BRAND loyalty is being tested around the world as Saab, under financial siege and with its factory still closed, unfurls its flagship model.
Private owners will have to scrutinise Saab's future to assure them that parts and service will be available. Fleet and user-chooser owners will want Saab's corporate solidity to prop up resale values and maintain sensible balloon payments.
And then there's the car. The new Saab 9-5 is a good car - in a lot of ways, equal to its peers. But the cold facts overshadow the attributes of the car itself and beg the question: Will Saab aficionados spend up to $100,000 to have the badge in their driveway given the parlous corporate state and no guarantee of sunrise in the morning?
Forgetting for a moment the mist surrounding its future, the 9-5 offers a big car that perfectly suits the prestige segment. It is very well equipped and I'm delighted to note it retains the indelible Saab character that classes it - and its owner - as something special. The price of the all-wheel drive 2.8 Turbo model is $94,900 and almost $20,000 more than the 2-litre, front-wheel drive version. Add $5500 for the sunroof and rear entertainment system and the 9-5 moves into the $100,000-plus zone. Harman Kardon surround sound audio is standard and sensational. The 9-5 wants for nothing except a good home.
It looks really good. That short and almost horizontal bonnet with rounded nose and swept-back headlights, the upright A-pillars and severely curved windscreen, slim side glass that subtly rises towards the boot and the long and gentle slope of the roof and trunk put it into another class.
Designers maintain Saab's link with aircraft, despite the company foolishly splitting off the now successful aero business in 1969. The cabin is very roomy, the boot huge and the dashboard has a distinctive and very purposeful design.
Historically, Saab has always trod new roads in technology. The latest, however, doesn't introduce much new but rather gather up clever bits. For example, electronically-adjustable suspension; a heads-up instrument display on the windscreen; automatic park assist; and a night panel switch that shuts down all instrument lighting except speedo and, on standby, any emergency panel warning lights. The Holden-made V6 engine is 2.8-litres and gets a turbocharger, drives through a six-speed sequential automatic transmissi on and then through a Haldex clutch that proportions power between the front and rear wheels depending on demand. There's also an electronic rear limited-slip diff that allocates power between the rear wheels.
It's chocka-block with safety features, starting with a five-star crash rating, six airbags, the automated park assist, full-size spare wheel and all the electronic aids including all-wheel drive, stability control, cornering control and brake assist.
In terms of design, the cabin is well done though time spent familiarising yourself with the switchgear placement is advised. The keyless start button is down near the gear stick, the parkbrake is electric and the seat is electrically adjustable so it's an easy car to fit into. The engine is a bit noisy at idle but no complaints about performance. It hits its straps from around 2500rpm and delivers with excellent response. The six-speed transmission can bump uncomfortably up its gears at low speeds - though is much smoother when more power is applied - and steering is light and a bit vague. While I'm here, cabin noise and ride comfort is excellent at anything over 60km/h but at lower speeds it is drummy (probably due to the tyres) and the ride gets jiggly (suspension) and handling is less than precise. The 9-5 is more American in feel than European. The all-wheel drive has merits in handling, safety and when hitting the snow but may be an overkill for most Australian buyers.
Tough call, this one. I'm impressed with its engine performance and love the distinctive styling. It betters the BMW 5-Series in features and space, equals it in lots of ways but is notably out of this race in handling and driveline smoothness. Then, like a father discussing the future with his intending son-in-law, there's the small issue of what's going to happen tomorrow.
SAAB 9-5 AERO
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km, roadside assist
Service Interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Economy: 11.3 l/100km; 262g/km CO2
Safety: six airbags, ESC, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC. Crash rating 5 star
Engine: 221kW/400Nm 2.8-litre V6 turbo-petrol
Transmission: Six-speed sequential auto, AWD Body 4-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 5008 (L); 1868mm (W); 1467mm (H); 2837mm (WB)
Tyre size: 245/40R19 Spare tyre Full-size