Saab 9-5 is now called Senova

I don’t want to sound down about the future, but let’s just say the present ain’t looking all that great.

BAIC bought technology from Saab just as the company was being sold by GM in 2009. It’s four years later and their vehicle based on the Saab 9-5 – called the Senova – has just been tested by Autocar magazine in England. You would hope that with a solid working base and 4 years to remodel that things would be reasonably good. And parts of it are. Plenty of it wasn’t, though.

In short:

  • The drivetrain shows its age.
  • The equipment levels are great, but….
  • The materials are terrible.

That drivetrain is basically the same 2.0 and 2.3 litre turbo engines that Saab used in the 9-5 back in the old days. From 1997 onwards.

It was a great engine to drive in the Saab 9-5 back in the day, but running through the same old yesteryear 5-speed auto transmission, Autocar finds it to be a little bit dated. With the 9-5’s old competition offering 7+ speeds as standard nowadays, I’m not surprised.

Electronics are cheap and ubiquitous these days so it’s no surprise that the Senova comes well equipped with touchscreen infotainment and powered everything. They’ve even kept a large number of Saab cues including active head restraints and central ignition (using a button instead of a key, of course).

It’s the materials that get the biggest panning:

Internally, BAIC have taken a top-down approach: the further you go down, the worse the quality gets. On the top of the dashboard the soft plastics are fine, but once you get down to the central console much cheaper materials are in play and the door pockets are downright flimsy. Never mind competing with European executives, this doesn’t even come up to the standards of an Avensis.

The materials and the lack of driving excitement are the biggest concerns. BAIC has had four years with this car and those familiar with the 9-5 know that they had a pretty decent base to start with. That a car company, even a Chinese car company, couldn’t take that base and improve it to any measurable degree after 4 years doesn’t bode well for those of us looking forward to see what the next Saab-based vehicle will be like.

That car’s due to come along next year, after only a couple of years development time rather than four years. It’ll roll off the production lines in Trollhattan and have a Saab name attached to it. Thankfully NEVS have got more experienced people on board than BAIC, so hopefully their 9-3 based car will fare better than BAIC’s first effort with the 9-5.

It’ll need to. NEVS can’t afford a first review like this one from Autocar.

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  1. First of all, I’m shocked that BAIC is still messing around with this four years on. The reason for buying the platform was to shorten the gestation to two years or so.

    Two things that BAIC has done to differentiate themselves: value and safety. That’s a very good start. They also have an attractive design.

    Saab/NEVS must overhaul the whole car to be relevant in the global market, that’s 100% true.

  2. What I’m wondering about is this: I use the Chromium browser and Google News to search for Saab news in China, using the neat Chromium/Chrome translate feature. I find great reviews (which appear to be written by BAIC) for the 9-3 based car. But, the reviews go on and on about the great Nordic/Swedish Saab heritage, as if these cars are Saabs. When the NEVS Saab hits the Chinese market, won’t prospective Chinese buyers be a bit confused? Maybe they will think the newcomer NEVS is an impostor.
    Anyway, despite the review, as one commenter pointed out, these cars will sell for about half what an Audi A4 costs. I think they will sell, but just not to the typical Mercedes/BMW/Audi buyer.

    1. For a daily driver that is stuck in traffic half the day I’d certainly opt for a brand-new 2007 Saab 9-5 for half the price of a 2014 Audi A4 In a New York minute.

  3. Thankfully the only familiar thing about this is the engine bay……..

    But @ £14K for the base model it’s certainly got value….the Chinese are coming!!!

  4. I wish the review was a little longer. What exactly do they mean when they say that it “doesn’t feel modern”?
    To me, that sounds like a NVH issue (noise, vibration, harshness). That’s not surprising when you consider that BAIC is sourcing all of its bushings, engine mounts, dampers, etc, locally. It takes a huge amount of effort for manufacturers to tune-out resonance and vibration from a chassis. BAIC and its suppliers probably don’t have the experience and the budget to do that effectively (yet). Something as simple as having a transmission mount that is too stiff (or too soft) car totally transform the way a car feels. Multiply that by dozens of components, all of which interact with each other, and the complexity becomes enormous.
    For instance, the 9-3 hatch had something like eight different front damper specifications, depending on powertrain, chassis and equipment levels (weight). I’ll bet BAIC uses just one spec.

    On top of all that, they tested the smallest engine option, with an automatic. The 9-5 is a big car, so that combination is not going to provide much excitement. The engine may also have been tuned conservatively for Chinese gasoline.

    Overall, the car sounds like good value for money. It’s a big, solid, safe, comfortable car with half-decent fuel economy. Probably just the thing you want for Beijing gridlock.

  5. Well , spend a lot of money and don’t buy a new SAAB , restore your model of what you chose. Find a good body shop a fine mechanic and build your SAAB to your spec. it’s the way the hot-rodders do it for years and I see some very nice cars from them , and some bringing great money . Once you build it it’s yours forever or till someone just sets a price you cant live without . Just an option , if you really want a dream of a “new” SAAB . Five of mine run great and five wait for me to do just what I want . However it does cost , but the last “new” SAABs before the fire sale were coming close to 50k USD. Maybe that puts a different slant on it . GM , or the rest don’t have what I want , and my 9/5 Areo will go way past 150 mph , seems fine for the street .

  6. I saw on eBay that you can get this BAIC model in scale 1/18 both in white or black for USD 130 straight out of China. I am sticking with original Saabs though.

    1. Widen your net. West Texas was never chock-a-block with Saabs. On the other hand, the DFW Metroplex is, curiously, awash in Saabs. That’s only 290 miles. Just sayin’…

  7. Dave, very well put. What you describe is exactly where I am. I have owned 14 Saabs since the 1959 93b. Currently my wie and I each have Aeros 2001 and 2003. My son Jon just bought a 2001 Aero wagon with 66K miles on it, and son Jeff has a 2004 Aero wagon. My garage is Saab Central with many parts and tools for keep the fleet on the road.

    I just did an article for the next issue of the Saab Owner’s club magazine NINES titled “IN PRAISE OF THE 95.”. the story is about how great these cars are and recommending getting a good one and keeping it on the road. In the US parts and knowhow are very available, and there are still some good values out there. I sort of feel sorry for Saab owners who have to rely on others to maintain their cars. the fun in getting your hands dirty and doing it yourself! I am headed to the shop right now!

    1. Thanks , I started working on SAAB cars for a living in 1976 , the fellow who did the work on them went on an extended leave and the service manager just handed me a repair order and said fix this ,no one else will . It was a 74 99 in the bright orange ,once done with the service I drove it and I was hooked . Our shop worked on a lot of euro cars but SAAB was different . I still have a soft spot for 99’s . All SAAB’s have a drive heritage you can feel . I opened my own shop in 1991 and still 95% of our work is SAAB cars . I’m a car nut but soon I’ll be 62 and the days of my work will be at home , been a long road including the racing habit but I’ve kept the dog fed and a roof over my dear wife and myself for a long time and SAAB has been a big part of it . Dave

  8. What I find quite amazing most of the time is that due to the low working labour costs, Chinese companies could come up with great products at decent prices. At least imho. Instead, they all choose to also spoil the product, in order to make it even cheaper. I wonder why.

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