2011 Saab 9-5 Performance

8.0
Performance
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).

We haven't driven the four-cylinder version, but based on experiences with the smaller 9-3 it's stout and responsive but a bit more peaky. The turbo V-6 makes its peak torque of 285 pound-feet at just 1,850 rpm, which means it should be able to respond solidly either just off a standing start or pull strongly from near the bottom of each gear—and it does, but this engine behaves more like the turbocharged engines of a decade or more ago: Step your right foot down, and there's a slight rubber-band-like pause before the power comes on with a whoosh. You adapt to it quickly, but it's not at all like the nearly instantaneous power delivery you get from BMW's excellent turbo V-6.

Steering is surprisingly good—well-weighted, with a nice, natural feeling on center and a precise feel, even if there isn't any feel of the road or adhesion. For a vehicle that's primarily a front-driver, we didn't expect much, but the 9-5 is easier to position and plant in tight corners than many other luxury sedans. Go full throttle even with the steering off-center, and the wonderful weighting is lost, but it's still very easy to control.

The 2011 Saab 9-5 doesn't quite have the athletic responses of pedigreed sport sedans, but it's more rewarding to drive than most other models that straddle luxury and performance.

The balance between comfort and responsiveness is among the best we've encountered in sport-luxury sedans here; just to the right of your knee is a dial with three modes: Comfort, Intelligent, and Sport. The simple setting controls throttle, shift points, and steering feel, as well as the continuously variable real-time suspension damping system. Both in steering and in turn-in, the difference between Comfort and Sport is noticeable, yet we were happy to leave it in Intelligent for most of the time; transitions were smooth and the system was unobtrusive, bringing the best of both modes. 

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