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Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon

A Real Swede Heart Station Wagon

Scandinavia Unleashes a Relative Rocket

by Jim Bray

Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon may be a Saab story, but it sure isn't a sob story.

Instead, my first hands-on experience with this Swedish manufacturer was anything but unpleasant.

Saab has traditionally, at least until recently, created fairly ugly vehicles - at least to this reviewer's eyes. This wagon is immediately identifiable as a Saab, yet the designers have managed to craft an exterior that's quite attractive; not as attractive as, say BMW's 5 series wagon, but a huge step forward.

Besides, the real beauty of a vehicle is under the sheet metal, and after having driven this $40875.00 luxury wagon for a week I appreciated its finer points. Despite "Saab-isms" like an ignition switch in the center console where a cup holder would work better, this is an extremely smooth, competent and pleasant car.

The Saab 9-5 Wagon comes loaded, including GM's OnStar "customer bail out service" (my term, not theirs!), a handy feature you'll hopefully never have to use.

The interior is driver-oriented, with the controls laid out logically and everything easily falling within the reach of even a relatively short driver's outstretched arms. Some controls, for example the cruise control, take a bit of getting used to but that's okay.

The wagon is powered by a silky, turbocharged 2.3 liter Double Overhead Cam four banger. When beginning from a standing start it takes a second to get the Saab's attention, then the turbo kicks in and you rocket away as if shot from a cannon. There's no fuss; you aren't even really pushed back into the seats, but before you know it you're zipping along serenely at nearly obscene speeds.

It's exhilerating.

A 5 speed manual transmission is standard, but I received a four speed auto with normal, sport or winter modes. It behaved like a stallion in normal and sport modes, though I had no chance to try the winter setting.

Stopping power comes from four channel ABS disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

I tried the 9-5 Aero Wagon on a variety of hills, twisty bits, and freeways, and the more I drove it the more I liked it. I don't think it's a pure driver's car (the seats could use better side bolstering, for instance), but does a fine job of treading the line between safety, luxury, and praticality.

The car would consistently corner at speeds much higher than the signs advised, and when you absolutely had to slow down the brakes bit well, true and straight. When "passing time" came, the Aero Wagon pulled out and rocketed by other vehicles so quickly I thought the "passees" would get out to see why they'd stopped so suddenly.

The 17 inch 3-spoke wheels aren't the most attractive, but they're shod with a sticky set of 225/45R17 Y rated radials and there's traction control to help with slippery bits.

While barreling along, you're treated to a leather interior (though I liked the Acura MDX's leather seats better), a trip computer, and a 8 speaker/200 watt Harman Kardon-tuned AM/FM/CD/Cassette audio system (including weather band) with controls on the steering wheel.

Other comfort features include Automatic Climate Control (ACC), with separate controls for driver and front passenger, air filter, auto dimming rear view mirror, electrically adjustable front seats (the driver's has memory), heat absorbing glass, power windows, power/heated outside mirrors, a plethora of vanity mirror lights and cup holders (including a strange dash-mounted one).

Add to that a power tilt/open glass sunroof, cargo net and cargo tiedowns and you have a pretty all-encompassing package.

Naturally, there's also Saab's well-known emphasis on safety, which extends from front/front side airbags, headlamp washer/wipers, and an efficient rear wiper/washer to an extra, center-mounted windshield washer nozzle, front and rear fog lamps, active head restraints, and an integrated anti-theft system.

One thing I found kind of bizarre was the "Night Panel" function that shuts off the trip computer and all the gauges except the speedometer - including the gas gauge!


While the 9-5 Aero Wagon is a tad dear, you get a lot of performance, comfort, elegance, and safety. Saab positions it against the Audi A6 2.8 Avant, BMW 5 Series 525i sport wagon, Mercedes-Benz E-Class E320 Wagon, and Volvo V70 T5, and it falls within about three grand of all but the Benz.

Not a bad club of which to be a member!


Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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