Saab 9-5 2001 Review
May 4, 2001
$4,510 - $6,710
The Saab Estate is a comfort to have around. Having the newest, trendiest car in the cul-de-sac isn't always as good as it looks. There's a lot to be said for a car that's built to do a job. Or work with a family.
The Porsche 911 Turbo is a dream machine, but it could be a nightmare if you had four kids. That's why so many people end up driving a family Falcon, or something like the Saab 9-5 Estate if they have the cash to splash in the luxury class.
The Swedish family wagon has been around since 1999. It's never been the trendiest car on the road, but it's still a nice way to live and comes loaded with luxury. The 9-5 is about the same size as a Magna wagon, but lives in the land of auto air-con, electric leather seats and truly classy CD sound. If you go all the way to the flagship Aero Estate, you get alloys, a good-looking body kit and real wood trim.
Motivation is provided by a force-fed 2.3-litre four that shows why Saab has led the trend toward turbo motors in the search for speed with finesse and fuel economy. The high-output Aero's 169kW four is a hard worker. It has plenty of top-end go, even if the auto box on the back is a relatively low-tech four-speed without the latest touch-change buttons.
Saab has had to use the 9-5 Estate (it's an upmarket tag for wagon) to combat a range of soft-road four-wheel drives that have caused mass defections from traditional wagon families, as well as classy luxury rivals, including the Volvo V70, Audi A6 Avant and BMW's classy-but-costly 5-Series wagon.
The Saab Estate is never cheap. It starts at $59,900 and that can look like a lot of cash. The Magna is good, and so is the Toyota Camry if you like big locally made fridges, but the 9-5 is a cut above them in both style and substance.
Over the long haul, the Saab should do its better job for much longer and, when secondhand prices are important, the 9-5 badge is good to have on your side.
Our Saab wagon is more than just a one-week wonder. Unlike most test cars, it's booked in for six months and is already nearly halfway through day-to-day trials that have included everything from dump runs and dog duties to upmarket party arrivals and airport pick-ups.
It has run trouble-free and low-key for close to 7000km, apart from an annoying wind whistle around the driver's door at about 105km/h. It's an honest car that does a good job. It's never going to win a beauty contest or a racetrack dash, but it has the sort of strengths real people want in a real car for real life.
The Aero has the flash and dash as well, with the turbo motor and body kit, but the same basics come for far less cash and that's the way most 9-5 Estate shoppers should be looking. It has a cabin that's comfy for five adults, and bulletproof mechanicals.
Any Saab is still a little quirky, with the key between the seats instead of on the steering column, but the estate drives as well as the sedan and there's no real wind-noise penalty from the box on the back. Our test Aero's turbo motor is a real winner and it has huge reserves of overtaking urge, thanks to 330Nm of torque. Fuel consumption is 10.4 litres/100km on average but as good as 7.9 on a cruise-controlled trip.
The auto does nothing much to encourage keen driving, though it shifts smoothly. The other shortcoming, literally, is in the too-short Aero sports springs. They cause the nose to bang and crash at times, but the car is beautifully balanced in corners and has tenacious grip.
The $80,000 price tag also brings big benefits in the sound system, which is one of the best on the road, as well as sumptuous leather seats, sound and cruise controls on the steering wheel, glass electric sunroof and alloy wheels. The back end is great at any price. There are plenty of folding choices for the back seat, tie-down hooks for luggage and a big, blunt-shaped area for carrying.
Looked at on its own, the Saab is a winner. No question. And that means it almost squeezes into four-star territory. But the Volvo V70 is newer, a little roomier, just as practical and drives better. The Audi A6 Avant is more enjoyable to drive, but less practical, and the BMW 5-Series wagon is lovely - if you have a big budget.
So the Saab isn't a standout, but it's the sort of car you can live with for a long time.
SAAB 9-5 ESTATE AERO
Price: $80,900 as tested
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder with high-pressure turbo and intercooler
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Body: Five-door station wagon
Dimensions: Length: 4808mm, width 2042mm, height 1497mm, wheelbase 2703mm, tracks 1522mm/1522mm front/rear
Fuel tank: 70 litres
Fuel consumption: Average on test 10.4 litres/100km
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Suspension: Fully independent with front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear with anti-roll bars
Brakes: Anti-skid four-wheel discs
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Tyres: 225x45 R17
Warranty: 3 year/100,000km.
Saab 9-5 Estate from $59,900
Audi A6 Avant from $83,150
Volvo V70 from $55,950
BMW 5-Series Wagon from $104,655
$4,510 - $6,710