2001 Saab 9-5 Review

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Eric Peters Eric Peters Editor
August 27, 2001
Family Matters: Wagons Back? by Carol Traeger (5/20/2001)
You review the 9-5 Wagon
 

It's weird how Saab has sort of fallen off the edge of the world — in terms of visibility and that all-important mojo-thing we call "trendiness." Trendiness is what sells status cars in the $30,000 and up range. Objective considerations, of course, play a part — but a great deal of what you are paying for is the perceived coolness of the vehicle. On that score, Saab has definitely slipped a little. It wasn't always so.

Back in the late 1980s, Saabs were right up there with BMWs as one of the "in" import cars to have the minute you landed that first decent white-collar job or made it through grad school. (The old 900 convertible turbo was especially revered by prosperous twenty- and thirtysomethings.)

Today, Saabs are still around — but they're clearly not as trendy, as "in" as they once were. This is too bad because a great many people who might find they actually like Saabs if they took the time to test drive one will never know because they don't even bother to check them out.

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Iconoclasm on deck

Saabs still have their charming, individualistic quirkiness — embodied by such features as the console-mounted ignition switch and the "night panel" feature that lets you turn off almost all the gauges and readouts. Their turbocharged engines are just a little peaky — able to skitter the front wheels just a tick if you really lean on it. And the seats are definitely different — not uncomfortable or anything, but they are definitely different. And in today's marketplace, where so many cars look, behave and feel the same way, a little iconoclasm is by no means a terrible thing. Is it?

Consider the current 9-5 wagon. It is an appealing vehicle that should be looked over by anyone considering the purchase of an upmarket sport wagon such as the BMW 5-Series, or Mercedes E-Class wagon. The 9-5 wagon is also a direct competitor of the Volvo V70 wagon.

2001 Saab 9-5

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The 9-5 wagons run from $34,695 for the base 2.3-liter, 185-hp four-cylinder version to $40,875 for the Aero model equipped with the punchy "high-pressure turbo" version of the same engine that makes 230 hp. In between these two is a mid-model SE with a turbocharged V-6, at $39,350, with an even 200 hp and automatic transmission only. All 9-5s are front-drivers, with no AWD option offered.

The 9-5's pricing structure gives the car a clear edge over the pricey Mercedes E-Class wagon ($48,650 for the rear-drive, 215-hp E320; a titanic $51,500 for the all-wheel-drive E320 4Matic), and puts it squarely on the same turf as the rear drive-only BMW 525i wagon ($37,200). I'd give the edge to the Saab against the Benz overall, at least if money is any consideration. And the BMW? Very close — with the BMW eking out a win by dint of its stronger curb appeal and decently affordable price tag.

The Volvo V70 wagon, though, is clearly the Saab's worst enemy — undercutting it substantially in price across the model range (the V70 2.4 starts at just $29,450), power (the five-cylinder $34,250 V70 T5 maxes out at 247 hp) and available all-wheel-drive (in the $34,950 XC Cross Country). Volvos are also trendy right now — so chalk up another advantage for the crosstown rival.

The vaunted "third way"

That said, the 9-5 remains a viable "third way" for people who aren't into Volvos — the price/feature differential notwithstanding — and can't see driving a rear-wheel-drive Benz or BMW. It is a safe, well-equipped and good-looking vehicle that won't get stuck in the snow as easily as the German sedans (at least those sans AWD).

Standard gear on the 9-5 includes climate control, head and side airbags, an active head restraint system, sunroof, traction control, and plenty of amenities, such as a premium audio system, power windows, locks and electric rear defrost. The 9-5 wagon has 73 cubic feet of cargo space (with the back seats down), which means ample room for whatever you need to cart around. SE models feature heated and ventilated front seats to cool off your fanny on hot days.

All 9-5 wagons also have a refrigerated glovebox (handy for keeping your, er, beverages cool), and offer special equipment packages such as an integrated dog cage for the rear cargo area, or the Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Edition. This last is similar to the Ford Focus Kona, and includes not merely rough-and-ready mountain bike trim, but also the bike itself!

2001 Saab 9-5 wagon
Base price range: $34,695-$40,875
Engine: Turbocharged 2.3 liter four-cylinder, 185 hp; 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6, 200 hp; turbocharged 2.3 liter four-cylinder, 230 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 106.4 in
Length: 189.3 in
Width: 70.5 in
Height: 58.9 in
Curb weight: 3730 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 18/26 mpg (V-6/automatic) - 21/28 (2.3-liter four/manual)
Major standard features: Eight-way power driver’s seat, power windows, locks, steering, cruise control, OnStar concierge system, seven-speaker stereo w/in-dash CD player, steering wheel-mounted secondary audio system controls, rear wiper/defroster, 16x6.5-inch alloy wheels w/all-season tires, power sunroof
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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