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Saab 9-5 Aero - by Shane O' Donoghue - October 1999 Technical specifications

Introduction
27,995 sterling. What does that buy you in terms of transport these days? 27 years worth of London travelcards maybe. How about something you can have pride in? A new car should do the trick.

So, what does the real enthusiast buy for nearly thirty grand of his hard earned cash? You could afford a highly-specced Lotus Elise of course. Perfect! If you are childless... and your friends never want a lift... Hmmm. How about something a little more grown up? Try the Saab 9-5 Aero on for size. Saab UK would certainly be delighted to hear Colin Chapman's name in the same sentence as the Aero.

Click here for larger image

Torque-a-plenty
The Aero name is a link with Saab's other business - fighter jets. Don't laugh just yet, this Saab can fly in it's own unique way. Compare the Saab's peak torque figure with some other respected machinery:

  • Saab 9-5 Aero (manual): 258lb.ft
  • BMW 535: 254lb.ft
  • Jaguar S-type 3.0: 221lb.ft
  • Porsche 911 Carrera: 251lb.ft
Yes, it really does have more torque than a Porsche! The overtaking abilities were called into force in the A and B roads around sunny Cambridgeshire as we tried to follow the set test route without straying too far... Aiding this is 'superboost', a feature built into the manual cars only. Superboost is a small command in the engine management software that allows extra turbo boost for 20 seconds when the throttle pedal is mashed to the floor. It is barely detectable, as the torque delivery is so smooth anyway. However, Saab claim that the peak torque figure increases from 258 to 273lb.ft during superboost operation. Now that is serious pulling power.

The Saab 9-5 Aero saloon

Marring this tidal wave of acceleration is an uncooperative gearbox. I understand that this is not a sports car per se, but I think that if a buyer actually chooses the manual model over the 4-speed automatic then they will be 'press-on' drivers and would appreciate a better change. The biggest problem seems to be when moving from second to third gear. The throw is too long. The opposite is true of fifth! It is too close to third gear and takes getting used to before being confident that third has not been selected instead.... As Kelvin pointed out, the driver needs to adapt their driving style to suit the car.

First impressions
The Car Enthusiast test car was finished in deep black, complimenting the sharp lines of the 9-5 styling. The Aero has several add-ons differentiating it from the rest of the range. The most striking addition is the fitting of 3-spoke alloy wheels of 17 inch diameter. They truly are of beautiful design, and fill the wheel arches handsomely. Add to that a chin spoiler, and one on the boot, side sills and a rear bumper extension. In my opinion, the overall effect works - it is certainly more distinctive than the hoards of BMWs on the road.

Settling into the standard leather interior, I could not help but notice the expanse of grey. However, this grew on me as the miles went by. There are several grey tones, and in fact, it lightens the cabin, giving an impression of roominess. The optional electric seats fitted to the test car were also supremely comfortable. I did however, notice tanned leather in other vehicles, and personally prefer leather in that colour. This is a matter of taste of course....

Saab's reverse gear lock makes sense every time I use it, and one has to wonder why they are the only manufacturer to utilise it. Turning the floor mounted ignition key kicks the 2.3-litre four into action. It settles into an inaudible idle instantly, the electronics taking full control. Revving the engine at a stand-still produces an unusual response - refinement. This is not usually a word associated with many four cylinder engines. However, Saab have cheated a little - two balancer shafts are employed to negate the uneven harmonics associated with the four-cylinder layout. It works a treat. This engine could easily be taken for a six-cylinder. The DOHC unit certainly does not disappoint out on the road either.

The Aero corners solidly, but is marred by torque steer

The main road
Keeping up with traffic is not a problem in the Aero. Remember that torque figure? That enables the manual saloon to hit 60mph in 6.5 seconds according to Saab, and if you don't like your license it will supposedly hit 149mph. No, we didn't......

The first section of the test route consisted mainly of A roads and even a dual-carriageway or two. This gave us a feel for the car and what it was capable of. Lesson number one: a downchange is not usually necessary for overtaking. This really is an impressive power plant. Pushing on, the oval chrome-plated exhaust tailpipe emits a stirring growl, coupled with the whistle from the turbo, which is never intrusive. In fact, the whole car is seriously refined. On the motorway, wind noise is kept to a minimum, but the wide (225/45 R17) tyres do rumble a little. Again, it is not intrusive.

The 9-5 Aero retains the very traditional Saab styling - we like it

Off the beaten track, the Aero dips and dives over very badly rutted roads. Any car would. However, the Saab displays disciplined body control in most instances. Severe ridges are heard, but not felt. This is even more impressive when you remember that the suspension has been lowered by 10mm. Other changes to the chassis in Aero guise include beefier anti-roll bars (front and rear), stiffer springs and harder dampers. Now, this all sounds fantastic - in the dry. It certainly does it's job on dry roads, but I would not like to be in a hurry on anything but the motorway in the Aero when it is raining. The problem stems from all that torque (plus the unmentioned 230bhp peak power) being fed to the front wheels.

Think about it logically. The front wheels already have to cope with steering the car through bends. Now, give them 230bhp and 258lb.ft and what happens? Torque steer. The stiffer suspension only emphasises this problem as the car corners flat at all times. However, accelerating out of (or through) second gear corners has the effect of a spinning inside wheel. There is, of course standard traction control, with a big 'TCS' button to the left of the steering wheel. This does a fine job of splitting the torque between the wheels, but even the electronics can not defy gravity.

Bear in mind that this is not a major complaint, more an annoyance. In most cornering situations, the 9-5 Aero will be more than competent. After all, if you only drive on B roads, would you really buy an executive-class car? However, for most, the Saab 9-5 Aero will suffice. The rest of us will opt for the Elise.

Technical specifications can be obtained here.


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