1999 9-5 New Car Test Drive
This is a big year for Saab: The 9-5 is the first new product to roll off the Swedish automaker's assembly lines since 1994, and it has been quickly followed by a new 9-3. Saab doesn't introduce new models often, so this sudden burst of activity shows big changes are underway. With the introduction of its new 9-5 sedan (pronounced 'nine-five'), Saab hopes to broaden its appeal.
General Motors, which has controlled Saab since 1990, is working hard to reduce Saab's financial losses and build its image. But GM is not interested in turning Saabs cars into Swedish Pontiacs. Though it can't be described as 'mainstream,' the new Saab 9-5, which replaces the 9000, certainly has broader appeal than Saabs of the past. The question is whether that's enough to grab its share of a market niche dominated by such mainstays as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
Saab is hoping several factors will build word of mouth and persuade potential customers to put the 9-5 on their shopping lists. 'Safety without boredom, performance without pretense,' is how Joel Manby the head of Saab's U.S. subsidiary sums it up. With its roots in the Swedish aerospace industry, Saab has always emphasized technical innovation. Often, that's meant ignoring convention. It was pushing aerodynamic styling when the rest of the industry thought boxy was beautiful, and Saab touted front-wheel drive long before it became the norm.
The 9-5 adds a number of firsts, such as its Active Head Restraint System, designed to prevent whiplash in rear-end accidents. On the performance side of Manby's equation, all new Saabs are now turbocharged, which ensures good acceleration performance. If nothing else works, Saab is betting the 9-5's attractive price tag will win some consideration in a hotly competitive luxury market. Will the strategy work? Here's what we discovered during our time behind the wheel of the new Saab 9-5.