- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Saab division of General Motors has, of late, been touting the merits of its jet-aircraft heritage, and with good reason — the Swedish car company was founded by 16 Saab aircraft engineers.

The engineering excellence and association with jet aircraft is definitely in evidence in both of its lofty, new 9-5 models.

The 9-5 Aero hangar will feature a four-door sedan in addition to a SportCombi that replaces the Sport Wagon (sounds more exotic than station wagon doesn’t it?). Both models are well-executed enhancements to Saab’s prior 9-5 offerings.

Now however, only one model designation will be in evidence — the new vehicles will be referred to simply as 9-5. The Arc and Linear differentiations have been dropped. At first glance, the alterations and modifications are not readily apparent, but park the new models alongside last year’s examples, and the variances suddenly lose their subtlety.

A single powertrain launches both body configurations — a 2.3-liter transversely mounted, four-cylinder, high-output, turbocharged engine mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox, or a five-speed automatic with manual shift capability via steering-wheel-mounted paddles or buttons.

More than 1,400 changes, both inside and out, have been incorporated in the 2006 model 9-5s from 2005 versions. First of all, there’s a sleeker profile that begins up front with a new hood and new grille featuring a unique and sportier execution of the traditional three-port grille with a wing motif derived from the Saab 9X concept car — the outer ports flanking the grille now morph into the headlamp housings with new projector-style lamps, which sport smoked lens covers. There are also three lower intake openings, as part of the new front fascia, with honeycombed mesh covers and integrated fog lamps.

The rear fascia has been restyled, with modified and updated rear lamps. The overall styling consists of clean, simple lines, color-matched side moldings and door handles, wider rear track and color-keyed exterior detailing. The fenders are more pronounced, and the blacked-out “B”, “C” and “D” pillars of the SportCombi offer the illusion of a floating rear greenhouse section.

The interior has been enhanced as well, using a color-coordinated decor with new black burled wood effect and contrasting metallic finishes. Main instrument dials, sport steering wheels and infotainment control panels are new and logically positioned for optimum “user-friendliness.” Double front sun visors make perfect sense adds to the already outstanding safety-oriented features and equipment. The new interior theme may be appropriately linked to that of a jet aircraft cockpit.

An optional sport package supplements the driving experience with retuned dampers, springs and anti-roll bars, allowing for crisper handling without sacrificing comfortable ride quality.

In addition to providing a better front-to-rear weight distribution (nearly 50/50), and thereby better overall handling characteristics, the SportCombi also features added versatility and functionality with the added rear cargo area and flexible 60/40 split folding rear seat.

Of all the 9-5 vehicles tested, the SportCombi with the six-speed manual gearbox proved the most fun to pilot over a variety of road surfaces and terrains.

The Saab 9-5 Aeros are base priced at $34,820 and $35,820 respectively for the Sedan and SportCombi. Fully loaded examples of each model cost $43,599 and $44,849, also respectively.

Added extra cost options include: the visibility Package; Sport Package; 5-Speed Sentronic automatic transmission; metallic paint scheme; navigation system; ventilated sport seats; OnStar communications system; and roof rails for the SportCombi. Value content packaging actually reflects decreases for both models amounting to more than $3,300 when compared to 2005 vehicles similarly equipped.

A special BioPower concept will pave the way for a more fuel-efficient and powerful 9-5 in the future, using E-85 ethanol fuel as part of GM’s commitment to eliminating dependency on foreign oil.

Driving either 9-5 model is a delight, with enough performance to satisfy the sporting enthusiast, enough comfort to please the luxury conscious and more than enough safety technology to provide optimum confidence and security.

Ultimately, the new 9-5 is enough reason to “Never fly coach again.” The seats are indeed First Class quality, and highly supportive during spirited maneuvers over challenging roads.

For those in the market for a sporty, functional, nontraditional mode of transport, don your flight suit, strap on your helmet, check your favorite radio frequency, ignite the afterburner, pull back on the stick and lift off in style.

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