1999 Saab 9-5 SE V6 Sedan
After the Intrepid’s lease was up, there was no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to be getting another Chrysler product–not after my experiences with it! Apparently, when Dodge started “changing everything,” they forgot to test it to make sure it still worked!
My criteria included:
- Four-door sedan or station wagon
- Front- or four-wheel drive; good snow handling
- Spacious passenger cabin and cargo area
- High quality stereo system
- Sporty performance
- Reasonable routine maintenance costs
- Reputation for reliability and build quality
Out of these requirements, I started looking at a few vehicles:
- Subaru Outback Wagon
- Volkswagen Passat Synchro
- Audi A4
- Volvo V70 Cross-Country
- Saab 95
The Audi just wasn’t for me; that was scratched off early. The Subaru quickly assumed the “fallback” position; although I’ve owned a Subaru before, and the four-wheel-drive can be mighty fun in the winter, Subarus are relatively cramped, they’re less well-equipped, and they have a serious horsepower deficit.
The Volkswagen didn’t survive a close inspection; even loaded, it was lacking many features that my Intrepid had, and it was a lot smaller than other vehicles in its class. Also, the Synchro option was not widely available, and I was not certain about its snow-handling reputation without the Synchro option.
The Volvo seemed nice enough, but once I took it for a test drive, I was underwhelmed by its handling and power. If I wanted a luxurious ride with lots of cargo room, and I wasn’t particularly concerned about my arrival time, it might be an option. But I wanted something sportier; the Volvo seemed disconnected from the road, and the engine felt more like what I’d expect from a Subaru. Also, the general cockpit ergonomics were pretty bad; it was difficult to operate many of the controls comfortably. The stereo also seemed much cheaper than I would have expected for such an expensive car; it didn’t hold a candle to the Infinity system that came with my Intrepid. (As much as I wanted to get rid of the Intrepid at the end, the Infinity system was one of the things that sold me on the car in the first place; at the time, it was one of the best factory-installed sound systems I’d ever heard.)
That left the Saab. I was concerned at first about Saab’s quirky reputation; my uncle has had a long line of Saabs which spent considerable time in his garage, under repair. (However, I suspect that much of that time was not due to any mechanical failure of the car, but due to a need for some quality “man time.” Did I mention that my uncle is a retired aeronautical engineer…? Some stereotypes are always true…)
I had heard several good things about the new Saab 95. The old Saab 900 series was too small for my needs, and the 9000 series had reliability problems, and they just looked fugly. I think the Saab 9000 looks like the bastard child of a Saab and a Volvo, personally.
The Saab 95
The 95 sedan doesn’t have the distinctive Saab hatchback, but it does have the Saab look. The lines of the car are reminiscent of the 900 (and the successor 93). The front grille and C-pillars especially contribute to a distinctive Saab sillouette.
Being a Swedish car, it goes without saying that the 95 acquits itself well in the snow. With the factory Michelin Energy MVX all-season tires, I had no problems making it through the latter part of a Rochester winter. Since I purchased a 95 with the 3.0L V-6 low-pressure-turbo engine, the car comes equipped with a very capable traction-control system, which utilizes both the anti-lock brakes and the fly-by-wire throttle to prevent a loss of traction.
Roominess and Luxury
For a relatively small car, the 95 has quite a bit of room. The back seat pampers even large-framed passengers—as long as there’s two or less of them. Unfortunately, the car’s width doesn’t permit seating a third rear passenger for any great length of time, unlike the widebody Intrepid. However, rear seaters in the 95 do get their own cupholders, storage bin, and heated seat cushion.
But the front seat is where the true luxury can be found. Not only are the seats incredibly comfortable on long trips—although a few days are needed to adjust to the relatively upright seating position needed for maximum comfort—but they take care of all your seating needs. Besides the expected six-way power adjustment, the driver’s side has a three-way memory that also adjusts the exterior mirrors. Both seats have infinitely-adjustable lumbar supports, and the headrest is uncommonly comfortable. The headrest also features Saab’s Active Restraint System, which uses a cunning lever system during a rear-end collision. The lever uses the occupant’s inertia to automatically raise the headrest and move it forward, catching one’s head before there is any chance of whiplash.
