Brand values are something of a 21st Century intangible. Car manufacturers are relentless in their pursuit of maintaining and projecting a particular image, but ultimately it is in the minds of you and I as car buyers that this phenomenon exists.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to the case of Saab. Sweden is not a country that is fit to bursting with car manufacturers, and Saab’s back catalogue is filled with technically interesting and quirky machines that have had a relatively niche following over the years. Yet it is an achievement to find someone who has a bad word to say about them, whether they’ve owned one or not. People just like Saabs; even Saab drivers are viewed through rose-tinted spectacles not afforded to everyone else, so there must be something about them.
There must also be a degree of sympathy for a company that has gone through a troubled change of ownership, which it has now thankfully emerged from with a respected new owner at the helm. Amongst all this it’s easy to forget that the important thing is the product, especially given that this new 9-5 is the first all-new car to come from Saab in some time.
And what a statement it makes too. Medium to large executive saloons rarely turn heads, but the 9-5 clearly holds sway with the general public. It undoubtedly owes something to the stunning Aero X concept car from 2006 with the very clean lines and unadorned exterior. It clearly stands apart from its rivals yet it is not overtly radical, and anyone with a taste for products that are smartly-designed yet understated will find something appealing within the 9-5.
The exterior design suggests that this is a car that recognises the important of the past but is more concerned with the future, and that’s an important consideration for a manufacturer that has an interesting past. What it will do is attract new buyers into the brand, an essential task to complete to compete head-on with the dominant Germans.
Sliding into the cabin is a little bit easier than before: Vector SE models now come with comfort leather seats as standard, and whatever you think about leather seats on a hot day it’s hard to deny that they add considerably to the feeling of luxury. The cabin layout maintains this feeling too: like all good Saabs it’s a well thought-out environment with plenty of information displayed just how you want it to be. Space efficiency is excellent too regardless of where you are sat; being in the rear seats gives a genuine limousine feel thanks to the generous legroom.
Under the slender skin the 9-5 offers a wide range of engine and transmission options, with this Vector SE TiD automatic being one of the least expensive ways to get behind the wheel. With 158bhp and a very healthy 258lb.ft of torque, progress is as effortless as you could hope for with the automatic transmission juggling its ratios well. The upshot of plumping for an automatic gearbox is higher fuel consumption, but the combined 41mpg is respectable. Manual models score a remarkable 53mpg and with emissions of just 139g/km, and so represents the greenest option.
A crucial element in the 2011 model year updates for the Saab 9-5 are the chassis tweaks. Switching to the Comfort-specification chassis as opposed to the Sport settings make the 9-5 more comfortable for more of the time. There’s no escaping the state of the UK roads and although the 9-5 is more than happy to play a little given the right twisty road, most buyers want comfort as a priority – the 9-5 delivers it without hesitation.
Not only does the 9-5 have to shoulder the responsibility of taking on some high quality rivals in the medium saloon sector, but it also represents the future of the company. Thankfully it delivers in terms of the typically relaxed Saab experience, while the smart design and appealing package make it a sound alternative for those who want something just a little different.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Saab 9-5 2.0TiD Vector SE, £28,565
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel unit developing 158bhp and 258lb.ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels
Performance: Maximum speed 130mph, 0-62mph 10.1 seconds
CO2 Rating: 179g/km
By Matt Joy