Saab Interiors 3

I guess the natural conclusion for this short series on interiors is to look at what we’ve been talking about and measure up the latest Saab interiors to their historical forebears. That’s a particularly daunting task as it has the potential for me to upset a lot of people, especially those of you that own a 9-3 Sport Sedan or SportCombi (or convertible, too, I guess).

Saab 9-5

The Saab 9-5 interior has been around for nearly 10 years now. It’s bones were developed back when Saab still owned 50% of themselves – and it shows. The GM influence is undeniable, but the 9-5 still has what I regard as a very classy interior and one in which form really does follow function.


So, taking a look at this using the completely subjective and arbitrary TS rating system, we get the following:

The Madonna Quotient

Just like the Star herself, we live in a material world, and the 9-5 still manages to impress this little black duck when it comes to interior cabin materials.

The main reason? Dash inserts. You can still get the Saab 9-5 with dash inserts and if you’re in the second-hand market then those dash inserts will include woodgrain.

The 9-5 BioPower model I drove in January was a UK spec model and it had the most superb dash trim I think I’ve ever seen in a Saab. I’m not sure what it was called, but it was like a dark black/purple pressed metal finish. Much more black than purple and very, very cool.

Everything else about the 9-5’s interior materials are great as well. The seat leather is soft, and all the trims are just great to look at and to contact.

I love being in a 9-5 when I get the chance.

The “Baby’s Got Back” Factor

It’s the first thing you notice when you sit in a car other than a Saab? If you’re like me it’s the comfort factor in the seats. Padding, support. The Oooooh factor.

I’ve never driven a 9-5 over a long distance and ended the journey with a sore butt. Not once. Every time I’ve parked my not-inconsiderable rump in a 9-5 it’s always been an absolute pleasure.

And if you’re fortunate enough to have ventilated seats in your 9-5, then you’re even luckier. If you haven’t tried them, I’d recommend you befiend a 9-5 owner (one with a vent-equipped 9-5, of course) and take their car for a spin on a warm summer’s day. It’s the most comfort-inducing development in seats since foam.

The James Brown Index

Does the Saab 9-5 bring the funk?

I’m afraid not. It brings the comfort and the luxury, but there’s been little that’s funky about a post-2002 Saab, save for the Rinspeed 9-5 that showed up at Geneva earlier this year.

And that may be where the funk has to come from – those willing to add the funk themselves.

Somehow I just don’t see a car like the 9-5 getting some corporate funk in the foreseeable future.


The form follows function mantra is well and truly upheld in the Saab 9-5.

Whether it’s the belt-key-brake starting sequence or the operation of your controls while you’re in motion, the 9-5 delivers the goods.

Summing it up – the 9-5

The Saab 9-5 is going to be regarded as a modern classic by Saabisti in years to come, and I believe that’ll be the case with both the pre- and post-facelifted models. The cabin, where most people bond with the car, is largely similar through the years and in my experience, the driving is first class.

So the totally arbitrary TS interior grading system gives the 9-5 a pass in three out of four criteria. The interior could use some serious funk, but still manages to impress nonetheless.


Saab 9-3 coming after I play 3 games of backgammon with the Mrs…..done.

We played 6 and I won 5-1. We’ve played around 1,650 games since our last anniversary (May 06) and she’s ahead by 9 games.


The Saab 9-3

This one might hurt a little, but please remember that it’s all relative.

The Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan was introduced in MY2003 and the interior concept was a twofold one of a black-room and a white-room. All well and good in theory, but the aesthetics never grabbed me anywhere near as much as the technology.

The black room, circa 2007:


So, to the totally subjective and arbitrary TS interior rating system.

The Madonna Quotient

I think I’m preaching to the converted here when I say that the interior of the Saab 9-3 could do with a real re-vamp when it comes to materials.

The emphasis early on in the model’s life was on technology. The buttons. The fibre-optic infotainment system. The truly aircraft-inspired cockpit area. The dash-mounted SID. The fact that the dash area was a sea of black played second-fiddle to the awesome wonder of all those magnificent buttons.

With the 2007 remodelling of the dash area, I think it’s really drawn attention to the fact that the dash is a sea of plastics. The design is definitely OK and I could even get used to the dials if I had to, but at the moment there’s definitely a lot of ‘entry level’ and not enough ‘premium’ about the material content of the 9-3 dash area.

