Anoraks. To most, they're simple articles of clothing-- light parkas for inclement weather. To embattled Swedish automaker Saab, they've long made up the company's core clientele.
Let us explain. Some time ago, British tastemakers took to using the rain-repellant outerwear's term as a synonym for those overly studious, many of them "enthusiasts of unfashionable activities." In other words, Saab owners. Oddball styling, left-field small-displacement powertrains, persistent ergonomic idiosyncrasies and a healthy dose of 'willfully different' have conspired to mold the marque into the roadgoing equivalent of London Fog, and not without a little pride.
But don't misunderstand, or take the anorak remark as slander-- this writer has enjoyed a long history with Saab and doesn't take issue being jacketed with company's attendant left-field label. But as the company's chronically unprofitable history attests, it is difficult to craft a solvent brand solely on the backs of such consumers. Thus far, the General has yet to credibly decipher the recipe for selling Saab's intellectual-grade creds to a larger audience, but there's reason for hope: In recent years, fellow granola-crunchies Volvo and Subaru have managed to increase market share by at once parlaying their unique selling points and reveling in their inner-geek. Those lurking within RenCen doubtlessly continue to hold out hope for a similar outcome, but whether they on the right track or living in a protracted state of denial remains an open question.
Enter the 2006 Saab 9-5.
While hardly a clean-sheet proposition, the big Swede has nevertheless arrived bearing a commanding new look. Up front, a prodigious proboscis has taken up residence, visually extending the front overhang of the previous iteration in dramatic fashion. While not exactly pretty, the chrome-lipped trapezoidal grille and huge new headlamps are impressively bold. An aggressive new bumper cap is also part of the mix, with a three-element midsection and inky inlets bookended by large round driving lamps complete the front's nip/tuck.
Interestingly, where Saabs of yore have traded on countenances that appeared good-natured (if a little awkward), the new 9-5 sports an altogether more serious mug, a trick largely due to the headlights' blacked-out housings. Dechrome the beak (9-5 Viggen, anyone?) and the resulting effect would pass for downright sinister. As it is, the Swedish massage treatment rendered is a mote heavy-handed, but at least it doesn't lack presence. Critically, Saab registered our tester in Michigan (a state that doesn't require front license plates). We prefer not to contemplate the visual consequences of clipping a shiny smear of legal matter to the 9-5's nose.
When viewed side-on, the dramatic wraparound sweep of the 9-5's aforementioned dual-element light fixtures perceptibly reinforces the stretch of the front overhang. We're not sure if the General was simply hoping to craft a dramatic new face or even whether the revamped snout is actually longer at all, but it certainly looks it. If the schnoz has actually grown, we'll let Saab's stylists chalk it up in the name of higher European pedestrian safety scores, a suitably anorak pursuit.
Unlike the wonky-yet-practical hatchbacks of Saabs past, the 9-5 seen here strikes a strictly three-box sedan profile. Largely devoid of ornamentation, the 9-5's side view is marked out best by its attractive bisected 17" alloy wheels, trademark oval door pulls, a small 'sharkfin' antenna on the trailing edge of the roof, and a pair of oh-so-European fender resident turn signal repeaters. Nicely integrated mirrors, svelte body-colored rub strips and subtly formed rocker trim mark out the rest of the 9-5's silhouette as the very picture of restraint.
Around back, things are somewhat less successful, with Saab among the latest to adopt the eagle's-head/interrupted-line taillamp school of design that's inexplicably sweeping the automotive universe one BMW 7-Series, Audi A6 and Honda Civic sedan at a time. The blacked-out lower reaches of the rear bumper are scalloped in a manner that subtly recalls that of the front valance, marked out here with four reversing-sensor pimples and a restrained single exhaust pipe exiting on the driver's side. Tastefully discreet chrome alphanumerics clues-in the clueless: 9-5, 2.3T, with a small round Saab griffin emblem taking center stage over the rear license plate pocket. All-in, this Trollhattanite terminates with little of the aesthetic impact that it arrives with.
Over the coming week or so, we'll take full measure of the 9-5, beginning with its interior appointments and then pulling away from the Autoblog Garage to see how Saab's latest in anorak apparel makes out over the road. Will it be the versatile top-shelf model the troubled automaker needs, or is the marque another bulldozer swipe closer to being buried? Stay tuned.