that could just tip the balance if you want to be different.

Saab 9-5 Vector SE 2.0 TiD automatic

Price: �28,035 (manual �26,495)

Engine: 1,956cc, 160PS, four-cylinder, turbo diesel

Performance: 0-60mph 9.6 seconds; top speed 130mph (manual 9.4 seconds, 134mph)

MPG: Urban 30.3; extra urban 53.2; combined 41.5 (manual 40.9, 65.7, 53.3)

Emissions: 179g/km (manual 139g/km)

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 27pc (manual 19pc)

Insurance group: 24E (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 5,008mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,114mm; height 1,467mm

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