Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are mostly underwhelmed by the performance of the 2008 Saab 9-5.
Available in standard or Aero trim, the 9-5 comes with a 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.3-liter four--no V-6, and certainly no V-8. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a five-speed automatic available as an option. Edmunds notes, "the 9-5 is sufficiently quick, although the four-cylinder's power delivery is not as refined as we'd like." Edmunds adds "torque steer remains an issue under hard acceleration due to its front-wheel-drive layout." Kelley Blue Book says the turbocharger “delivers its influence politely but firmly." Still, Car and Driver mentions the Saab turbo “four-cylinder must compete with sixes and V-8s in this class,” and considers it “outclassed.”
The transmissions are adequate, but as The Auto Channel notes, "many vehicles in this class offer six-speed versions of both types of transmission." Cars.com points out the automatic at least offers manual gear selection.
The Saab 9-5 gets good fuel economy at 18/28 mpg with the manual and 17/26 mpg with the automatic, but the drivetrain seems totally out of place in a high-end luxury car. Maybe the future, with tight oil supplies, will be more like this--but even a six-cylinder diesel Mercedes seems far richer than the Saab 9-5, with its turbo whine.
The most common complaint about the Saab 9-5 has been its handling, especially under hard acceleration. And, unfortunately, the latest version still sports the familiar torque steer--a pull to one side or the other when you press the throttle--but it has been reduced a fair bit. Kelley Blue Book notes "the Saab 9-5 is responsive, nimble and downright quick.” However, Car and Driver observes the 9-5’s torque steer and says “the handling isn't quite up to snuff.” Fundamentally, they add, the 9-5 “has the disadvantage of being a front-drive sedan in a rear- and/or all-wheel-drive class.” Automobile attests it’s “more responsive and handles better” than before, but it suffers from an “overly floaty ride.”
With the cosmetic Aero package, the Saab 9-5 gets a retuned suspension with tighter springs and higher damping rates, as well as a larger anti-roll bar, and it controls the wheels a little better. Ride compliance is more sporting (read: tauter), and in general, it's the most pleasant 9-5 to drive. Edmunds calls it a “worthwhile upgrade.”