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Saab 9-5 arrives in Australia

The elegant newcomer faces a huge challenge in rebuilding confidence and sales, but has a lot going for it - including a starting price of $71,900 with a turbodiesel engine.

There are three models in the lineup - two Vectors and the flagship V6 Aero Xwd from $94,900 - and they join the 9-3s which have already being providing trickle sales during the start-up phase of Saab Cars Australia.

"We're here to stay. Saab has invested to be in Australia, it's a significant market for us and we were always one of the top 10 Saab markets in the world," says Steve Nicholls, managing director of Saab Cars Australia.

"The fact that we've set up as a factory distributor, and not gone with an importer, shows we're taking this seriously."

The 9-5 is a very serious car, slightly bigger than an E-Class Mercedes-Benz, and loaded with standard equipment from a six-speed automatic gearbox and leather seats to a head-up display for major instruments. In classic Saab style, the new-age push-start button is located in the console between the front seats, the traditional location for the company's ignition keys.

The design of the 9-5 finally breaks away from the origami-style angles and creases favoured by so many European carmakers, with a number of smart visual tricks including a huge wraparound windscreen, a prominent grille and a wide-opening sedan boot. Cabin space is good and the final finishing work is what you expect in a Saab.

But the 9-5 runs into some tough opposition in Australia, from the E-Class and BMW's brilliant 5 Series to the new Audi A6 and the Jaguar XF that's doing so well in Australia.

Saab has had problems at its Swedish factory this week, culminating in a temporary shutdown at Trollhatten to sort problems with some suppliers, but Nicholls says it is only a hiccup.

"We've got the funds we need. The company is well funded into the medium term. Cash flow is the problem.  This week we've been stopping and starting. So we've decidd to stop the factoyr this week, sort everything out, and start again next week," he says.

Saab is targeting around 100 sales of the 9-5 this year, with 25 already on the ground of its small network of eight dealerships - although this will grow - and a similar number on a boat to Australia.

The first Saab after the General Motors' disaster - first 20 years of neglect, then a fire sale - promises a lot.  The 9-5 looks good, is roomy, nicely designed and well finished. The diesel and four-cylinder Vectors are well equipped, and the flagship V6 has everything you expect at nearly $100,000. 

There are some nice touches, too, including an effective head-up display - although this means you can actually have three different speedo readings from the regular speedo, head-up system and a rolling 'altimeter' that's a bit of a gimmick.

All three cars get along well enough but there is a giant flaw - ride comfort.  Saab says it has always had a slightly sporty suspension tune but the 9-5 is harsh and jiggly on any surface, regardless of the suspension or tyres. Carsguide tried 9-5s with 17,18 and 19-inch tyres and standard and adjustable suspension, but nothing helped.

There is also kickback in corners and some torque steer.  The suspension is a real pity because it is a nasty shortcoming in a car that otherwise does a good job.

SAAB 9-5 2011

Price: from $71,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,00km + Roadside assist
Engines: 119kW/350Nm (Vector TiD4), 162kW/350Nm (Vector Turbo4), 221kW/400Nm (Aero Turbo6)
Body: Four-door sedan
Weight: 1725-2065kg
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Drive: Front or All-Wheel-Drive
Thirst: 6.7-11.3L/100km
Fuel: Diesel or +95RON
CO2: 177-262g/km