Saab 9000 Aero Review

The month of Saab 9000 lovin continues…..

Today I thought I’d do something I don’t normally do and publish a full road test. Ordinarily, I try to respect the ownership of the article and just publish clips from it with a link back to the original. However, in this instance, the review is eight or nine years old, so I don’t think they’re going to mind too much.

Following is an Edmunds review of the Saab 9000 Aero. I know there’s at least one visitor to this site who’s interested in picking one of these up, so this should be interesting reading for him.

But the interesting part for the rest of us is that this review shows a reviewer that doesn’t “get it” at first – and then winds up coming to appreciate that the Saab is different, and in a very good way.

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Whenever someone is crazy about a car, we are a bit skeptical. So it was with the Saab 9000 Aero. We had been hearing such wonderful things about the car for so long, that we had begun suspecting that Saab Cars North America was actually paying off automotive writers and consumer groups to say nice things about this Nordic touring sedan. No car, short of icons like the Porsche 911 or Chevrolet Corvette, can remain unchanged for so long while reaping such favorable press. It was with much trepidation, then, that we approached our tester. The first of our staff to take the car for a spin was managing editor, Christian Wardlaw. After taking the 9000 Aero through his test loop he telephoned to ask if I would mind trading cars early, as in sometime that afternoon. “So, you liked it that much,” I asked? “It smells like a wharf inside,” was all he said. Now, I realize that Wardlaw is not one to unduly prejudice one of his writers against a vehicle, but it struck me as odd that he wanted to get rid of this vehicle after only a day.

Upon getting into the Saab 9000 I detected the funny smell that Wardlaw was referring to. Not quite as obvious as in, say, a Subaru Legacy, the 9000 did emit a rather fishy smell. Perhaps Saab conned Norwegians into transporting these Swedish-made cars across the Atlantic in open-hulled Viking longboats or something. (My Swedish grandmother has always told me that Norwegians are easy to fool.) Nevertheless, I was able to dispel that not-so-fresh scent by cracking the windows and sliding the moonroof back; perfect for beautiful spring days in Denver, Colorado.

My fist trip around the block was enough to see why Wardlaw had wanted to swap cars after spending only a few hours behind the Aero’s wheel. This big Saab, which purports to have 0-to-60 times in the low 6-second area, is positively anemic at low revs. Twice in 2 miles other cars nearly creamed me when I was making left hand turns in heavy traffic. Expecting this big, allegedly fast car to launch through a turn, I instead found myself sitting for what seemed like an eternity waiting for the turbo to spool up. When the turbo finally did come alive, the cacophony created by the piercing whine of the powerplant and the smoking and chirping of the front tires was enough to startle fellow motorists, passing pedestrians, nearby children, and distant dogs. “Damn Swedes,” I thought to myself, with a Finnish friend’s words ringing in my ears, “how can you trust a country that is run by a socialist monarchy to build a decent car?”

Determined not to drive the Saab 9000 Aero any more than I had to that week, I was mortified when my wife came home from work and said, “Nice car. Let’s take it when we go out to eat tonight.” Reluctantly climbing back into the car that had twice tried to kill me that afternoon, I asked my wife if she smelled anything odd about the car. “No, just smells like leather to me,” she said. Of course. Not only did she like the way the 9000 looked, she couldn’t even tell that it reeked like a Viking. With more than my usual amount of chagrin, I pointed the car northwest toward Boulder and entered the freeway.

Reluctantly, hesitantly, like a baby taking its first steps, I began to see why so many of my peers hold this car in such high regard. On the undulating section of Highway 36 between Westminster and Boulder, the Saab was able to stretch its remarkably long legs and overtake distant cars in what seemed like a blink of an eye. A downshift to 4th or even 3rd gear rewards drivers with an instant jump in revs as the car whooshes forward in a giant turbocharger-induced thrust. By the time we reached our destination, I was feeling positively magnanimous about this 5-passenger rocket sled. It turns out that what I initially disliked about the car was merely an inherent lack of understanding on my part about what a turbocharger is and how it works.

Turbochargers are typically used to give small displacement engines the power of a large displacement engine. Thus, Saab can make their 2.3-liter 4-banger feel as powerful as Ford’s 4.6-liter V-8 engine. The benefit of a turbocharger is that it doesn’t run all the time, only turning on when the engine enters a certain rpm range. As a result, cars with turbochargers are typically much more fuel-efficient than cars with larger, naturally-aspirated engines. Indeed, the Saab 9000, which is classified as a large car by the EPA, gets the best fuel-efficiency rating in its class; it also happens to be the fastest when dressed in 225-horsepower Aero garb.

