2006 Saab 9-5 Review

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TCC Team TCC Team
May 29, 2006


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Already in its eighth year on the market, Saab’s big 9-5 sedan has outlived most of its luxury segment competitors. Yet a replacement is reportedly not due to market until 2008. For those who don’t want to wait, there’s some good news. The Swedish automaker has served up an unexpectedly significant update for 2006.


The second upgrade of the long-lived 9-5 line is more than just a minor facelift; Saab officials insist this is “not a new nose grafted onto an old car.” They point to nearly 1400 changes covering the exterior, interior, and under the hood.


Freshening the 9-5 was critical, acknowledges Jay Spenchian, the new boss of Saab’s U.S. operations. It is, for one thing, the flagship of the lineup, and still responsible for a sizable chunk of the automaker’s global sales. This also marks the 50th anniversary of Saab’s entry into the American market, so the General Motors subsidiary wanted to have something new, or at least updated, to crow about.


While the overall shape of the ’06 9-5 sedan remains familiar, with the distinctive kick to the rear pillar, you’ll nonetheless notice some of the edgy design cues introduced on Saab’s well-received 9-X concept vehicle. The entire vehicle is now complimented by body-color trim and handles, but the biggest changes are found on the sedan’s nose, with more modest changes to the rear-end appearance.


Up front, Saab’s tinkered with its traditional look, shrinking the grille, and incorporating more features in the larger, wraparound headlamp glass. There’s a large new air intake under the bumper, the fascia wrapping around the fog lamps. The hood is new, as well. The overall look is much more sporty for a sedan that had become, with age, a bit frumpy.


In back, the look is a bit more modern and curvaceous, with a more sophisticated trunk lid and a new bumper.


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As to the interior, it still says “Saab,” but the changes are nonetheless obvious from first glimpse. There’s that cliff-like face to the 9-5 instrument panel, with its easily readable displays and ergonomic layout of switches and dials. But there’s a bit more brightwork, and the vents have been restyled. There’s a new, in-dash CD changer, a much-needed touch, and the seats are improved, both visually and in actual use.


We’ll have to wait until ’08, it seems, for a couple of features that we’d like on a car in this class. These include damped grab handles, power-up windows — now standard even on some Hyundais — and Bluetooth hands-free telephone technology.


If you were planning to count them up, though, a walkaround would leave you well short of 1400. Most of the changes made for the 2006 model-year are hidden under the 9-5’s skin.


That starts with the rear track, which has been widened six millimeters, or about a quarter inch. It may not sound like much, but it’s part of an overall campaign by Saab engineers to improve the ride of this front-wheel-drive sedan. (And if you order the Sport Package, you’ll have a chassis lowered by 10 mm.)


The technical team also replaced the old shocks, springs, and dampers, revising bushings to give the car a more planted feel. Ride comfort was clearly also an issue, but while the package winds up feeling a bit floaty, it’s a definite improvement over the old 9-5.


Saab now offers just one powertrain for all 9-5 variants, a 2.3-liter turbocharged four. The engine makes plenty of power, 260 to be exact, up 10 horsepower from the 2005 model. Torque is 258 lb-ft.


Some motorists might find it difficult to take the 9-5’s powertrain seriously. Despite $3-a-gallon gasoline, bigger is usually seen as better, especially when it comes to the cylinder count. But this is a solid and seemingly reliable engine and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand — especially not with today’s high fuel prices. In the city, expect 20 mpg, and on the highway, where you’re less likely to be pushing the turbo, mileage jumps to an impressive 30.


The engine is complimented by a five-speed stick, though a five-speed automatic is offered as an option.


The most common complaint about Saab’s big sedan has been its handling, especially under hard acceleration. And, unfortunately, the ’06 doesn’t completely eliminate the familiar torque steer, or pull to one side or the other, when you slap the throttle, but it has been reduced a fair bit. 


2006 Saab 9-5

2006 Saab 9-5

In good, Swedish form, Saab has always tried to emphasize its safety features, and the updated 9-5 has a reasonably modern package, making ABS brakes, traction, and stability control standard equipment, along with dual front airbags. But we’re surprised that any car in this segment, carrying a $34,820 base price, is not equipped with standard side curtain airbags. Saab makes them an option, a distinctively non-competitive move.


For 2006, Saab has significantly simplified the lineup. First, we should note, the 9-5 is offered in two body styles, sedan and wagon — SportCombi, in Saab-speak, adding exactly $1000 to the base price. The countless variations have trimmed to base and Sport Package. Considering the low sales volumes, dealers must be overjoyed not having to stock so many different models.


We’re eagerly awaiting the next 9-5, which will share its underpinnings with other, more modern GM vehicles. Whether that’s good news or not remains to be seen. Swedish executives insist they won’t just serve up a badge-engineered sedan. For the moment, though, Saab fans will make do with the long-lived sedan that was launched late in 1998.


Those are probably harsher words than we intended. For those who like the 9-5, the 2006 model is a definite improvement. It’s still short in a couple critical areas, but there are a number of folks who’ll opt for this sedan for its distinctive — we’ll avoid saying “quirky” — distinctiveness.

2006 Saab 9-5
Base price: $34,820 ($35,820, SportCombi wagon)


Engine: Turbocharged 2.3-liter in-line four, 260 hp/258 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic

Length x width x height: 190.4 x 70.5 x 57.2 in
Wheelbase: 106.4 in
Curb weight: 3470 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20/30 mpg (manual)

Safety features: Anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; dual front airbags; daytime running lights

Major standard features: Dual-zone automatic climate control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; AM/FM/XM/CD changer; keyless remote; cruise control; tilt/telescope steering wheel; 17-inch alloy wheels

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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