2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4 review: Om du bygger det…

2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4

2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4

One could say, “Om du bygger det, så kommer de.” If, that is, if one wish to say, ”If you build it, they will come” in Swedish, appropriately enough if  the “it” is Saab, or particularly for this car review, it is the Saab 9-5. Or even more specifically, the 2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4.

The 2011 Saab 9-5 is the Swedish manufacturer’s flagship sedan, topping a line that includes variations on the Saab 9-3, including sedan, wagon and convertible, and the Saab 9-4x, a crossover sharing its platform with the Cadillac SRX and built by GM in Mexico. All of the current models were designed and engineered under the GM regime, the basic GM Epsilon II platform used under the Saab 9-5 designed primarily by Opel engineers and utilized by German Opel Insignias and the Chevrolet Malibu in the U.S.

Things have changed since Spyker bought Saab from GM—far too much to itemize her—but GM had planned to build the 9-5 in Opel’s Russelsheim assembly plant. Production was shifted to Trollhattan, Sweden, facility—but the 2011 Saab 9-5 is just about the way it was going to be when GM bowed out.

Obviously, then, someone at GM had given someone in Sweden a lot of opportunity to make a lot of decisions, and that someone–or someones–made all the right ones. The Saab 9-5 hit its mark in being (a) a genuine player in the premium class and (b) Swedish. Both are important. Economics of scale won’t let Saab compete anywhere but the premium class, where larger margins can make up for smaller production numbers. And without being Scandinavian, the Saab 9-5 gives up its soul.

Saab, of course, has its aircraft heritage (Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget–or Swedish Airplane Incorporated), and the Swedish designers who were free to develop a new body for the 2011 Saab 9-5 drew on Saab’s aeronautic background as well as earlier Saabs–which in turn were aircraft inspired–which led to the rounded and aerodynamic contours of the Saab 9-5.

2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4 instrument panel and dash

The 2011 Saab 9-5 Turbo4 instrument panel and dash conforms to the modern classic Saab Scan design.

Saab designers maximized the curvature of 9-5’s windshield, a hallmark of early Saabs–aircraft. The glass is bent as much as possible without creating distortion, and the effect is heightened by the blacked-out A-pillars and B-pillars.

The front of the car matches that of recent Saabs, giving the 2011 Saab 9-5 a familiar face, while the sides of the car just looked, well, streamlined, to use a slightly archaic but still valid term. It blends into a concave rear deck with a slight tunnel look to the rear window, all of which recalls the Saab 99 of the 1970s. A novel feature is a clear aquamarine band from taillight to the other that illuminates in red when the lights are on.

Saab is spoken inside as well. The dash has the inverted hockey stick design of recent Saabs, wrapping the instrument panel into the center stack and then down to the center console. Our test 9-5 included a proximity key with pushbutton starting, so instead of the ignition key “on the floor”–a Saab tradition–, Saab designers put the start/stop button on the center console instead. Traditions are traditions.

The instrument panel is distinctly Saab, even if earlier Saabs didn’t have the intensely green needles, but something has to be new. The speedometer’s face is novel for Saab, too, though, filled with the info center and trip computer. The trip computer includes the usual data, but it has one peculiar readout, a digital representation of a drum-type gauge—as per an aircraft altimeter—though this reads miles per hour. It may be the world’s first speedometer inside a speedometer.

Don’t expect to get away with telling Officer Friendly you didn’t know how fast you were going.