I recently had the chance to drive a 2011 Saab 9-5, which is a rather remarkable vehicle in the sense that it was the last Saab. At the end of its life, Saab had two new products debut: a new 9-5 sedan, which came out in 2010, and the 9-4X crossover, which came out for the 2011 model year. The brand shut down only a short while after the 9-4X came out, so these two cars were orphaned after a short production run.
I’ll eventually cover the 9-4X crossover, but for now, I figured I had to do a video with the 9-5 sedan, especially since there was one listed for rent on Turo here in San Diego. Turo is a service that lets you rent other peoples’ weird and interesting cars instead of the typical rental cars, and so I decided I would rent a 9-5. The owner came and dropped it off at my house, and then I drove it around for a couple of days, and I learned a few things.
One thing I learned is that it wasn’t as weird as I was expecting. Saab cars have a reputation for being kind of weird and quirky, but General Motors took over the company in the late 1990s for some reason, and GM sort of "GM-ified" a lot of Saab models. This included the 9-5, which has the quirky look you’d identify with the Saab brand but also a lot of GM stuff on the inside, including a lot of switches and buttons. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since GM had started building decent cars by this point, and Saab benefitted from the company’s economies of scale, but it just meant the 9-5 wasn’t as quirky as I was expecting.
The driving experience was also not as quirky as I thought it would be. The 9-5 I drove used the car’s base-level turbocharged 4-cylinder, which made 220 horsepower; you could also opt for a turbocharged V6, which had 300 hp. Personally, I would’ve gone for that V6 because the 4-cylinder definitely didn’t feel muscular. The Subaru WRX bested 220 hp way back in 2002, for example, and I was surprised that a $47,000 luxury car could only muster that figure (even in its base model) as late as 2011.
But was the 9-5 a luxury car? There were certainly some luxury touches — heated leather seats, a surprisingly good infotainment system, a center gauge screen that was surprisingly useful and a long list of safety features — but speaking generally, the 9-5 struck me as more of a "near luxury" car, with the ride and driving experience to match. Performance wasn’t thrilling, steering and handling were surprisingly vague, and the ride quality wasn’t especially supple. The 9-5 was "nice," to be sure, but not "luxurious" or even "sporty" — just nice.
Still, it was uniquely a Saab. Despite the GM switchgear, the 9-5 had some unusual Saab traits, most clearly including the odd styling, which recalled the 1980s- and 1990s-era 9000 much better than its predecessor, the earlier 9-5 model, ever did. But there were also some other Saab quirks, such as a really strange secondary speedometer in the gauge cluster and the famous "night panel" mode that darkens all the interior lights except the speedometer.
Unfortunately, those quirks just weren’t enough to keep the brand afloat. Some people appreciated them, sure, but not quite as many people as Saab needed, so the 9-5 died, and the Saab brand went with it. It’s a shame, and many Saab enthusiasts are still disappointed, but it was fun to check out Saab’s last gasp while I could still easily find one.
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