The “Baby’s got back” factor

Take one look at the 9-3 60th anniversary sport seat and you’ll want to sit right on your computer screen:


The 9-3 sports seat is another great Saab fitting. Of course, you want to make sure you get the sport seat though. I’ve had one experience with a seat in a 1.8t Convertible that left me pining for the seats in my old 99 Turbo, and I’m not sure that’s supposed to be the case.

But like I said, it’s all relative. I’d take a slightly hard 9-3 Convertible seat over anything Toyota, Holden, Ford or Mitsubishi could offer here in Australia, any day. In fact I’d take it over your basic BMW and Audi seat too.

The James Brown Index

Again, like the 9-5, there’s a death of funk in the 9-3.

It’s got a cool factor and a sporting element, but there’s no sackful of granpappys here, I’m afraid.

It can get a significant cool upgrade though, if one were to add the Hirsch leather dash kit, and there’s definitely some merit in doing so.


Again, like the 9-5, I always found little complain about in terms of functionality. The 9-3 interior layout has always exhibited everything I need and right where I thought I’d find it. Some may have found the buttons awkward, but I always found them to be logical and like the button layout in the Viggen and even the arrow-sodden heater controls on the classic 900, once you get used to it, it’s a piece of cake.

Summing it all up

Despite my petty complaints, I’ve always absolutely loved any time I’ve managed to spend in a 9-3 and I have a SportCombi on my future shopping list.

It’s just that I’ll be saving up a little extra for the Hirsch dash kit to go with it….

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  1. Swade – you so eloquently summed what I always believed about the 9-5 and if I have to be specific, the Aero. Dynamically, sometimes challenged because of the dated chassis, but if you have the post-2002 version and have a couple of dollars to spice up the suspension with either Eibach, Koni or some other lower control arms and struts and bushes and the occasional Brembo braking kits, you have one heck of a car but with that finese of the Saab heritage. You simply just can’t buy that heritage at the value stream what the 9-5 can offer, can you?

  2. Swade,
    all people speaking about the 9-5 are insisting in the good seats and their long distance comfort.
    Unfortunately they were the only reason for me to sell the car after we had owned it for one year. In this way we lost a lot of money. The seats didn`t fit me. I got backache. We had no leather as the seats surface but only a textile velours fabric. In this case the possibility to change the sitting position by unaware body slipping during the ride is low since the surface of the textile fabric is not so slippery as leather. Another special aspect of mine is that the arrangement of the seat and the steering wheel is uncorrect. If you take a look to the front border of the 9-5 driver`s seat and its realation to the direction of the steering wheel axle there is no 90 degree angle as it normally should be in my opinion. Therefore you are always sitting a little bit displaced during driving. The second point was( and is) the curious box at the bottom in the right passenger seat`s feetroom. As a passenger I couldn`t move my left leg in a range which I wanted.
    Therefore we looked for another car instead of the 9-5. At first we entered an Audi A6 and in the first moment I knew that the seats, their position and their comfort were ok. There were only seats covered with a textile fabric. This car we drove 6 years and I had no trouble with my back or my feet. It was our best car we ever had in the years from 1973 to 2000. But as you all know, once a Saab ever a Saab. Now we are owner of a 9-3 II estate. The seats are better than in the 9-5 and as a passenger beside the driver I find a more free room to move my legs in the ground of the feetroom than in the 9-5. There is no feetroom box which can reduce my comfort as a passenger.

  3. Swade,

    Glad to see you addressing one of the real shortcomings of the entire 9-3SS lineup. Sure the original dash design contained a sea of interesting looking buttons, but they were of such shoddy construction that over time they peel showing a white plastic reality. Additionally the thinly coated hard plastic dash material also peels over time showing a real cheapness to the overall materials – even the leather is not up to par with my previous SAABs. More than this however was the poor way in which all of these components are screwed together. Driving your new 9-3SS off the lot you are treated to a firm, quiet, solid ride that lets you feel the road but isolates you from the worst of it. Flash forward to 10K miles on the clock and that firm ride has turned punishing and many bits of the interior have partially “let go” meaning that all the hard, hollow plastic and vinyl is now rubbing, squeaking and vibrating against each other in a cacaphony of noise that quickly reduces the enjoyment of the car except on the smoothest of pavement. The interior rattles stop on interstate cruises, but at 75MPH the roar of the tires becomes the main intrusion. I bought my 9-3SS knowing the interior looked the way it did – I was not blind – but I did expect it to hold together like my ’98 900SET and my ’01 Viggen and that has been my biggest disappointment. I am leaving the fold for now for a BMW 335i but will still be a frequent reader because I am a fan of what I know the Trolls are capable of when given free reign.

