Swedespeed Drives Sweden's Other Important New Sedan, the 2011 Saab 9-5

by Stu Fowle, Photos by the Author

Aug 11, 2010 - 8:43:27 AM

There's no doubt that for Swedespeed readers, the biggest deal of the year is the launch of the all-new 2011 Volvo S60 sedan. It's been a decade in the making and arrives here in the US over a year behind the end of production for the last-generation model. We need this car. But thanks to our Kilometer Magazine sister site, which covers all European brands, I was able to get behind the wheel of the biggest deal, perhaps ever, for Sweden's other car company. And let me tell you, the 2011 Saab 9-5 is pretty good.

It's hard to place the new 9-5 in direct comparison to any Volvo sedan. While in terms of dimensions it is right on top of the S80, the 9-5 drives smaller than it is and thanks to the stout feel of new S60 versus the lighter feel of the Saab, it actually drives more similarly to Volvo's middle-of-the-lineup sedan.

In terms of powertrain differences, going back and reading our recent comparison of the XC60 and the Cadillac SRX 2.8T would provide a pretty accurate comparison. The S60 gets an uprated 300-hp T6, while the Saab 9-5 uses the same turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 as the Cadillac, also making 300 hp. The Volvo motor makes better torque down low and carries a thicker powerband throughout the rev range, but the 9-5 does at least feel quicker and more responsive than the SRX we drove. Both Swedish companies seem to enjoy carrying on with slow-shifting six-speed automatic transmissions that are a bit behind the competition.

The 9-5's dynamics lean toward the stiffer, sportier side of the spectrum than the S60 and certainly the S80, but it also doesn't ride with the feeling of solidity and security both of those cars provide. That's not to say it isn't confident through the corners because the car's Haldex XWD system is amazing, but just that the heft of a Volvo makes it feel more upscale.

Inside the 9-5, the cabin feel actually reminded me a bit of an old 850--not in terms of design or material quality or anything, but in the way it feels a bit narrow but very long. I think the goal was to make it feel more like a small airplane fuselage, and they achieved that pretty well. Trunk space is pretty endless, and rear legroom is very good.

In short, the 9-5 feels a bit like every Volvo sedan. It has a lightweight feeling (but it isn't at about 4300 pounds) of an S40, the performance of an S60, and the passenger space of an S80. Looks of course are subjective, but I think it's very well done on the outside and looks nice inside but could use some more interesting trim materials. Pricing for the top-level Aero model I drove starts at $49,990. For the full review minus the Volvo comparisons, head over to the KilometerMagazine.com article. While you're there check out our interview with Saab's new design director, a guy who's pretty different to talk to compared to Peter Horbury.