2002 Saab 9-5
    MSRP
    $33,995 - $39,350
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    2002 Saab 9-5 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    An unorthodox approach to greatness.

    Introduction

    Saab's 9-5 line of sedans and wagons are comfortable, convenient and enjoyable to drive whether it's around town or on the open road. These cars offer sharp handling and steering response, benefiting from steering and suspension revisions for 2002. Revised styling for 2002 gives the 9-5 a fresh, more contemporary look. 

    Precise steering and excellent high-speed stability make the 9-5 a great companion for covering distances in a hurry. A new five-speed automatic transmission is available for all models that works superbly with the engines to deliver excellent response. Saab 9-5 seats are very supportive and the interior is nicely designed with clever solutions to ergonomic problems. A roomy rear seat makes this a comfortable car for four adults. 

    With its high-output turbocharged engine, the Aero model puts a lot of power under the pedal for quick, throttle response at highway speeds. This makes the Aero an absolute delight for working through fast traffic. 

    Lineup

    Saab has revised the model line for 2002, giving it an artsy new nomenclature drawn from the world of architecture. Three distinct models, or 'forms,' match engine performance and interior styles to suit varying 9-5 buyer priorities. 

    The Linear, Arc, and Aero models each offer a distinct personality of vehicle. Each of the three forms is available in four-door sedan and wagon body styles. 

    Linear models come with Saab's 185-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Linear models come with an impressive level of standard equipment, including leather upholstery with leather door panel inserts, a walnut-trimmed instrument panel, power front seats, heated front seats, power sliding sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, cabin air filter, power windows, power central locking, steering-wheel audio controls, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo with seven speakers, front and rear fog lights, ABS, traction control. 

    Arc is designed to emphasize a sports-luxury touring role. Powered by a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine, it comes standard with the new five-speed automatic and the Electronic Stability Program, a great safety feature. Arc models come with ventilated leather seats with a three-speed fan to keep things cooler in the summer. Arc models add more luxury features, including heated front and rear seats, the eight-speaker Harmon/Kardon stereo. 

    Aero models offer the ultimate in performance with a 2.3-liter High-Output Turbo four-cylinder engine rated at 250 horsepower. Aero models come with bolstered sport seats and 17-inch wheels. Yep. You read that right: the Aero's four-cylinder engine is hotter than the Arc's V6. Aero is distinguished by unique exterior styling cues, special leather sport seats and a metallic-finish dash trim. 

    Retail prices for 2002 9-5 sedans and wagons: Linear 2.3t ($33,995); Arc 3.0t ($38,650); Aero ($38,650); Linear 2.3t SportWagon ($34,695); Arc 3.0t SportWagon ($39,350); Aero SportWagon ($39,350). 

    A brand-new five-speed automatic transmission ($1200) is optional. 

    Walkaround

    Saab has revised the styling of the 9-5 for 2002 to give it a sportier look. In front, smoother bumpers, an integrated grille, and clear-lens headlamps emphasize performance. 

    Clear headlight lenses show off the optional bi-xenon projector headlamps that are new for 2002 models, which give the 9-5 a high-tech night-fighter look. Glance in the rear-view mirror and that 9-5 behind you presents a distinctive appearance that says get out of my way. 

    Tail lamps have been modified with clear lenses on the sedans. Wagons get new tail lamps that provide a tighter, more solid appearance. Engine designations have been added to the trunk lid of the Linear and Arc models, while the Aero sports an Aero badge. Exclusive wheels differentiate among Linear, Arc, and Aero models. 

    Overall, however, the Saab 9-5 retains its sculpted, Scandinavian appearance. Its aerodynamic lines are tautly drawn. Yet it's also practical in that Scandinavian way: The clamshell hood remains. Outside door handles are easy to grasp, the kind that let you slip your hand through, and lever upward for easy opening. 

    The Linear model features a 16-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheel, while the Arc model features a new 16-inch five-spoke wheel. Sporty 17-inch alloy wheels with 10 spokes come on the Aero model with low-profile 225/45 VR-17 Michelin Pilot tires, a tip-off that this is a high-performance car. 

