Our first stint in the new 2006-07 SAAB 9-5 was at one of the greatest places on earth: an autocross course. And in sunny San Diego, nonetheless. This Swedish sedan looks sleak and sexy in the sun, thanks in part to a revised front fascia, while it is cozy and cudly inside.
From the driver's seat this SAAB is sweet. A comfortable leather chair offers modest support. A shifter with light, slick action is within proper reach. The gauges are easily readable, the steering wheel/seat/pedals relationship is proper for the average American, and lateral pedal spacing is well setup for street use but heel-and-toe is definitely within the realm of possibility. Good thing, that pedal spacing, when it comes to performance driving. For this drve, however, it wouldn't matter, as the whole course can be rightly taken in 2nd gear.
Into first and off we go with a bit of front wheel slip as the turbocharger spools up. The 2.3L turbocharged straight-four wails while the turbo hisses and the 9-5 charges forward. Our first corner, a decreasing radius right-hander, is an easy enough chore for most cars as you lift off mid-corner and drift slightly to scrub speed as you apex near the exit. The sharp flick left immediately followign is a good test of responsiveness. Assuming you have not over-extended your drift, the SAAB 9-5 will roll like a sedan slightly softer than German, then push slightly but dig in well and pull around to hit that left hander apex. Then its back on the power, smoothly, without too much tire spin, and zip through that straight. When pushed too hard you can really get teh 9-5 to plow snow with the outside front corner, but it is sharpish in handling and responsive. The car is a little front heavy but well balanced and stable. It does not want to spin...big surprise for a sedan, right? But it is a good thing considering this does have good, responsive handling and quick trun-in. It does not have rear wheel drive, but maybe you can hope that a little torqe steer will somehow pull the front end towards the apex a little quicker.
The power really is great. Mid-corner you do have to be gentle with the throttle or you will be left gulping down tire smoke. Once your lateral acceleration has subsided enough for you to roll on the torque, the 9-5 just picks up and scoots. It's lovely how quick it is.
Overall, it just struck us as a very easy to drive car. It is as about as well suited a sedan to autocross purposes as you can buy today. Evos, STi's, and top-end performance sedans aside, the 9-5 offers straight-forward good handling, a relatively quick steering ratio, and go power. This is one sweet Swede.