Saab 9-5 TiD SE

Hi-tech newcomer is charged with breathing fresh life into much loved premium brand.

The first thing you’ll notice about the 9-5 is its size – at more than five metres long, it makes the big Skoda look relatively compact. Still, thanks to some clever touches, it never seems awkward and carries its visual weight well.

Styling inspiration comes from both recent concepts and models from the brand’s past – the most obvious being the nose treatment inspired by the Aero-X show car. The 9-5 is attractive, too, and looks unmistakably like a Saab, while the blue-tinted ‘ice-block’ lights make it stand out from the competition.

Gloss black trim on the door pillars creates the impression of a wraparound windscreen, just like the model’s 99 and 900 forebears, while Saab enthusiasts will instantly recognise the side-window profile. The result is a sportier look than its taller rival.

Inside, the balance between contemporary and historic details continues, with a sweeping dashboard that wraps around the driver. Initially, the facia will be available only with a matt black finish, which seems cheap and marks easily. It certainly doesn’t look as good as the piano black trim in the Skoda.

Elsewhere, though, you’ll find plenty of traditional Saab details. These include the centre console-mounted starter button (the 9-5 is keyless), distinctive air vents and the obligatory night panel button, which kills all of the instrument lighting in the dark, with the exception of the speedo, in order to reduce eye strain.

There’s also a new digital display in the middle of the centre dial in the instrument panel, which can be used to show a variety of data, although its green LCD read-out jars with the rest of the classy interior. Unsurprisingly, given that the car shares its platform with the Vauxhall Insignia, much of the switchgear can be traced back to GM models, but it all works well and looks good. The soft seats are comfortable and the driving position is pretty much perfect, although once on the move, you could do with a little more side support.

Spec levels are generous, with standard equipment including heated seats, dual-zone climate control, full USB connection and a nine-speaker stereo. There’s a useful head-up display on the options list. However, compared to the Skoda, this high kit count actually appears paltry. The Superb adds sat-nav and full, rather than part, leather trim to the mix. Its touchscreen route-finding hardware is also more intuitive to use than the optional Saab set-up.

What you can’t complain about is the amount of rear legroom on offer in the 9-5. As with the Skoda, there is plenty of space in the back, and the extra width makes it even more comfortable for three occupants. However, the sloping roof restricts headroom, and while the 515-litre boot sounds impressive, it is actually 50 litres down on the vast Superb’s.

Press the ignition and the Saab’s diesel powerplant is noisier than its rival’s. This continues on the move, because when you begin to work the 2.0-litre unit it reveals a gruff soundtrack.

Leave the auto box in Drive, and the 9-5 feels lively enough. Our acceleration tests showed the longer gearing and slower shifts are the Saab’s big weakness, though, and the more urgent Superb proved to be much faster in all of our assessments. Once up to speed, however, the 9-5 makes more sense than the Skoda, with its taller gearing providing more economical and quieter progress.

Unfortunately, the transmission’s Manual mode does not work as effectively as the twin-clutch set-up in the Skoda, often refusing to deliver early downchanges when you request them using the neat paddles. As a result, it’s best to leave the car to get on with it in auto.

The gearbox isn’t the only area where the Superb leads the way, because without the adaptive DriveSense suspension available on higher-spec models, our 9-5 Vector SE loses out for both comfort and composure. Its harsh and crashy ride combines with poor body control in bends.

The brakes are effective and reassuring, though, and the car responds reasonably sharply to inputs at the wheel. It is just a shame the steering feels so artificial and has such strong self-centering. The 9-5 is definitely Saab’s best effort yet, and it bodes well for the firm’s future – but in diesel guise, it is attractive yet flawed.

In detail * Price: £27,845 * Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl in-line * Power: 158bhp * 0-60mph: 10.0 seconds * AE economy: 40.8mpg * Claimed CO2: 179g/km


WHY: A long time coming, the new 9-5 is the best model Saab has built yet. It offers just as much space as the Skoda, but with a premium image and great design detailing.

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