Victor Muller looks at me and (half-jokingly) says, "Crazy isn't it? To get the first 9-5 I had to go and buy the company." I like this Saab-Spyker CEO for his candor. He hands me the key fob to this 2011 Saab 9-5 pre-production car and says I can have a spin in it so long as he's my constant passenger.
I've liked driving every GM world car (or now, in Saab terms, former-GM world car) that's been built on the global Epsilon II architecture, be it the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia (European and UK 2009 car of the year), Chevrolet Malibu, or Buick Lacrosse. Now the chassis has found its way to this decidedly more Saab-like second-generation 9-5.
While gathering pearls of "the new Saab" wisdom from Muller, it didn't take long as I drove for it to wash over me that Saab, in this new premium sedan, has a success on its hands so long as it doesn't get all screwed up again. The 2011 9-5 is a dynamic driver and looker, well-built, not yet at the Audi level it wants to be in the cabin, but laced inside and out with that sturdy Scandinavian alternativeness we've been missing in Saabs for some time now.
While driving with Muller, I couldn't help but notice that this 9-5 is a fully loaded Aero with the 296-hp Holden-supplied 2.8-liter V6 as pumped up by a BorgWarner turbocharger and fitted with the company's outstanding XWD that combines an eLSD rear differential with the Haldex all-wheel traction.
The 9-5 Aero interior is a solid execution in taking the recent Opel/Buick/Cadillac quality and making it Saab's own. The dominant color, apart from the soothing grays in the leather and dash, is a vibrant antifreeze green. All instrument needles, some touchscreen buttons, and ambient lighting trim bits shine with this traditional Saab hue. I felt embraced in Nordic-ness as the cabin glowed soothingly around me.
There is no longer a standard key insert for the ignition by the driver's inboard thigh-what I call "the heritage anchor." It has been suitably updated to a push-button start/stop with tiny light slots that glow green, too. The old-time space-hogging handbrake lever is gone as well, all 9-5s now being fitted with a discreet electro-hydraulic handbrake. Looking straight through the three-spoke steering wheel inspired by recent showcars like the Aero X, you see a digital onboard data dial. Among other things, this little disc can show an airplane altimeter-style speedometer readout, which struck me as sufficiently cool.
As I've always felt, the full leather and its stitching can still be made more upmarket. "Yes," Muller agrees, "we're going to be working on perfecting the Saab interior experience, and a big part of that is constantly improving the materials choices." Not long after the midsummer North American launch of the 9-5, in fact, Muller tells me there will be a premium-level personalization program offered in part to help solve the puckered-leatherette feeling of the current material. The Aero sport seats could be more sporting as well in regard to overall support, especially at the sides.
Any improvements to the outgoing 9-5's exterior looks are going to be better than what Saab's larger car was forced to live with in recent years. This 9-5, at least, starts to rediscover formerly shunned airplane fuselage-style sleekness and angles. The shape is very clean and looks good in the light silver-gray. All the lighting elements deliberately take on a chilly feeling, particularly up front, where the term "ice block" is being used to describe the slight blue tint. In back, the bar of light running the width of the trunk is a new look that will be part of all future Saabs.