Out of a Bimmer and into a 9-5

I’ve been asking Saab owners to write in and tell us all about their experiences with other cars and why they’ve come back to their Saab.

Today’s instalment is a little different in that it’s why someone driving another make chose to changeover to Saab. In this case, our host was driving a BMW convertible for 5 years and decided upon a new 9-5 when it was time to change.

He’s expressed a preference for anonymity, but I need you all to feel like he’s a real person, so I’ll tell you all he’s from Canada and for the purposes of this story his name is ‘Bruce’. I’ve got to make something up for the record!

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My wife and I took delivery of a new 9-5 2.3T a month ago. We got the only Chili Red one available for sale in Canada–it had to be shipped back east from Edmonton.

We just completed a month-long 8000 km ride and the claims are correct that you can drive it for hours without back fatigue: Our longest run was 20 hours from Texas to South Carolina (one driver), and we had 3 other days of 10 hours behind the wheel.

I traded a 1998 BMW convertible for this car and, although the 328i was unmatchable in its responsiveness and feel for the road, the 9-5 is quick indeed, stable, a blast when passing on 2-lane roads, and perfect for long drives.

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I have, however, discovered another SAAB quirk: Our first three days of driving were through snowstorms and with 3 twin windshield cleaning jets and high pressure pop-out streams that clean the headlights, we used up 16 litres (roughly 4 US gallon jugs) of solvent in that time. I never thought I’d have to add windshield antifreeze to the visible operating costs of a car!

I really enjoyed driving the Bimmer for 130,000 km over more than 5 years (and this was our second car). I have never driven any other brand of car (including larger BMWs) that had the same nimble connection to the road, instant responsiveness, reasonable cruising fuel economy, ability to soak up road imperfections (and we really collect those here), and zip smoothly and quickly about. The manual shifter is among the best.

The negatives for us were that our travels in North America include some long drives in all seasons. We could have gone for a new closed BMW with AWD, but AWD is a fuel-consumer. Even in our snowy climate, FWD is all you need to get through almost anything. Except for acceleration, AWD adds nothing to the quality of the driving experience, and FWD with traction control is cheaper and lighter on gas consumption.

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SAAB offered sportiness with FWD. The seats (basic, not sport) are amazing: We did 20 hours without back fatigue a couple of weeks ago. There is a faint growl on acceleration. Consumer Reports complains about coarseness, but I want to hear the pulse of the engine at such times. As you get going the 9-5 cruises nearly silently, though I could live without the mild wind noise around the windshield, but it’s muted with a tail wind!

There’s only one other driving complaint: My size 14s are a close fit to the accelerator, and it’s toe-tip-only on the accelerator on the few occasions I need to wear a rubber boot over my shoes. I’ll probably trim back some of the rubber on the side of the brake pedal.

The 9-5 offers us lots of room front and back for tall adult passengers – even with the standard sunroof – and a trunk large enough to keep everything out of sight while we park en route and do some sightseeing. It is at least the match for the BMW in highway passing. With the 5-speed automatic in Sport mode it accelerates eagerly even from a start. Regular mode is for normal driving on flatter roads a but we have three small mountains in the middle of this city; I drove several 6-cylinder BMWs (3 and 5 series) with 6-speed automatics and the cars all felt as though they were dragging anchors while very briefly in first gear, after which they also sprinted.

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I also like the 9-5 styling from 2006, contrary to the opinion of several contributors to TS. The front is fresh, and definitely picks up SAAB concept themes. The buttonless dash is also progress. My BMW also had a dash replete with little buttons–it just looked old-fashioned, even though they worked well. The interior is subdued but classy.

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I briefly considered some other directly price-competitive options and here’s why I didn’t go for them.

The SAAB 9-3 is great if you don’t need the rear seat for tall adults but we have adult children and tall friends.

The VW Passat is everywhere (a hint at our not wanting to be in a car that everyone else is driving–a negative for BMW too) and requires premium fuel as does nearly every other choice–the 9-5 runs perfectly on 87-octane “regular”.

The Acura TL looks luxurious but the rear seat is extremely cramped. The Acura TSX is a very nice package but a friend has one and in addition to a tight rear seat they complain that they’re “saddle sore” after two hours on the road.

BMWs cost more and they and all other RWD cars (e.g., the Cadillac CTS or Chrysler 300) are ill-suited to northern climes that sometimes or often have snow-covered roads.

