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Saab 9-5 LPT


The rain was pelting down, bathing the windscreen in a cascade of water that shifted constantly as the windscreen wipers worked to sweep it away. The Michelin tyres hissed as they dug through the water and gripped the tarmac beneath.

Visibility, despite the efforts of the efficient wipers was virtually non-existent, the roadside white line providing the most accurate indicator of where the car was on the road.

But the Saab 9-5 itself was totally unfazed by the atrocious driving conditions as we headed through a late autumn torrential downpour.

It felt secure, sure-footed, no more fussed than it would have been had the road been dry. It felt perfectly equipped for the conditions. Grip in corners was excellent, the Saab hanging on leech-like.

Later, when we left the rain behind as if we'd driven through a curtain, we stretched the car's not inconsiderable legs on dry tarmac.

The test 9-5 was the entry-level model, the 110kW 2.0-litre light pressure turbo (LPT). The test car was the $65,000 automatic (there's a $61,000 manual option; or station wagon manual at $64,000 and auto wagon at $64,900).

The nine-variant 9-5 range also includes low pressure and full pressure turbo 2.3-litre fours and a low-pressure turbo 3.0-litre V6. The most potent models are the 169kW high-output Aero sedan and wagon.

The 9-5 is a contemporary-looking car, but like all current Saab sedans is more evolutionary than revolutionary in its styling.

There are reminders of the older 9000 sedans in its long, high-hipped lines and large C-pillars.

The wedgy nose ends in a modern interpretation of the familiar Saab grille.

The car is elegant in an understated way, and looks as efficient aerodynamically as it undoubtedly is. The styled wheel covers are especially well done, looking very much like alloys.

The cabin is beautifully finished, the dark grey seats giving off a rich aroma of leather. The leather-trimmed steering wheel has a nicely-thick rim and a just-right diameter.

There are quirky details, like the console-mounted ignition key.

There's a feeling of taste in the furnishings: unlike some of its more opulent siblings, there's no trace of woodgrain on the dashboard and the car is the better for it.

We've encountered the occasional annoying rattle in other Saabs, but this one was completely rattle-free and felt well-built and reassuringly solid (additional reassurance is provided by Saab's legendary safety engineering).

Saab seats are superb. They're high-backed and supremely comfortable for long open road journeys. At first they don't seem anything remarkable, but the longer you're in them the better they feel. It's hard to describe but you sort of become part of them as they offer support exactly where it's required. And despite being leather-upholstered they hold you securely even during very vigorous cornering. No sliding around here.

Adjustable seat and steering wheel heights made it easy to find our favoured low seat/high steering wheel driving position.

Our only quibble about the interior was rather tight rear seat legroom with the passenger's seat pushed right back.

The LPT engine produces brisk performance and has no trouble pulling the somewhere near 1600kg car along (Saab quotes a weight range of 1525kg to 1665kg depending on specification).

It's not earth-shattering (Saab quotes 0-100km/h in 11.6 seconds for the auto and a top speed of 210km/h), or push-you-back-in-the-seat, but there's plenty of urge. It's never breathless on hills or caught short when you ask it to overtake slower traffic.

It launches well from traffic lights and the meaty torque ensures smooth, progressive acceleration.

The auto gearbox is smooth-shifting and kicks down quickly. You can shift it manually, but in most situations the 240Nm of torque and the instant kick-down mean you can leave it in Drive.

Incidentally second gear will run out to more than 100km/h, and selecting the ratio manually means you can leave it in the gear on ultra tight, twisting and turning, rising and falling roads.

Handling is good, the 9-5 feeling a lot better and less nose-heavy than its smaller stablemate the 9-3.

The power steering is well-weighted and lets you know exactly what the front wheels are doing, even in pouring rain.

The basic handling is mild understeer and the 9-5 responds best to a classic early turn-in, keep your foot in it front-wheel drive cornering technique.

As the weight transfers during fast cornering there's a feeling of movement from the back of the car and the 9-5 tightens its line.

It's an enjoyable, communicative car to drive rapidly on the open road and is more at home in tight going than the 9-3.

Ride quality is good, and the 9-5 handles bumps with ease, soaking up the jolts and keeping its passengers comfortable.

Brakes - discs all round - are strong and we experienced no fade.

Saab quotes overall fuel consumption of 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres and according to the on-board computer, even in the hands of so poor an economy driver as I am, it returned 10.8 litres/100km. The fuel tank holds 75 litres.

Boot space is excellent and the 9-5 LPT 2.0 has the usual electrically-operated windows and mirrors and central door-locking. A good quality Compact Disc player is standard and - a nice touch - the sound system also includes a tape cassette player. The air-conditioning is efficient.

Noise levels are generally low, especially on smooth tarseal. On coarser chip surfaces, though, the Michelins can be noisy.

Wind noise is low and the aerodynamic body cleaves its way through the air with no fuss.

It's a little difficult to think of a car costing $65,000 as an entry-level model, but that's what the 2.0-litre light pressure turbo is to the Saab 9-5 range which peaks at $96,900 (Aero Estate auto and Griffin sedan auto).

It's a fine entree to high-level Saab motoring, though, solid-feeling, adequately-performing, securely handling.

I'll admit to a soft spot for Saabs, and though some of them can ride harshly and deliver their power fiercely, the 9-5 LPT sedan was an enjoyable companion for a city commute or a country sprint. It may not sprint as hard as some rivals (that 0-100km/h time won't impress any), but it's one of the nicest Saabs we've driven and it feels all of a one. Everything is well-matched, from ride to handling, from gearbox to engine, and it delivers a feeling of quality, thoughtful design and thorough development. It's a car in which nothing feels mis-matched, nothing feels left to chance and there's nary a jarring note.

We liked it and it feels in keeping with its pricetag: we didn't get the impression we'd feel short-changed if we'd forked over the 65 grand.

AutoPoint road test team.

Auto Trader New Zealand