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Post-GM, Saab has barely been staggering forward under Spyker ownership. Yet for the first time in years, the brand's dealerships have fresh sheetmetal: both in the form of the new Cadillac SRX-based 9-4X, and the all-new flagship sedan, a completely redesigned 9-5.
The 9-5 has made it to market. And for what it is, it's a shame that Saab doesn't have more marketing resources or stronger dealerships with which to promote it. This is one of the best new efforts of the model year, with an excellent, spacious interior and a great mix of supreme isolation, driver involvement, and uniquely Saab character.
Design-wise, the new 9-5 is a much more sophisticated sedan that, quite frankly, looks great from all angles. It eschews two common design traits of modern luxury sedans: all the creases and cutlines, and the high tail and high beltline, resulting in a fresh and different look, with smooth, glossy sheetmetal and a softened, somewhat rounded tail that hints to the hatchbacks and sedans of Saab's past. Inside, Saab heritage is reassured with details such as the swoopy instrument panel that cants most controls a bit toward the driver, as well as the expected ignition button located on the center console rather than the steering column or dash. The dash flows cleanly around to the doors, while the instrument panel has bright, backlit green gauge needles and a prominent turbo boost gauge, presented in that Saab-retro all-lower-case font, as other nice details for the in-crowd.
The 9-5 is offered with a choice of two different engines—a 220-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 300-hp, 2.8-liter V-6. Both are turbocharged, and both should offer quite lively performance. With four-cylinder (so-called Turbo4) models, you get front-wheel drive, and a choice of between a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic, but all V-6 models (Turbo6) get the automatic transmission and XWD (all-wheel drive). Steering is surprisingly good—well-weighted, with a nice, natural feeling on center and a precise feel, even if there isn't much feedback.
The 2011 Saab 9-5 takes a step up in size, to the larger side of mid-size, and the automaker has made great use of the extra space. The new 9-5 not only has some of the best front seats on the market; it also has enough space for long-legged adults in back, excellent materials and trims, and a quiet, comfortable ride. While most German mid-sizers like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class end up putting the pinch on rear-seat accommodations as soon as there's someone taller in the front seat, the 9-5 still manages enough knee room and legroom for taller adults in back. Ride quality in the 2011 9-5 is great, too—just absorbent enough in the top Aero model to soak up coarseness and minor bumps while staying quite firm, well-controlled and responsive.
In its top Aero trim, the 9-5 can come close to matching the top sports sedans from Germany with respect to features and technology, but not quite. You can get an excellent surround-sound system, rear DVD entertainment, park assist features, lane departure, and even a head-up system. One feature that isn't missed is a complicated catch-all interface; Saab has avoided a solution like iDrive, COMAND, or MMI, while also avoiding the clutter of too many buttons. We like that.
The hurdle: It's priced solidly in line with those top German sport sedans. With a price that starts just below $40k for the base 9-5 and runs up to nearly $60k for a well-optioned 9-5 Aero, the 2011 9-5 is priced as a thoroughly premium offering. Given Saab's recent upheaval and its very shaky dealer network, that's a hard argument to make.