The 9-5 is a car we can see keeping and enjoying for a long time. It has cachet. It is sporty. And it “hauls” – an enthusiast’s car that doesn’t shout “look at me” but provides good value new (if you keep it several years) or used.

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If you’ve got some experiences with another brand that made you appreciate your Saab more then please feel free to shoot me an email and let us all know about it.

Sometimes the journalists just don’t “get” Saab and it’s up to us Saab owners, who live with them day-in and day-out, to set the record straight and talk about why these cars are just So. Darn. Good.

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12 Comments

  1. Great reading. I don’t know about the 9-5, but I assume octane-wise it’s similar to the 9-3 2.0T which is generally estimated to lose 10% of its horsepower running on 87 octane (in order to eliminate pinging). Still, he says it “hauls”. I wonder if he’s tried high octane for comparison. Saab claims the 9-3 gets better fuel mileage on the high octane which would offset the additional cost if also true for the 9-5.

  2. I don’t think that some windshield washer fluid is really a big cost compared to other costs of a Saab.
    However, if the driver pulls the washer lever less than 3 seconds, it will not use the washer fluid to clean the headlight, so he can save some. :)))

  3. I do not know why someone would want to drive a pristine vehicle such as a new generation B235 engine matched to a turbo on 87 RON. In Namibia, we have the lead replacement petrol (LRP) which is the old 93 RON, then we have 95 RON which is standard fare in most Sub-saharan countries including South Africa and if you can afford the highish octane 106.3 RON which is called racing fuel in local parlance, then the difference in engine response is significant and fuel conservation is a bonus. I have ran both my MY01 9-5 Aero on something as low as 91 RON, though the recommended is 98 RON, which we do not have here in this part of the world, but what the government supplies is 95 RON, and there is a huge difference in uptake power surge and fuel consumption when I ran both on 95 RON and 106.3 RON. On the latter, I get my full whack of 184kW optimized, whereas on 95 RON, the power reduction at high altitude is as much as 25% if not more. Why “Bruce” would run his 9-5 2.3T (I presume this is the 162kW version) on 87 RON beats me.

  4. Danni, I’m not sure if Canada is the same as the U.S., but 87 octane is not RON, it’s an average of MON and RON. Our 87 octane in the U.S. is about 91-92 RON (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octane_rating).
    Still, that’s too low in my opinion. If it were me, I would run 93 octane which is about 98 RON which you say is recommended.

  5. We get 99 Octane in the UK, and it certainly gives more of a kick than our standard 95 Octane fuel.

    There are some places in London that even sell 105 Octane, but they charge a very expensive £2.50 a litre for it, or thereabouts.

  6. Kaz – we get charged our socks off our feet for 106.3 RON. To fill up one of my MY01 9-5 Aero (70liter tank) it costs me roughly in GBP0.45 per liter and the 106.3 is about GBP0.64 per liter. If I have 500 South African rand, from empty I still get change when I fill up with 95 RON, but with 106.3, I have to pay up an additional 50 South Africa rand over and above the 500! But at least, I get more mileage and my B235 engine smiles all the way to the indy.

  7. ctm: you can drive without a front license plate in some Canadian provinces, e.g. in Quebec. In Ontario, where I live, it is mandatory to have a front license plate, yet some people still don’t put them on and pay a $150 fine every once in awhile when stopped by the cops.

  8. I like that he chose Chili Red. I was discussing with someone at SAAB USA how it seems like too many people are buying black, silver, and gray SAABs lately. Of course, that’s because SAABs look GREAT in those colors, but it’s unfortunate that they get lost in a sea of other black, gray, and silver cars.

    This post would be great feedback for SAAB regarding such things as the wind noise around the windshield and pedal size for people with larger feet. I hope someone from SAAB reads this and relays these product enhancement ideas back to the designers in Sweden to keep in mind when they design the MY2009 9-5!

  9. I had a 9-3 Aero 2.0T convertible in chilli red a while back. Unfortunately you can’t order that colour in the UK anymore for the Aero convertible :(. Pity, as it sits really well with car, understated but still different and shows one doesn’t have to have a loud colour if grey/silver/black is not a fave.

  10. That was a good read. The author provided enough evidence to make one think that the 9-5 is actually more comfortable than the 3 series BMW. I wonder, though, how it compares to the 5 or 7 series cars.

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