Two Saabs and 2,000 kilometers in two days

As mentioned the other night, I was up in northern Sweden for a few hours over the weekend, a town called Skellefteå, just over 1,000kms from Trollhattan. I was there with a couple of friends, Rune an Anna. We drove up there on Sunday and drove back on Monday.

The reason? Well, it all started back in the Swedish winter with an icy road, a bend and a telegraph pole…..

This photo was taken in the dark with a cell phone, so it’s a little blurry, but here’s a look at some of the damage.

The repair took some time to complete and the first opportunity to pick up the car was last weekend. I came along to share the driving responsibilities so this story is part vehicle comparison, part road trip and part lessons learned (more on that later).

Our ride for the trip up was a rented Saab 9-3 SportCombi from 2010 with a small-t BioPower engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. The car got us from A to B in relative comfort seeing we were carrying three people, their overnight needs and a full set of 18-inch summer wheels and tyres in the back.

Fully loaded and with the small output engine, there isn’t much to talk about with this particular Combi in terms of sporty performance (which is, generally speaking, my personal measuring stick). That said, it did manage a pretty respectable 9.8l per 100kms on E85 when I had the wheel for the afternoon stint and was just a little less efficient per 100kms on the whole drive.

The car did what you expected it to do: it held the road very well and got us to our destination in comfort. Passing speeds on the E4 motorway were best reached via a multiple downshift to fourth or even third gear depending on the speed and the incline. It was stable, predictable, efficient and comfortable and for 99% of its buyers, this is just what they’re looking for. This model was not intended to be a road rocket, but it did everything it should, including looking pretty darn nice under the northern midnight glow:

We got up early the next morning and headed up to the workshop where Rune’s car was (almost) ready and waiting. Despite his cool outer demeanour, Rune was very much like a kid at Christmas and I can understand why – it’s not that often you get to take delivery of your car twice within a year. After such a long absence, it must have been like getting the car for the first time all over again.

The car needed a wash as it had been sitting outside for quite a bit of the time and had accumulated some pollen and other grime. I guess when you live in such northern latitudes, you get accustomed to doing most things indoors, including hosing down the car…..

Rune took care of the minor details just before we took off for our journey south, affixing the Saab Car Museum decoration to his number plate holder…..

This is where the road trip section of the story begins.

For those of you who haven’t been on a long drive within Sweden, your view out the window will generally take one of two forms. It’ll either look like this……. lots of trees on either side of the highway:

Or like this….. occasional field with optional (mostly) red-painted buildings:

There is the occasional variation – a yellow house, or a blue one. A turnoff for a village, a lake or even a piece of coastline. But for much of your long drive on a main highway in Sweden, this is what you’ll see. Get off the main highways and the roads are a lot smaller, twistier and the scenery is often much more varied and interesting. The domestic architecture doesn’t change much, but it’s part of the charm.

I guess this is where we get to the lesson learned, which is concerned with the satnav and the way you use it. We entered our destination and if I recall correctly, the system offered us a couple of different routes by which we could get there.

People should note that the ‘shortest distance’ offered does not necessarily mean the quickest trip, as we found out on our return leg. It was definitely more picturesque, but the occasional (and rather long) roadworks along with twisting roads and vastly reduced speed limits added around three or four hours to our return journey. Yes, three or four hours. Take note, nav owners and users.

To the 9-5, then.

This is a 2011 model 2.0T Aero with XWD. Rune is a BioPower advocate and waited deliberately until the BioPower model became available before making his purchase. The engine is the new direct injection engine producing 220hp and 350Nm and Rune selected the 6-speed manual gearbox to go with it. He also chose the navigation and entertainment system, grey perforated leather seats, head-up display, rear privacy glass…… so it’s pretty much got all the creature comforts a young owner could want. And yes, he looks very happy, as he should:

The trunk didn’t quite cope with all four winter wheels and tyres, so we had to fold down the rear seat and have a few of them poking into the cabin. Despite this, and despite me sitting in the passenger seat with my bulky frame and reasonably long legs, Anna still had plenty of room in the back, too. Check the distance between my headrest and Anna – it’s almost a football field in there.