    Interior

    This is immediately a comfortable car. The black leather seats in our Aero were supportive. They offered sufficient side bolstering for hard cornering yet sliding into and out of them was easy. There were plenty of adjustments, yet it wasn't critical to adjust them just so in order to get comfortable. Heated seats are standard and feature adjustable temperature settings. There's plenty of room in this car front and rear, and Saab says the 9-5 offers a roomier cabin than the BMW 5 Series. 

    Interior materials are high quality. Brushed aluminum panels on the Aero's dash give it a sporty look. The Aero has a nice leather-wrapped four-spoke wheel with the rim the correct diameter. It's pocked for better grip, between 2 and 4 o'clock on the right side and 8 and 10 on the left. 

    Curved at the top to the same shape as the steering wheel, the instrument panel can be easily seen, offering speedometer, tachometer, and fuel, temperature and turbo boost gauges. It's fun to watch the boost gauge as the power responds more to boost than revs. 

    Big buttons for the sound and climate systems are located in a large rectangle in the center console and are easy to understand. Buttons and knobs on the Harmon/Kardon system are nicely designed. Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel reduce distraction from the road. The radio is wired hot so it can be turned on without the key, the same way we used to set it up when we were in high school. Vents are attractive and designed well for aiming. 

    The leather-stitched shifter knob on automatic models has a good feel and is easy and pleasant to operate; a button on top changes the shift map to a sport mode for quicker response. The gearshift knob on manual transmissions is leather-stitched and pear-shaped and likewise has a good feel. On manual-transmission models, there's a light on the dash indicating when it's time to upshift to conserve fuel; we could live without this. 

    Saab comes up with unorthodox, but effective solutions to interior needs. In the 9-5, these solutions are clever and very successful. 

    A cup holder pops out of the dash from a vertical slot the size of a CD and pivots around to hold cans of soda or that grande cappuccino, the latter served dry, of course. A fixed cup holder in the center console is a bit less convenient, especially if there's lots of stuff in there. 

    The far end of the passenger sideview mirror bends outward, which provides a better view of the right lanes. It works well, but requires a little familiarization to determine the location of an approaching car at quick glance. When trying to move from the left lane to the right lane, I sometimes erroneously thought an approaching car was changing lanes and moving toward me. 

    Interior lighting is excellent, including one map light in a rotating directional ball like an airplane light. Little things like the gauge placement, cupholder, radio switches and map light make you aware that some real thought went into the interior. Instrument lights can be switched off by pressing the Night Panel button for improved nighttime visibility. 

    Split visors allow shielding the sun when it's in the corner of the windshield or when you are changing directions frequently. The glovebox is small, however, and the cruise control switch, located on the end of the turn signal stalk and hidden by the steering wheel, is inconvenient. In accordance with Saab tradition, the ignition slot is located on the center console, but this turns out to be a convenient location on the 9-5. 

    The 9-5 is very quiet on the freeway. We noticed only the slightest hiss of wind noise, which went away when we closed the interior panel under the sunroof. 

    SportWagons feature a large, flat cargo space. Simply flip the rear seat bottoms up and fold the rear seat backs down. Smooth black painted metal covers the bottoms of the rear seat bottoms making for a nice clean surface that won't dirty or da. 

    Driving Impression

    This is a wonderful car for working through freeway traffic. It's as stable as a rock at high speeds and takes high-speed turns like it's on rails. Handling and steering response are terrific, the new five-speed automatic is very responsive. Just think where you want to go and this car goes there. 

    Saab reworked the chassis and suspension of all three models for 2002 for sharper handling and steering response. The front sub-frame was redesigned using aluminum, making it lighter and stiffer. A rigid chassis is a key to precise handling as it means engineers don't have to tune the suspension to compensate for flex. 

