New Car Review: Saab 9-5 Aero 5-Door Sport Wagon
SEE ALSO: Saab Buyer's Guide
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
Saab cars may be a little closer to the automotive mainstream
since the automotive part of the company allied itself with General
Motors a few years back, but they're still far from being generic
transportation appliances. As always, aerospace thinking and
technology find their way into every Saab, as does the Swedish
Modern design philosophy.
Take the company's flagship 9-5 line of sedans and wagons, for
example. Although, at a quick glance, a 2002 9-5 doesn't look
much different from an earlier version, both the model lineup and
styling have been revised. Styling changes are subtle and
harmonious, following Swedish design. Chassis details have
changed as well. And the lineup is new, comprising three models
with names from architectural forms and aerospace.
The 9-5 Linear is now the basic model, with a 180-horsepower
2.3-liter light-pressure turbo engine and a leather and natural
walnut interior. The Arc uses Saab's unique asymmetrically-
turbocharged 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V6, and is meant for long-
distance touring in comfort with standard features including
ventilated front seats with fans that pull air through the perforated
leather upholstery to keep occupants cool and dry. The Aero
celebrates Saab's aircraft heritage in name and performance, with a
250-horsepower high-pressure turbo version of Saab's 2.3-liter
four-cylinder engine, a lowered, stiffened sport suspension, and
specially-trimmed interior. No need to compromise between luxury
comfort, performance, or practicality. All three versions are offered
in both sedan and sport wagon body styles.
I've been driving a 9-5 Aero wagon for the past week, and it's
been like having my own private jet. It's quick, quiet, and
comfortable, and can hold people and cargo with ease.
APPEARANCE: All versions of the 9-5 have freshened styling for
2002. The 9-5's original styling gave it much continuity with the
previous 9000. It is now moving away from that past, but still the
side character line and fender profile give even the wagons a
wedge-shaped profile for the look of performance, and subtly-flared
fenders and side sills give the sides the ``coke bottle'' area rule look
used in high-performance aircraft. Although the basic shape is
unchanged, the front bumper and grille have been restyled for a
smoother, better-integrated, more aerodynamic look. The rear
bumper and taillights are revised as well, and new wheel designs are
featured on all models. The C-pillar is the same shape as that of the
9-5 sedan, but the wagon stands as an integrated design, not just a
``sedan with a backpack.'' The Aero sits on a lowered suspension
with 17-inch wheels, and has a small front spoiler.
COMFORT: Swedish Modern design makes itself felt inside of the
Aero wagon, along with a healthy dose of Saabishness. The design
is simple, geometric, and very functional, with a dark-over-light
color scheme and cockpit-style instrument panel. Upholstery is
leather, with supportive power-adjustable front sport seats.
Instrumentation, including a turbo boost gauge, is well-placed and
easily readable. Where other 9-5 models have wood trim on the
dash, the Aero uses brushed aluminum for a high-tech look. The
satin finish eliminates glare. The sport steering wheel has auxiliary
audio controls, and the ignition key still goes into the center
console, where it is out of the way in an accident. The dual-zone
climate control system works wonderfully. During my time with the
Aero wagon, outside temperatures were in the high 90s; being
inside of the Aero was like a trip to Sweden. The glove box is
cooled, too. Ahhh.... Heating, and heated seats, work just as well
for the other parts of the year. The rear seat provides plenty of
space for two or even three people, and folds for extra cargo
capacity. A cargo area cover keeps items away from prying eyes,
and a movable floor extension makes it easier to load and unload
light cargo, like groceries.
SAFETY: All Saabs are designed for real-world safety, with
adaptive front airbags, a side-impact protection system, safety cell
construction, and front Saab Safeseats, incorporating active head
restraints, anti-submarining safety belts, head and torso side airbags,
and other safety features. The right-side outside rearview mirror
incorporates a convex section for a wider field of view.
ROADABILITY: No need to sacrifice the driving experience for
the cargo-carrying ability of a wagon if the wagon is a Saab Aero.
Although its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink
rear suspension is of the same design as other 9-5 models, and there
is more that a little Aero in all new 9-5 models, as all now have
stiffer front springs, shocks, and strut mounts, as well as a revised,
stiffer rear suspension, the Aero is even firmer, is lowered 10mm,
and features 17-inch wheels with ultra-low profile tires. It's firm,
but the firmness is more from the tires than the springs and shocks.
Befitting its sport role, there is little body roll in aggressive
cornering, with good grip and responsive steering.
PERFORMANCE: Saab is a master of turbocharging technology,
and the Aero is the company showcase. Its 2.3-liter twincam four-
cylinder engine puts out an impressive 250 horsepower at 5300
rpm. If that sounds like a high-strung, difficult-to-drive engine with
a narrow, peaky ``light switch'' power band, think again. With a
``torque plateau'' of 258 lb-ft from 1900 through 4000 rpm, there
is plenty of power at any speed above idle, and near-instantaneous
response. Turbo lag is only a bad memory; you won't find it here.
Undoubtedly the manual transmission will give slightly better
acceleration, but the engine's wide torque band and electronic
transmission control make the five-speed automatic work very
well, for a turbine-smooth driving experience.
CONCLUSIONS: The Saab 9-5 Aero wagon combines luxury and
2002 Saab 9-5 Aero 5-Door Sport Wagon
Base Price $ 39,350
Price As Tested $ 42,300
Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Engine Size 2.3 liters / 140 cu. in.
Horsepower 250 @ 5300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 258 @ 1900-4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled
automatic (5-speed manual standard)
Wheelbase / Length 106.4 in. / 190.1 in.
Curb Weight 3,620 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 14.5
Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 92 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires P225/45 WR17 Michelin Pilot Primacy XSE m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc,
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 20 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec (est)
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Hazelnut Metallic paint $ 475
Visibility Package $ 650
Automatic transmission $ 1,200
Destination charge $ 625