I had a chance to spend a fair bit of time behind the wheel on the way home and it was a good reminder of just how impressive the new Saab 9-5 is. You can see the space for yourselves in the images in this story, but that’s only part of the tale. This is a pretty big car, but you’d never know it by the way it drives.

When I first drove the new Saab 9-5 at the vehicle launch last year, I declared this setup – the 2.0T with XWD – to be my personal favourite. The four-pot is so much lighter than the six cylinder and what it doesn’t get in power, it more than makes up for with handling. The car is so sure-footed and feels so right when you steer it into a bend. It really does feel like a much smaller car.

The other thing that made a very distinct impression on me was the flexibility of this 2.0T engine. While the little BioPower engine in the 9-3 (no badging on the car, but I think it was a 1.8t) coped very well with regular driving, it felt a bit breathless when challenged. This new Direct Injection engine in the 9-5 was outstanding in that respect. Going uphill in sixth gear and need a little more? No problem. No real need to even change down to fifth, let alone fourth.

Of course, if you’re overtaking and need to do so safely, then a change down is a wise idea to ensure a safe, quick pass. But I was amazed at how elastic, how flexible this engine was on both the highway and the back roads.

And the really good news? This is in the 9-5, which is a big car and reasonably heavy compared to the 9-3. That same engine in Rune’s car is now available in the Saab 9-3 Griffin and I can’t wait to have a drive of that particular model.

People have a tendency to overlook the 9-3 now that there’s some new product coming online in the 9-5 sedan and wagon, and the 9-4x. I say that’s premature. The 9-3 has held its looks quite well and with this new mechanical package, it’s surely the best 9-3 that Saab have ever offered. It’ll be well worth a look when it arrives in your neighborhood.

——

We covered over 2,000 kilometers in two Saabs, all within two days. The cars were quite different and it was great to compare one to the other. Both had their strengths. Both did everything that was asked of them, and quite well, too.

Rune and Anna got their car back and the smiles tell the story. They are a pair of very happy campers, and after spending the day in their new-again Saab 9-5, I can well understand why.

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9 Comments

  1. I guess the fuhrer north of Trollhattan you get the more trees and red houses you get. But if you travel south from Trollhattan through Skane you will find houses very different. But of course, some say that isn’t really Sweden. Just kidding;-)

    1. It’s not a joke.. 😉 It’s the truth. With the old historical roots as East Denmark (I come from that place) Skåne, Halland and Blekinge do show a different type of housing when looking on older buildings.
      Back in the days people also more built houses with what material was available. So in the northern and middle parts of Sweden people used wood, and in the most southern parts many used brick.

  2. When did we actually leave Skellefteå? I thought it was around 9:30am or so, and
    we arrived back in Mariestad roughly at 10pm. So I suspect we used about the same
    amount of time, both ways…

    At least that is my story, and I am sticking to it. 🙂

    Practically though, the satnav presents you with two choices: Short or fast. And sometimes you want something in-between: “short and sane”. I believe the routes presented for Mariestad – Oslo will demonstrate this. You basically choose between E18 and E6, but picking E18 also enables all those insane smaller roads that will only slow you down. Simply sticking to E18 is not only shorter than E6, but also the fastest route.

    OTOH, there’s also “Easy” which might be what I’m looking for — more testing required.

    At least an adventure was had, so it is all good IMO.

    1. Great you have your car back, and you picked it up in my present home town. Nice to see you have a version of the 9-5 that I want for my own.. but perhaps I’ll pick another engine.. I can’t really decided (if I only was in a position to buy a car, it would be that one)

  3. Beautiful countryside (reminds me of New England), lots of smiles, the joy getting the car and making the journey…. Nice story. Noting that the car did have its winter tires on, had all wheel drive and ESC, and still managed to kiss a phone pole is a reminder that no matter the confidence that all those systems bring, you still live physics: ice is ice. Speaking of ice–Go Bruins! (Sorry, Mr and Mrs Swade).

  4. Road taxation is about 3 times higher here in Holland compared to Sweden, and we have roadworks too 🙂
    No kidding: nice story on a great roadtrip.

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