    Using the Aero model as a guide, the front suspensions of the Linear and Arc have been retuned with thicker anti-roll bars, higher-rate springs, and stiffer shocks. Bushings in the rear suspension are stiffer, a change that has been particularly beneficial for the Arc model with the V6; the ride is firmer, but there's less suspension pitching and other movements in the rear. The steering has been redesigned with longer steering arms. A stiffer front torsion bar and retuned steering valve gear have further sharpened steering response. 

    As a result, the 9-5 offers a greater degree of control and driver confidence while still providing excellent feedback. There is a slight amount of road vibration that comes through the steering wheel at low speeds, but this allows the driver to better read changing road surfaces. 

    This car feels supremely confident in sweeping turns. It's fun to accelerate at the apex of a turn and feel the car pull you around the rest of the way, as the chassis and suspension hug the road. In a smooth turn that's not too tight, it feels like it's on rails. 

    Brakes on the Arc and Aero models have been upgraded for 2002. The rear discs are larger and include ventilation for improved cooling during hard braking. We didn't try threshold braking repeatedly, but several hard, ABS stops from 70 mph showed that they are extremely effective, bringing our 2002 Aero SportWagon to a rapid, but uneventful stop. Whether used for a panic stop or high-performance applications, the Saab 9-5's brakes are up to the task. 

    The Michelin tires on our 9-5 Aero were superb, quiet, yet responsive for handling and threshold braking. 

    Not unexpectedly given the sporty nature of the suspension, the ride feels firm over quick light bumps. Generally, the chassis jounces up and down a noticeable amount. It's not sharp and not uncomfortable, but if you peek out the corners of your eyes to the edges of the windshield, you can see the bouncing. The steering remains very steady through this, although less so when the power is on. Torque steer, that tugging sensation on the steering wheel when accelerating hard in a powerful front-wheel-drive car, is minimal on the 9-5, including the 250-horsepower Aero. 

    Arc and Aero models come standard with an Electronic Stability Program that helps drivers maintain control by selectively applying the brakes to individual wheels to correct a skid. If the driver goes into a corner too fast for the conditions the system can correct for oversteer (when the rear tires skid) by applying the brakes to the outer wheels to gently bring the car back into line. The system also works when a slippery road causes the car to understeer, when the nose of the starts to push wide instead of following its intended course. Working closely with Bosch to achieve optimum tuning, Saab tested the system extensively in the slippery Scandinavian Arctic and at very high speeds at the Hockenheim racing circuit in Germany. Saab claims its ESP is one of the best in the world. 

    The 9-5 is also equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and electronic traction controls (TCS). ESP works with the rest of this alphabet soup helping the driver to maintain control in all sorts of conditions. It allows the driver to maintain steering contro. 

    Summary

    Starting just under $34,000, the Saab 9-5 Linear models are competitively priced. Aero models are priced about 10 percent lower than a comparably equipped BMW 525. And it doesn't look like all those other cars in the neighborhood. 

    The Saab 9-5 Aero is a great car, stylish, comfortable, luxurious, fast, a joy to drive. If you like the feel of a turbocharged engine, the 9-5 Aero is a real winner. 

    We think Aero and Arc models are best paired with the optional automatic. Smooth and responsive, the new five-speed automatic is a super transmission. It works well with the Saab turbocharged engines. It also eliminates some of the legendary Saab quirkiness. Loyal Saab owners, however, may prefer the five-speed manual. 

    J.D. Power and Associates ranked the Saab 9-5 as the best mid-luxury car in its 2001 Initial Quality Survey, which is based on owner responses during the first three months of ownership. 

    Model Lineup

    Linear 2.3t ($33,995); Arc 3.0t ($38,650); Aero ($38,650); Linear 2.3t SportWagon ($34,695); Arc 3.0t SportWagon ($39,350); Aero SportWagon ($39,350). 

    Assembled In

    Trolhattan, Sweden. 

    Options As Tested

    automatic transmission ($1200); Touring Package ($895) includes bi-xenon lights, rain-sensing wipers, Park Assist; Steel Grey metallic paint ($475). 

    Model Tested

    9-5 Aero SportWagon ($39,350). 

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