Saab 9-5 (2001)

The 9-5 is the larger of two vehicles Saab makes, the other being the 9-3. It's available as a wagon, which we tested, or a four-door sedan. With a cars.com target price of about $34,000 for the base, four-cylinder sedan, the 9-5 is in a category with such other low-mid luxury vehicles as the six-cylinder Audi A6 and the five-cylinder Volvo V70.

Driving Experience

Overall, we think the 9-5 is a very nice car. One of the best things about it is its smooth 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which has power enough for any conditions you might encounter as a more-or-less-law-abiding motorist. The 9-5 is not overpowered, however. If you're looking for overpowered, you can always shell out the extra $4,300 for the gas-guzzling six-cylinder SE version. In our humble opinion, though, it's not worth the additional expense.

Something feels distinctly Saab-like about the 9-5. If you've driven Saabs in the past, you will instantly recognize this car's family resemblance. It has a high "beltline," so your seating position is lower than in most other cars. And, it has that classic, quiet, and very secure bank-vault feeling on the inside. It also has the same exact dashboard you had in your 1986 Saab 9000. We imagine they bought too many of them back then and they're still trying to use them up.

The 9-5 is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, and it handled beautifully. The transmission shifted smoothly, with hardly a hitch or a lurch. It felt very tight and was exceptionally quiet.

Interior

Saab got its start building airplanes, and they're not about to let youforget it. The dashboard looks like the instrument panel of an aircraft -- albeit a DC-3. It was ahead of its time back in the '80s, but now that other manufacturers have caught on to focusing the instruments around the driver, it's nothing special. In fact, it looks a little bit flat and dated, but it functions perfectly well.

Having driven so many vehicles with high trunk lids that make it difficult to see what's behind you, it was a relief to have such a good view out the back window of the 9-5. Part of that good visibility is due to the inherent design of any wagon. It made us realize how little one can see out the back window of so many modern cars. We'd wager that there are many more accidents while backing up these days than there were 20 years ago.

Saab has provided this car with what is possibly the neatest cup holder we've seen. Push a button on the dashboard, and the cup holder emerges and gracefully unfolds, with the circular part that holds the cup smoothly pivoting from the vertical to the horizontal, ready to cradle your decaf caramel macchiato. Don't offend its delicate European sensibilities, however, by asking it to hold your Big Gulp from the 7-Eleven. It's designed for normal, not supersized, cups.

Standard features include antilock disc brakes, front and side air bags, air conditioning, power locks, height-adjustable seat belts, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power sunroof, and General Motors' OnStar security and communications system.

Ergonomics

The workings of the various buttons for the radio and the climate control system were more complicated than they needed to be. But if we could figure it out without resorting to reading the owner's manual, so can you. We also didn't care for the digital display on the stereo CD player, but these have become virtually unavoidable in modern cars.

The fact is, the interior ergonomics in the Saab 9-5 are probably due for an upgrade. The dashboard is essentially the same design that's been around for 15 years. We think it's time for Saab to simplify and streamline the design.

Styling

The 9-5 looks as a Saab should. It has that classic, somewhat sleek, somewhat quirky design. The 9-5 is somewhat less stodgy appearing than the 9000, which it replaces. Overall, we thought the Saab 9-5 looked very nice.

Reliability

We have no reason to believe that the 9-5 will be any more or less reliable than any other Saab. In general, Saabs tend to be reasonably reliable -- not as trustworthy as most Japanese makes, but certainly on a par with your average German luxury car.

Maintenance

The 9-5 should be about average in terms of repair costs -- average for a Saab, that is. Saab parts do tend to be expensive. And, like other Saabs, the 9-5 has a lot of components stuffed under the dashboard. Any work that has to be done under the dash is going to cost serious dough, very quickly.

The good news is that there's plenty of room under the hood with the four-cylinder engine, making life easier for your mechanic. Routine service should be no sweat. The six-cylinder SE edition, however, is another story. Given the tight fit that's required to shoehorn in the V6 engine, we would expect the SE to be consistently more difficult -- and as a result more expensive -- to service.

Overall comments


If you've got $35,000 to spend on a European sporty sedan or wagon, you've got many good options these days. In terms of cost and size, the 9-5 virtually splits the difference between the Audi A4 and its slightly larger and more expensive alternative, the A6. Or you can get the VW Passat, the Volvo V70, or the BMW 3 Series. All are available as wagons, and all are priced in the 9-5's neighborhood. All of the alternatives also are available with all-wheel drive, which the Saab lacks. Saabs have always been good in the snow, but if you're determined to have all-wheel drive, Saab can't help you.

Overall, the Saab 9-5 is a car we found ourselves loving -- in spite of its idiosyncrasies. This is a tight, well-built, near-luxury car that wrings a lot of performance out of a sophisticated four-cylinder engine. The 9-5 also corners and brakes well. In short, it feels safe and easy to control. You feel confident driving it.

We think the 9-5 has a feeling of quality beyond its price. Before you fill out the finance application, though, make sure that you can live with its quirks.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.

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