Where would you place the 9-5 in terms of competition?
I tend to think that it’s most natural competition is actually the Saab 9-3, which is pretty similar in size, is a sedan but with a wagon variant and comes with a V6 option.
Back when the 9-5 first arrived it was most likely aimed at the BMW 5 series and E class Mercedes, and it would have been a good value proposition against that class. But as we all know, the tightening of GM’s purse strings in the last 5 years left the 9-5 without the development it needed. Its bracket has now slipped from the 5-series to the 3-series in realistic terms. From the E Class to the C Class.
I have a feeling, though, that if I were to point this out to Robert Farago from The Truth About Cars, he’d just state quite plainly in his manner of fact voice that it’s called the 9-5 and that means if you’re going to compare it to anything, it has to be the 5 series as it has a 5 in its nomenclature. Right?
And so goes a review of the 9-5 that’s just popped up on TTAC. It’s not written by Farago himself, but as he edits just about everything that goes on there you can bet your house that it crossed his desk.
The review is actually written by a guy named P.J. McCombs – a shame really as my wife’s nickname here at home is PJ and one of my favourite writers, despite my differing politics, is PJ O’Rourke. I can assure you that I’m reserving none of the affection nor the respect that I have for the latter two on the former.
McCombs sees fit to ignore the reality of the 9-5’s current state whilst actually describing it pretty well. He covers the acceleration, the supremely comfortable seating and the better-than-he-expected handling but makes those outdated BMW-Merc comparisons as if it’s a show of his education rather than an exhibition of his lack of research and current vehicle knowledge.
The BMW 5-series starts at $43,000 in the United States.
The Saab 9-5 starts at around $36,000. Both figures are MSRP. Does that sound like it’s in the same class?
Now, the Bimmer will most likely get the nod due to its interior and handling. Which is fair enough. Saab’s interior issues are well documented here and elsewhere and the Bimmers are noted for their handling. I’m quite confident that Saab will address this in the next generation 9-5.
But even with these concessions, let’s evaluate McCombs’ comparison. I’m going to leave the Merc out of this for the moment due to time and manageability (It’s 11.30pm here).
Here’s some comparitives from BMW’s own website between the Saab 9-5 and the base model (i.e. closest in price) BMW 5-series. The features where there’s a tick are the ones where BMW figure they’ve got an advantage.
Firstly, Value and Warranty:
As you can see, there’s a couple of ticks there, but I’d say that one’s in the 9-5s favour on a purely statistical basis.
Next, we have Power and Performance…
Only 4 ticks out of around 15-20 criteria? But the Bimmer costs $7K more?
Maybe they’ll fare better with Safety and Security. Well, maybe not. Safety’s Saab’s strongsuit, remember….
Let’s look at Comfort and Convenience then…part 1
What, no steering wheel controls?? Whaddaya call these, Mr Munchen?
But hey, the lack of Residual Heat Recirculation is a biggie.
Now for the rest of Comfort and Convenience…
As you can see, there’s more ticks in these sections than in previous ones. But in a car that’s had the benefit of a lot more development dollars, and being one that costs a full US$7,000 more – you’d expect it.
There’s some dealbreaker items in there, too. Some people in this day and age won’t consider a car without proper Bluetooth integration as standard. Things like that make a difference.
Overall, though, the Saab stacks up pretty well. BMW use ticks to highlight areas where they consider themselves to have an advantage, but if they also used red crosses to mark a disadvantage then we’d be looking at a sea of red here.
Now, I’m not coming out and saying that a Saab 9-5 is a better car to drive than a BMW 5-series. Even the base model. I haven’t driven one, so how could I say so?
I am willing to say, though, that on paper the Saab makes a compelling value argument against a competitor that in dollar terms is a class above it.
PJ McCombs compares the Saab 9-5 to the 5 series and does so as if they’re still the natural competitors they were when the 9-5 was first released. I’d say me comparing the two on paper only is about as valid/silly as him comparing the two without making any reference to their base prices, or even better, what you’d have to pay for a 5-series that matches the Saab point for point on all features.
The Saab 9-5 definitely needs its next generation model to come sooner rather than later. No-one disputes this.
PJ McCombs manages to find good points about the 9-5 but like so many other motoring writers he seems to miss the point by making his pointless comparison. He evaluates the 9-5 with a bar set much higher than where reality sets it in 2007.
In terms of bang-for-your buck the 9-5 will outpoint a 5-series dollar for dollar – no problem, and that’s before you even breathe in the presence of BMW’s extensive options listings.
Will it outcorner a 5 series on a closed track like the one McCombs drove it on? Not likely.
But it will give you a genuinely exciting and effortless drive in total comfort and with irrefutable safety and respectable equipment levels
And with at east $7K to spare.
Maybe that explains the grin Jeremy Clarkson always refers to when describing Saab owners….