The trick to driving a car with a turbocharger is to keep the revs in a tightly defined range at all times. As mentioned before, our Aero didn’t move terribly quickly when the clutch was released under 2500 rpm. At engine speeds over 4,000 rpm the Aero’s tremendous torque caused the wheels to spin ineffectually, overwhelming the Z-rated tires in a smoky, stinky, and largely frivolous display of power. After figuring this out by trial and error, however, we began enjoying this car with the zeal that we typically reserve for convertibles and sport coupes. Corners were not just a change of direction, they became an exercise in physics where we pitted the car’s forces of inertia versus the tires’ forces of friction. Time and time again, I searched out twisty roads with hairpin turns, trying to find a reason to dislike this car. After five days of abuse I gave up; the Saab had survived the gauntlet through which I had run it. Ultimately won over, I bid adieu to my contrary nature, and resisted my urge to dislike this car merely because so many others love it.

Despite the vague feeling that we were in close vicinity to a fishmonger, the 9000’s interior was quite comfortable. Ample seating for five included high-sitting bucket seats for the front seat passengers and a roomy, supportive bench seat for those stuck in the rear. Typical of many cars which cross the Atlantic to be sold on these Yankee shores, the 9000 features a plethora of confusing buttons and dials to control the car’s secondary functions. The power window controls are located on the center console and don’t feature a lockout switch, a problem for a high-dollar luxury car that purports to be family friendly.

Surprisingly, given the multitude of buttons related to its operation, the climate control system was a breeze, bad pun intended, to operate. One feature that families opting for a fast, prestigious car will appreciate is the colossal cargo area. Since the 9000 Aero is a hatchback, it has considerably more room for luggage, golf bags, or the bodies of those who have crossed you than a comparably sized sedan. This became obvious after taking 3 friends and all of their worldly possessions to Denver International Airport for a weekend trip to Chicago; God only knows what mode of transportation we would have needed if they had decided to go for a week. As it stood, the Aero accommodated their 3 full-size suitcases, garment bag, 2 duffel bags, and 3 carry-ons with room to spare.

When it came time to say goodbye to the Aero, I was a little distressed. Not just because I was saying goodbye to a car that had proved to be fun and practical, but because we are literally saying goodbye to the 9000 line. Saab has sent out press material showcasing the replacement for the 9000, which will be called the 9-5 (read: nine-five). Saab has promised to produce the 9000 for at least part of 1998, but we know that the Aero’s days are numbered. For the last 2 years we have recommended holding off on a purchase of the 9000 in anticipation of the forthcoming model. Now that we have seen the somewhat dull-looking replacement, and driven the current rendition, we urge you to hustle into a Saab dealership to take the 9000 Aero for a test drive. If big, fast, and fun are words you use when describing your ideal car, the 9000 Aero will fit like a glove.

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4 Comments

  1. It turns out that what I initially disliked about the car was merely an inherent lack of understanding on my part about what a turbocharger is and how it works.

    And all these years later some motoring “journo’s” still don’t get it.
    If i were King they would be first against the wall.

    The power window controls are located on the center console and don’t feature a lockout switch, a problem for a high-dollar luxury car that purports to be family friendly.

    UUMM i think they do have a lock out switch,at least the 5000 or so i have worked on did.
    What a tard

  2. I was JUST reading this the other day!!! … for the 5th time…

    Lol what a tard… I don’t get the fish smell thing…

  3. Re: Fishy Smell

    When those cars were new, the leather hides were treated with cod-liver oil derived conditioner. Volvos were stinkier at the time, but this practice seemed to taper off when the 9-3/9-5’s started coming onto the lots. I had the pleasure of working at a Saab dealer when these cars were essentially new and can recall the difference in smell between 9000 and the new stuff. Burnt crayon was the tan leather smell in the 9-5, I still get hints of it in mine some 210k miles after it came off the line in Trollhattan.

  4. In addition to what saabologist said, please notice that if it was not the journo’s wife (who prompted him to drive the car) he would have kept the car for 5 days and then write a very “clever” and “comprehensive” review.
    I believe that in most cases all journos act like this. This is one of the reasons why BMW, Audi and Merc always get the high rating.

    Hell, if Toyota were not paying so much to journalists would Toyota get such rave reviews? A rhetorical question, obviously.

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