New Car Review: Saab 9-5 Aero 5-Door Sport Wagon

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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 
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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 performance. SPECIFICATIONS 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 inline 4-cylinder 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 recommended Tires P225/45 WR17 Michelin Pilot Primacy XSE m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE 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

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