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Saab 9-5 Aero

 

There are Saab 9-5 Turbos and there are Saab 9-5 Turbos: they share the same bodywork but they have totally different characters.

One is mild, the other is wild. The difference comes from the level of boost pressure generated by the turbocharger.

The milder Saabs have Light Pressure Turbos (LPT) and are wonderfully-smooth cars, quick enough but not so quick you'd ever be pushed back in your seat.

Their wilder siblings use High Output Turbos (HOT) and live up to that acronym in spades.

The difference in output between the two 2.3-litre engines used in Saab's elegant 9-5 wagon - Saab calls it a SportEstate - is around 50kW.

The LPT develops 136kW and the HOT is rated at 184kW.

There's a 70Nm difference in torque. The HOT motor punches out 350Nm, delivered in a satisfying chunk between 1900 and 4500rpm. Saab also markets a 2.0-litre LPT sedan, the Linear, with 110kW.

The 9-5 wagon is a looker, no doubt about that. It's more distinctive than the sedan which looks like a mere revamp of a line of big Saab sedans that stretches back to the 9000 of the 1980s.

But the wagon with its distinctive wrap-around rear screen and windows and hidden C-pillar looks like nothing else on the road. Quite simply it's the best looking wagon on the market.


The trademark Saab droop-snoot nose seems to start a moving line that begins at the headlights and rises in a fast and elegant wedge that continues along the base of the windows and launches itself off the back of the car.

It's a dynamic-enough line on the standard 9-5 SportEstate.

Aligned with the lower ride height, bigger diameter wheels and subtle yet striking body kit of the Aero, the 9-5 version that runs the HOT motor, the rising wedge line takes on a new and more aggressive dimension.

The Aero looks business.

Its name reflects Saab's long affair with vehicle aerodynamics and its heritage as a civil and military aircraft manufacturer. It seems a totally appropriate name for the high-performance version of the gorgeously aerodynamic wagon.

One of my favourite things about Saabs is glimpsing their aerodynamic efficiency at work. You can do so in the rain, switching the wipers off in light rain at motorway speeds and watching the finely-tuned aerodynamic shape of the Saab's nose and windscreen clear away the raindrops by air pressure alone.

The other marvel about Saab aerodynamics is that they don't detract from the vehicle's straightline stability in fierce crosswinds.

My 1993 Toyota Corona has good aerodynamics but is quite nervous at speed when a crosswind is blowing.

The 9-5 Aero wagon on the other hand is rock-solid and steady no matter how strong the winds battering it may be.


The Aero package doesn't stop with bodywork enhancements.

Saab has uprated the chassis, lowering ride height and beefing up the suspension.

Given the power on tap, that's a wise move. We like the LPT version of the 9-5 wagon, but its major shortcoming is a slight lack of precision in handling.

There's a little too much body roll, a little too much of a loose-limbed feel when you're punting it along a challenging road. And it understeers a tad more than we'd like.

Putting 184kW (around the output Holden and Ford V8s used to produce before the Australian horsepower war hit full stride) into that chassis would make for a somewhat difficult car.

But the enhanced suspension in the Aero fits the extra power perfectly.

This is the first Aero Saab I've driven. Colleagues, some of them mystified by my passion for Saabs, told me the Aeros were hard-riding rather brutal cars.

Well, I couldn't say that about the Aero wagon I drove. Its ride was firm but not harsh and it soaked up open road bumps well, absorbing the shock without transmitting it to the passengers.

Saab tell me that revisions for 2002 have improved ride quality without compromising chassis sharpness in the Aero.

Certainly on our regular test route, which includes from nasty bumps and some demanding corners with less than smooth surfaces, the 9-5 Aero behaved perfectly well.


Performance is vivid and strong, the power delivered in a seamless rush.

Saab quotes a top speed of 245km/h, and the wagon will hit 100km/h in a shade over eight seconds when fitted with the smooth-shifting five-speed automatic gearbox. The manual cuts that to 7.3 seconds, helped no doubt by the overboost which pumps an extra 20Nm of torque through the front wheels during sharp bursts of acceleration.

Torque steer is well-controlled and was only really apparent under hard acceleration from standstill and while the car was on the lower ratios.

We encountered no torque steer scrabbling of wheels under hard acceleration out of tight corners.Saab brakes are excellent and hauled the down from speed 9-5 efficiently and quickly time after time. Strong brakes are essential on a car that has such strong mid-range acceleration. The car gets from corner to corner very quickly indeed.

The cabin is comfortable and nicely finished. Saab seats are among the best you'll find anywhere and the leather-upholstered ones in the test car provided excellent support, both to the lower back and the shoulders.

Legroom and headroom is good in both the front and rear cabin.

There's an efficient air-conditioning system and a good quality Compact Disc player and radio.

The 9-5 Aero SportEstate is a gorgeous-looking car and is as good to drive as it looks.

It's not cheap, at $98,900, but it packs a lot of impressive equipment, state-of-the-art safety standards, stunning performance and good road manners in the best-looking wagon sheetmetal on the block.

Standard equipment:
Remote anti-theft alarm with tilt sensor; leather-wrapped sports steering wheel; Titanium finish dashboard fascia; Saab parking assistance system; electrically-operated glass sunroof; sound system with Compact Disc and cassette player, eight speakers and steering wheel-mounted auxiliary controls; six-disc CD changer; body-coloured aerodynamic kit including chin spoiler, side skirts; leather-upholstered sports seats; electrically-adjustable front seats, driver's with three-setting memory; adjustable front armrest; leather-wrapped gear lever knob; steering wheel adjustable for height and reach; dual-zone automatic climate-control air-conditioning; cruise control; remote-control central door-locking; on-board trip computer; power windows; power-operated heated exterior mirrors; rain-activated windscreen wipers; heat-absorbing glass; rear fog light; glass-mounted radio antenna; high-pressure headlight wash; heated front seat cushions.

AutoPoint road test team: Words and pictures: Mike Stock.
 


Auto Trader New Zealand