Saab gives aging flagship new life

  • 25-Jun-2010 03:04 EDT
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The Saab 9-5 may have General Motors roots, but it has been designed to provide a Saab identity via its aesthetics, some technologies, and its ride and handling.

As Saab’s Executive Director, Vehicle Line, Anders Svensson knows just about all there is to know about the new 9-5. That includes what makes a Saab a Saab: “It is our heritage right back to the first—the Ur—Saab. The engineers who created that car in 1947 are no longer with the company yet we still carry some of their early design and technology philosophies.”

But the 9-5 is based on General Motors' Epsilon II chassis, and the GM Europe Design Director headed up the team that created it. Also, the car makes extensive use of elements of the technology and components found on Opels and Vauxhalls—so isn’t it really just another GM product?

Svensson is adamant that it is not: “It is true that the development of the 9-5 started when we were part of GM, but they already had an ambition that it would become a Saab. And achieving that is a matter of execution of the design; we at Saab work and tune the vehicle to how we want it to be—to make it look and respond like a Saab, not an Opel. I was the lead person for the development of the car, and of course I influenced it.”

Although some versions of the 9-5 share the Insignia’s MacPherson-strut front suspension and four-link setup at the rear, for other models, there is what Svensson terms the “up-level” suspension called HiPer (for High Performance). This includes a front strut to provide benefits similar to those of a double wishbone configuration. Inclination, length, and offset of the kingpin are reduced, and the caster angle of the steering increased. At the rear, there is an H-arm layout, with double isolated subframe mounts.

Steering feel has also been tuned to conform to typical Saab expectations—it is lighter than that of a BMW, said Svensson, but remains very sharp.

Aesthetics are a vital part of Saab identity, so the 9-5’s wraparound, helmet-like windshield and black A-pillar treatment are a progression from models back to the 99 of the 1970s but with a lower angle of attack. The “hockey stick” C-pillar angle is also a typical Saab feature, said Svensson.

The 9-5’s Hella (adaptive bi-xenon option) curved “ice-block” headlights and Visteon rear light treatments are also Saab-like. The car also has the prominent front grille, of the type that is now de rigueur for many manufacturers, based on the Aero X concept of 2006.

The car's interior design created considerable discussion within the company, but it retains what Svensson calls a “cockpit” feel: “Saab owners will recognize it and will not feel they are in an Opel.” But for a car of the 9-5’s class and particularly its size, some felt it should have been more “stretched out” inside and to have shown greater differentiation from the previous 9-5, which had been in production for 13 years.

The car has the “night panel” selection facility (darkening all but essential dials and dashboard lighting), which has long been a Saab feature. A head-up display is an option. Saab continues to refer to its aviation links but, in fact, it is difficult to find a connection between the 9-5 and the current Saab Gripen fighter. The companies have long been independent of each other.

Svensson believes the 9-5 to be the highest quality car that Saab has ever built. It was benchmarked against the Audi A6 in quality audits.

“As an engineer and customer, what I most like about our new car is its stance and exterior looks,” said Svensson. “The really difficult thing for a development engineer is to achieve integration, a completeness of design and technology, and I believe we have achieved that.”

But what if Saab were to design and develop a car of the 9-5’s class today with GM out of the loop; would it look something like the new model? Svensson paused for several seconds: “Yes, essentially. The exterior absolutely. But then, I am a little biased!”

Saab’s Head of Technical Development, Mats Fägerhag, rates the new 9-5 sedan as the company’s most technically advanced model ever. Described as having been “conceived, built, and chiefly developed” in Sweden, Saab is distancing itself from its previous GM owner.

As well as its HiPer suspension availability, the 9-5 is the first Saab to offer real-time damping control via its DriveSense system. According to driving style, Intelligent mode automatically varies stiffness rates of the electronically controlled dampers, throttle mapping, and power steering assistance. VES (Variable Effort Steering), using an electromagnetic motor on the steering rack controlled by a coil, is used to boost or reduce assistance. There are also driver-selected Sport and Comfort settings.

The smallest engine in the 9-5 range shows what can be wrung from a downsized, 1.6-L gasoline turbo: 132 kW (177 hp) and 230 N·m (170 lb·ft) from 2200 to 5500 rpm, with a 5-s overboost available, taking the latter to 266 N·m (196 lb·ft).

Also available is an all-aluminum 2.0-L gasoline unit, with direct injection, variable valve timing, and a twin-scroll turbocharger, producing 162 kW (217 hp) and mated with front-wheel drive or XWD all-wheel drive. The largest gasoline engine is a 221-kW (296-hp) 2.8-L V6 with six-speed auto transmission and XWD. This engine gives the 9-5 a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time of 6.9 s.

Diesel engines displace 2.0 L, with the lower-power version producing 118 kW (158 hp), 350 N·m (258 lb·ft), CO2 emissions of 139 g/km, and combined fuel consumption of 5.3 L/100 km. A more powerful bi-turbo (one large, one small) version achieves 139 kW (186 hp) and 400 N·m (295 lb·ft).

Apart from the six-speed auto V6, all engines come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Other aspects of technology include APA (Advanced Park Assist) with the driver instructed how to turn the steering wheel, prompted by icons in the main instrument display plus chimes.

Third-generation Saab active head restraints are fitted. The trunk includes an optional U-shaped track in the floor using similar technology to that for baggage/freight in commercial aircraft.

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