A quick scan of the dashboard is unlikely to jar Saab loyalists. The same bluff-faced kidney bean motif that’s been a Trollhattan trademark for eons resurfaces here, integrating the gauge array and a center stack canted dramatically towards the driver. Silver trim and low-gloss, high-quality plastics dominate to create an attractive place in which to while away the miles, though detractors are likely to carp (with some justification) that the IP’s form is dated and po-faced.
The 9-5’s steering wheel’s rim is hidebound and thick in all the right places, with integrated audio and trip-computer switches sensibly located at thumb’s length. The airbag boss is a bit large for our tastes, but it’s a minor aesthetic quibble. Adjustable for rake and depth, the three-spoker remains a confidence-inspiring piece. Control stocks govern the rain-sensing wipers, turn signals, and cruise-control— the latter of which could be easier to manipulate.
The instrument binnacle is a straight-forward affair, with a 160 mph analog speedometer flanked by a rev counter (with just a 6k redline), and combination fuel/engine temp/turbo boost gauge. A narrow screen underneath the speedo keeps tabs on miles covered, distance-to-empty, outside temperature, and so on.
Most secondary controls strike as surprisingly well-integrated and ergonomically correct, from the simple three-knob HVAC system with dual-level seat heaters, to the simple twist knob on the dash that supervise the headlamps. Nothing groundbreaking or modish, mind... just logical, proven interfaces.
The same can be said for the five-speed manual, whose gubbins are shrouded by a baggy leather boot. The large shift knob is unremarkable, save for the Saab-standard plastic collar that one must pull up in order to engage reverse. (a necessity not just for backing-up, but for removing the key as well).
Thankfully, Saab has avoided the carpet-bomb school of stereo controls that’s become entirely too trendy these days. A large center knob that controls volume neatly surrounds the 200-watt harman/kardon's on/off switch, with remaining buttons supervising the integrated six-disc changer and AM/FM/XM tuner. It’s a self-explanatory unit, with control sprawl neatly curbed by multi-use buttons whose functions change assignment via on-screen ‘labels.’ Sound quality is reasonable but not overwhelming, though at least it comes with an input jack for iPods and such.
Traditional Saab cues are out in force, with the most obvious being the center-console resident ignition. There’s nothing inherently wrong locating the keyhole in the center console—it’s a bit of novelty, keeps larger keys from rattling about, and reduces wear on the ignition switch itself. That said, ours was damned with a rubberized surround that routinely popped loose. The bigger issue here is that for those carrying anything beyond a couple of keys, the location will find their fobs crowding the power window switches (themselves located too far back for ergonomicists in the crowd). We prefer regulators on the doors, thanks. The small overhead console is likewise a Trollhattan tradition, integrating ‘eyeball’ reading and seatbelt warning lights in an array sure to have serial travelers looking for the flight attendant call button. Controls for the standard-fit moonroof live here as well. We appreciated the one-touch open, but curse the safety-nannies responsible for the same switch requiring constant finger-pressure to close. As expected, Saab's unique 'Night Panel' button makes the scene as well, allowing drivers to reduce eye fatigue at night by extinguishing most dashboard lights, save the speedometer (okay, so subtle button backlighting remains on the center console). Leaving the distance-to-empty counter might be a smart choice in the future, lest lobster-shift pilots in search of a new TSD record forget to mind their fuel reserves.
Niceties? Well, the double-sun visors that allow drivers to simultaneously block out glare in front and to the side are a welcome touch, as is the vent in the glovebox that will chill/heat its contents depending on what the HVAC unit is up to. Speaking of which, the vents are particularly robust and well-designed, with the driver’s side having bi-directional vane control, allowing the clearing of side window and warming of frigid digits simultaneously.
Front seat nits to pick? Storage space is limited, with narrow door pockets and a smallish center console beneath the (extendable) armrest being one’s main options. Cupholders are in annoying short supply, with a single unit that acrobatically gyrates into position from the vertical slot to the right of the stereo. It’s a trick-looking piece, but only accommodates straight-forward 12-ounce cans and paper cups from the local coffee shop. Plastic bottle? Big Gulp? Bring an understanding passenger, because the only other option remains a plastic liner in the center console (which requires the lid to be up, doing away with the armrest).
Space is quite generous for both front and back-seat passengers, with rear seat legroom being particularly capacious for the class. Rear seat passengers enjoy a wide fold-down armrest that has a thin lidded storage compartment and spring-loaded cupholders, though the elbow-rests on the door cards could be a bit wider. Rear seat occupants benefit from rump-roasters as well, though there's only one switch, so the kids had better play nice. Peel back the leather flap in the rear seatback to reveal a standard-issue pass-through for skis and such. Seats also fold flat in typical Saab fashion (60/40 split, with the bottom cushions flipping forward first).
Even without the seats folded, the 9-5’s trunk is particularly capacious, with significantly more luggage space that we can recall in the BMW 3-Series and Acura TL—the large cargo area goes some way towards explaining the Saab’s lengthy overhangs. The load floor is flat and wide, and high-quality struts hold the lid open without intruding on available space.
All-in, the 9-5’s interior is a pleasant place in which to operate, offering confines that largely belie its age. In true anorak fashion, this isn't a showy specimen that envelopes in a crush of luxury features-- it's the type that manages 'feature creep' in a credibly unobtrusive manner, allowing owners to concentrate on the business of driving. Enough ideosyncrasies remain that few will mistake the big Swede for anything but a Saab, but most everything is intuitive enough that brand virgins won't be lost for long-- at least once they figure out where to slot the ignition key.
But how does she drive? Be sure to keep an eye peeled later this week for Day 5 of our 9-5's stint in the Autoblog Garage. Need a refresher? Check out the review's first installment here.