Like most recent Saabs, the front seats are heated, with a three-position switch. New and unique to the 95 are the optional power ventilated leather seats. The leather is perforated, and two fans draw air through the seat face and out the bottom and back of the seat. This may sound like a gimmick, but it’s an innovation that has to be tried to believe. Once you’ve experienced the ventilated seat on a hot summer day, you’ll never want to sit in a car that has normal leather seats again. The ventilation removes the moisture and sweat from the contact points, preventing the “stickies” normally associated with leather. The downside is that the fans can contribute a lot of noise to the cabin.
Of course, you can always turn up the radio to cover up the noise — if the radio doesn’t do it first. At the 95 SE level, the car comes standard with an AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo that is world class. The head unit, custom-manufactured by Pioneer, is uncluttered and easy to operate. Weather Band operation is standard. The cassette deck supports Dolby B and C operation. Radio reception is provided through diversity tuning of three antennas embedded in the back window glass; under most conditions, this provides astonishing radio performance, with distant FM stations easily received, and local stations sounding clear and distortion-free. (However, turning on the rear defroster tends to significantly degrade radio performance.)
Seven speaker locations are provided standard, including a center-dash position for ambience, as well as two subwoofers located in the rear parcel shelf. The speakers are provided by Harman-Kardon, and are stellar performers. With the subwoofers (not available on the “base” 95), the system has incredible range and can pump out body-vibrating sounds with incredible clarity.
And lest I forget, the feature that everyone loves is the driver’s cupholder. Next to the radio, a vertical bar about a centimeter wide and four inches high is labelled with a cup icon. Press this in to release it, and it folds down, and a ring automatically rotates out 90° to hold the cup. This is incredibly cool to see, and it is positioned at a very intuitive location—and it doesn’t block any controls. However, it is limited in its ability to accomodate cups; if you’re going for fast food, you’re limited to medium drinks. The passenger has to make do with a cupholder that monopolizes the interior of the center armrest.
For performance, the 95 doesn’t disappoint. The powerful V6 has a unique asymmetrical low-pressure turbocharger, which augments the engine’s natural power, providing a torque-curve peak that runs from 2,500 RPM all the way to 4,000 RPM. This translates into effortless passing power. From a dead stop, the 95 is no slouch, but front-wheel drive, the all-season tires, and the considerable weight of the car keep it from being a drag-racing machine. The handling is very good, although the car exhibits a lot of body roll. This doesn’t upset the handling, but it is disconcerting, and it takes a while to learn that the body roll isn’t necessarily a sign of exceeding the car’s abilities. This engine is only available with a 4-speed automatic transmission, but the transmission doesn’t interfere with fun driving. Two special shift modes help: Sport mode provides very aggressive shifting, suitable for blowing past slowpokes on the highway; Winter mode locks out first and second gears, reducing the engine’s considerable torque for those sloppy winter mornings.
What about those Saab quirks? Well, a Saab is a good choice for Macintosh owners. Like Apple, Saab likes to think different when it comes to thinking about how a car should work. The most famous example is the ignition key. In Saabs, the ignition switch is located on the transmission hump. By putting the key here, several benefits ensue:
- The transmission can be physically locked into Park when the key is removed
- The keys do not dangle against the driver’s knees, and therefore do not provide an irritant, and are less likely to cause injury in an accident
- It is easier to see where the key should be inserted
- It is more efficient to start the car, as the driver’s seat belt buckle, parking brake, ignition switch, and transmission selector are all in the same area. Belt, key on, brake off, select gear.
The 95 key also includes a microchip that locks out the vehicle’s computer systems when the proper key is not available.
All in all, the Saab 95 is an excellent choice for a sporty yet luxurious car. When compared with competitive models from American manufacturers and overseas makes such as Lexus, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, the 95 offers comparable performance and luxury at a more reasonable cost.
And I love it!
Find out how my Saab performed in an accident.
Read about the repair costs for my Saab in 39 months of leasing.