Quick Drive: Saab 9-5 2.0T Vector
By James Wong
Boys love toys. Some like them on wheels, two of four or more, some like them on water, and some like them in the air. There is no denying that there is some allure in something that is engineered as a result of precision and imagination.
Saab is a brand known for its aviation roots. I won’t kid anybody by saying if I knew much about their history, but for an impressionable young man (relatively) like me I am very attracted to the aviation & automobile tie-up. I have always dreamt about the unfathomable intelligence of Man that he could design a machine that weighs impossibly heavy to fly so gracefully in the air. Likewise, I also marvel at how Man could fashion out of metal and four wheels cars that are desirable, sought after, loved.
So in the marriage of these two fascinations of the male species, Saab has aviation pervaded into every part of the car. Take the altimeter-like gauge nestled in between its instrumentation, or the Night View which switches off every other light on the dashboard except the speedometer – mimicking an aircraft cruising under the watchful eye of stars under a night sky. Or the side-view mirrors, which look like the wings of an aeroplane; or the front grille, which takes the profile of a fuselage and wings.
Taken in totality, the car looks gorgeous. There are the clean, purposeful lines that draw a viewer to think the car is slick and modern in every way, very unlike the outdated Saabs that we commonly see running on the roads in the past decade. However, taking in some details in the interior elicits some remarks. The waffle-comb air-conditioning in the interior is appreciably Saab in execution, but looks like it could do with a refresh. The on-board computer looks like something from mid-80s, especially when competitors now can offer highly-interactive high-definition colour alternatives.
I’ve wanted to get behind the wheel of the 9-5 for the longest time. Turbocharged engines and Saabs are always mentioned along the same breath, so naturally my expectations were on a high. The numbers are impressive – 220bhp and 350Nm mean the car can get from 0-100km/h in a little more than 8 seconds. Peak torque comes in at a relatively leisurely 2500rpm, so the car does get going rather well in the traffic light grand prix in the city. The engine is flexible, powerful and willing – no problems in that department for the 9-5.
First impression in the driver’s seat is that the steering wheel feels wonderful to hold, the seating position also correct and given the car’s size, it doesn’t feel that big from the inside. Yet the car also feels extremely spacious, especially the back seat – it feels a tad more roomy than either the 5 Series or E-Class.
On the first turn of the wheel the heft of resistance was appreciably strong and it felt as if I could steer the car with pinpoint accuracy. This was a front-wheel drive model and I expected a lot of torque steer; however, the torque was delivered fluidly, giving the car a particularly enthusiastic edge beyond 3,000rpm. The gearbox was surprisingly noticeable in that its shifts could be felt, which maybe came together with the Sport mode that I was in. The ratios are however well-judged and the car never feels sluggish or wanting for power.
Going into some of the corners revealed that the chassis was very stiff, which afforded confidence – but the suspension was too soft, even in Sport, to allow truly high speeds to be carried through the corners. Despite that, it felt fun to drive, something that it can definitely lay claim to despite its size.
As a mid-sized executive sedan, the 9-5 is difficult to fault. It does the comfort thing well, it is relatively powerful and it undercuts its competitor E-Class and 5 Series by quite a margin. It is also well-equipped (save for the onboard computer) and spacious (though its low roofline was a bit of a concern). Like some would know, this car is the jack of all trades but as far as I’m concerned, a master of none.
But Saab can’t merely be good. It has to be excellent to overtake its competitors, and right now, I could only see Saab aficionados taking to the car. They won’t be trading much away for driving a Saab instead of an E-Class or a 5-Series, for it doesn’t do much wrong. But for Saab’s survival, considering its precarious situation in recent months, it needs to produce a truly groundbreaking product. The 9-5 has its work cut out for it.