Particular to the Aero look are the much meaner and larger front air intakes, 19-inch "turbine" wheels dressed in aggressive Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, adaptive cornering LED headlights, and dual rectangular exhaust tips visible through the fascia. This exact car, in fact, is the only 9-5 model initially arriving in North America. The 217-hp 2.0T turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder will arrive later in 2010 and the XWD and eLSD will also be available as options for that engine. In a really evolved move, the new 9-5s will all come available only with the six-speed Tiptronic automatic in North America. The manual shift linkage in European 9-5s and 9-3s is the worst I've had to live with. Only if this standard and traditional setup is greatly improved should they think of bringing it, and only in cars smaller than the 9-5.
The sort of driver involvement in the sportiest Aero Saabs has always been uniquely pleasing. I find myself using more body English here and there as though I'm autocrossing and being cheered on by Swedish fans. The Holden V6, though heavy and still not direct-injected, with intake and exhaust variable valve timing and most of its 10.9-psi turbo-aided 295 lb-ft of torque ready between 2000 and 6000 rpm, gets this larger 9-5 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. There's a minimum of turbo lag involved, although it'll be better when a twin-stage bi-turbo setup comes along in a Viggen version. "The Viggen name should play a significant role in the future," Muller says. No, no mainstream Saab will ever be the fastest or lightest (preliminary numbers put true curb weight for this top-trim 9-5 at over 4,500 pounds), but the drive feel is fantastic and I can't think of any other car I'd want in treacherous weather conditions.
Talking length, the 2011 Saab 9-5 is 6.8 inches longer at 197.2 inches (7.0 inches longer than the Insignia or Buick Regal) with a wheelbase stretched by 5.3 inches. This makes it longer than both the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series. Muller stands just over six-foot four inches and he set himself up in the driver's seat. I, at six feet, sat in back behind him and there was a tremendous amount of space for knees and head. So the 9-5 is finally sizeable and competitive in the market it has been meant for all along.
The chassis control system, called here Saab DriveSense, works on a rheostat to the left of the automatic joystick. Set to Comfort, Intelligent, or Sport, the system controls the suspension feel, steering assistance, ESP threshold, and throttle/transmission response. Initially, I felt little difference between the C and I settings. But once Muller nudged me to put the foot into it, the potential difference in the Intelligent setup became clearer. In this mode, various dynamics parameters adapt at 11 different levels depending on how you're generally driving at that time. Saab chassis teams have improved the damper feel at lower speeds in urban areas and at speed over highway bumps to where there is less steering column vibration. I still wish that I could set up the suspension independently from the rest of DriveSense.
The steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, standard on the Aero V6, operate nicely, though appearance and feel could be improved, while tightening the steering ratio to avoid hand-over-hand moves. In DriveSense's Sport mode, things improve a touch, but the overall steering needed for lock-to-lock at 2.7 turns isn't really yet Aero optimized.
And then the forced on-center steering feels a bit robotic compared to others in this segment and with these aspirations. Again, I just had to push Muller's Saab harder to get at the less composed side of the Scandinavian persona. It's tradition, and I actually really do like it.