2008 Saab 9-5 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 19, 2008

The 2008 Saab 9-5 offers good gas mileage, good visibility and great safety, but its atypical engine and dated styling limit its appeal.

TheCarConnection.com's editors researched a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Saab 9-5 to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also drove the Saab 9-5 to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

The Saab 9-5 sedan returns for yet another model year with minor changes, as it awaits a full-model renewal in the 2010 model year. For 2008, there are two body styles, sedan and SportCombi wagon, and both show their age inside and out. On the exterior, the Saab 9-5 has larger headlamps and a new hood, but with age, the Saab 9-5 has become a bit frumpy. As to the interior, it still says "Saab," but a new cliff-like face to the 9-5 instrument panel hasn't changed the fact that it's more than a decade old. At least it has easily readable displays and ergonomic layout of switches and dials.

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. It 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. 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. The Saab 9-5 has lovely front seats, and one of the virtues of its older design is that the comfortable backseats have a wide-open view of the road--something the hunkered-down, thick-necked sedans of today can't match. A huge trunk is part of the equation, too.

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Stock gear in the 2008 Saab 9-5 includes a sunroof, leather seats, and 17-inch alloy wheels; a six-CD, in-dash changer also comes standard in the 9-5, along with XM Satellite Radio and an input jack for MP3 players. All models feature a cooled glove box to keep drinks chilled as well as leather-trimmed interiors with dual-zone climate control.

New for 2008 are standard OnStar hardware; tire pressure monitors; rain-sensing windshield wipers; leather sport seats; and on Aero models, new five-spoke wheels. There's a new, in-dash CD changer too.

Anti-lock brakes, front and side airbags, and traction and stability control are standard equipment. The 2008 Saab 9-5 gets mostly five-star crash ratings from the NHTSA, save for a four-star passenger-side impact rating and a four-star rating for rollover resistance.

5

2008 Saab 9-5

Styling

The 2008 Saab 9-5 hasn’t changed substantially in 10 years—too long in auto years.

The Saab 9-5 sedan returns for yet another model year with minor changes, as it awaits a full model renewal in the 2010 model year. Automobile says “with the current car dating back to 1998, an all-new 9-5 is long past due.”

For 2008, there are two body styles, sedan and SportCombi wagon, and both show their age inside and out. On the exterior, the Saab 9-5 has larger headlamps and a new hood, but with age, the Saab 9-5 has become a bit frumpy. “The Saab 9-5 has not been redesigned since its debut, though it did receive a recent update for the 2006 model year that included an exterior face-lift,” Edmunds says. Motor Trend notes, “The 9-5's new front-end styling features projector-style headlamps set in a unique matte-black housing,” but adds the “nose and tail fail to hide its long-in-the tooth styling and the doors and tumblehome remain unchanged (and are showing their wrinkles).” Automobile thinks that refresher gave the 9-5 “cleaner front and rear styling.” The Auto Channel comments that even though "the 9-5 underwent a significant freshening that included an exterior face-lift" two years ago, for the Saab 9-5 2008 "there's just no escaping the fact that it's still partying, er, driving like it's 1999." Kelley Blue Book observes that it holds a strong appeal to "purists who shun the overly high-tech approach and flashy styling so pervasive in today's luxury sedans."

As to the interior, it still says "Saab," but a new cliff-like face to the 9-5 instrument panel hasn't changed the fact that it's more than a decade old. At least it has easily readable displays and ergonomic layout of switches and dials. Car and Driver praises its “restrained interior design and materials.”

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6

2008 Saab 9-5

Performance

The 2008 Saab 9-5’s dated look is accompanied by an under-refined engine and below-par handling.

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.”

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8

2008 Saab 9-5

Comfort & Quality

There’s plenty of passenger room and great seats in the 2008 Saab 9-5.

The 2008 Saab 9-5 is more comfortable than some competitors, with a roomy backseat and a nicely finished interior.

The Saab 9-5 has lovely front seats, and one of the virtues of its older design is that the comfortable backseats have a wide-open view of the road--something the hunkered-down, thick-necked sedans of today can't match. The Auto Channel notes "in both the sedan and SportCombi, upright chairlike seating permits comfortable posture and leather-upholstered seats are standard." Edmunds reports “most drivers will find the Saab 9-5's seats exceptionally comfortable, especially those equipped with optional heating and ventilation,” and adds, “passenger room is excellent all around.” Car and Driver approves of the “roomy rear-seat area.”

Standard cargo capacity on the Saab 9-5 sedan is 15.9 cubic feet with split rear seats; the SportCombi wagon boosts cargo capacity to 37 cubic feet with the rear seats in use and 73 cubic feet with seats dropped. Edmunds says the SportCombi Wagon is "a reasonable choice for family use or as an SUV alternative given its sizable cargo capacity."

Edmunds notes "materials quality could use improvement in some areas," but Car and Driver likes the 9-5’s “restrained interior design and materials.” Leather-upholstered seats are standard on the 9-5, Cars.com says, but the Saab lacks the ornate wood and metal trim available on competitors like the BMW 5 Series and Infiniti M. “In addition, wind and road noise levels are higher than they should be in an entry-level sedan and wagon,” Edmunds reports.

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9

2008 Saab 9-5

Safety

The 2008 Saab 9-5 provides good crash protection to all passengers, but front passengers fare better than those in back.

The 2008 Saab 9-5 scores well in crash tests, but lacks some safety features.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 9-5 five stars for front-impact protection and front-side impacts; rear-side impacts get four stars' worth of protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 9-5 “good” for front impacts.

Anti-lock brakes, front and side airbags, and traction and stability control are standard equipment, according to J.D. Power, which also notes standard “tire-pressure-monitoring system, daytime running lights, and theft-deterrent system with engine immobilizer.”

Noticeably lacking in this era of safety are side curtain airbags that protect rear passengers.

For help while on the road, the Saab 9-5 sports the OnStar communications system to provide assistance in the event of a crash or highway emergency.

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7

2008 Saab 9-5

Features

The 2008 Saab 9-5 covers the luxury basics, but it’s lacking in the latest high-end options.

The 2008 Saab 9-5 offers many luxury features as standard equipment, but the competition has many more to offer.

Stock gear in the 2008 Saab 9-5 includes a sunroof, leather seats, and 17-inch alloy wheels; a six-CD, in-dash changer also comes standard in the 9-5, along with XM Satellite Radio and an input jack for MP3 players. All models feature a cooled glove box to keep drinks chilled as well as leather-trimmed interiors with dual-zone climate control.
Edmunds notes “heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and Harman Kardon sound” are standard as well.

While the Saab 9-5's overall design hasn't changed much since it was introduced in 1999, The Auto Channel notes that "the once convoluted, button-happy radio and climate controls have since been replaced by straightforward GM-sourced units."

Unusually, the optional in-dash DVD navigation system cannot be had in tandem with the satellite radio system or CD changer. “A visibility option package includes xenon headlamps, power-folding and auto-dimming side mirrors, and rear park assist,” Cars.com reports.

Lacking advanced safety options such as radar cruise control, adaptive lighting, entertainment systems, and the like, the Saab 9-5 "pales in comparison against much newer competitors," The Auto Channel observes.

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