  4. Great article Swade, I wish we could be in a time to discuss the slightly expired interior of the 9ks, and discover the many wonders of the OG9-3s. Including Viggens :).

    No, jc_atl, don’t leave! I’d hate to see you stuck on the side of road with a huge blasted hole in your hood :(.

  5. “Additionally the thinly coated hard plastic dash material also peels over time showing a real cheapness to the overall materials”

    Absolutely! This had begun to happen on my 04 9-3—it was only three years old FSS. It was nearly the cause of me jumping ship. And let’s not forget the peeling, delaminating badges, which were at least replaced by my dealer;-)

    I leased another 9-3, but I’m only signed up for a 2 year stint on this one. Driving the car for 3 weeks or so now, I’m aware of the improvements in cabin noise, engine, etc., all very good indeed, even though I wasn’t dissatisfied with the previous car in these respects, but also I’m aware of the not nearly as good stereo system, the ghastly touch screen and nav system, and the overall
    cheaper feeling of things.

    I feel like I’ve downgraded myself.

    This may be my last SAAB, and it makes me saad.

  6. Not that this is any kind of excuse – but I was reading on another message board that both the E46 and E90 BMW 3-series models have had problems with peeling plastics. Supposedly on the new 3-series the door pulls and the center of the steering wheel have been having peeling problems. It seems like these auto makers really need to step up their work on figuring out how to make resiliant plastics (but with a nice touch and feel) that can stand up to wear and tear.

  7. I recently drove a 2007 9-3 loaner car from the dealer while our 2006 was being serviced.

    My thoughts on the re-designed interior – Yuck! Went from classy to cheap.

  8. “I’d recommend you befiend a 9-5 owner”???

    You’d normally get arrested for that, but being a Saab owner they might actually enjoy it!

  9. When we were looking to change our Merc C200 wagon 2 years ago we looked at nearly everything under the sun from Subaru wagons with their hard, shiny plastics, Aussie Falcodore wagons with their loose bits of trim falling off to BMW 530 wagons with their stupid automatic tailgates, stupid i-drive, stupid rear seat not folding flat (in a $130,000 wagon!). We were going to go for a new Merc C200 in the end despite a touch of dislike for the new styling and the lack of grunt for me in the engine even with the Kompressor doo-dah.

    The dealer principal we talked to was an arse so to cool things off a bit i went for a walk and walked passed the Saab showroom that i never knew was there (i’ve had a softspot for Saab since the 9000 but they were off my radar purely i think because of the incredibly low profile they had 2 years ago when Holden took full control)

    They had a 9-5 wagon in the yard. It looked good. I sat in it. I bought it. It could have still had a 2 stroke engine under the bonnet, i didn’t care, the interior was such a superb place to be in with all those lovely buttons that did exactly what it says on them by pushing. It had timber, it had leather, acres of bloody leather, thick carpets. It had a steering wheel that felt perfect in my hands. It had no truly awful faked brushed aluminium like every other car model i looked at that was really painted plastic. I felt like i was the pilot of a Lear Jet.
    When i took it for a drive i wasn’t dissapointed and haven’t been over the last 2 years. It’s a shame the new interior is like it is. Somehow i can’t see Saab ever replicating it, they appear to be followers now rather than leaders. I hope i’m wrong.

    Oh, yes. The Merc dealer rang me on monday asking me on my thoughts about the car carrying on the nonsense with the price negotiations. I told him we’d bought a Saab 9-5 wagon on the sunday arvo. He was a profesional, just a moments silence and then a quick congratulations.

    Interestingly though before i go. Mercedes still sends me nice stuff, well worded promo letters, invites to launches etc. Saab send me either bugger all or Holden letterheaded notes that call the 9-5 by it’s delivery number. I.E

    Mr Humpage! Your…Saab 45761gC … is now 2 years old. Did you know that GM Australia can help to insure your…Saab 45761gC…through GMAC?! Ring us now for a super competetive quote on your…Saab 45761gC…and you and your…Saab 45761gC…can enjoy the benefits that come from being a GM Australia customer!

  10. Paul – you know what I do: I make a copy of 9-5 registration papers and post them (postage paid) back to the dealer and tell them – no thanks – I have my insurance covered. And by the way, this is the real passport data of my car. At any rate, glad you felt at home and still soldiering on.

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