Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Two Dents on the Forthcoming 2010 Saab 9-5

The people at Saab are a bit kooky. I don't mean in the old-fashioned "we're building a quirky, turbo hatchback" kind of way. I mean "we're selling restyled GM rubbish for BMW prices and expect you to buy it." They think they can realistically charge over fifty-two thousand dollars for a front-wheel-drive convertible with 17-inch wheels. Following this drug-induced fantasy comes the latest, and most likely last, attempt by Saab to woo the buying public: the next-generation 9-5 executive sedan.

Before we talk about the camouflaged mule, we need to understand the car it's replacing. The current 9-5 is, put plainly, a rip-off. It's outdated, poorly designed, and pathetically marketed.The "sport sedan" that was born from jets comes with a 2.3 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and front-wheel-drive and costs over forty thousand dollars. That's enough to get a turbocharged 3-Series or a second-hand 5-er, which should be most peoples' choice.

With an interior that features a Kia-inspired automatic shifter - or a circa-1988 manual gearshift - this car screams "don't buy me". I know nitpicking about shifters is a tad much (although I've done it before), but for that money you shouldn't feel like you're buying a time machine.

And the trim? Well, when plastic trim (even if is the smoothly-named piano black) is standard on your $40,000+ range-topper, there's a problem. As far as interiors go, there's quirky and then there's "we just didn't care enough to try something new". In 1999, I'm sure it could have been considered the former. In 2009, it's the latter. This is the car the new 9-5 needs to improve on.

The Epsilon II-based replacement is obviously bigger, its lines indicating that Saab is the latest company to test the waters of the 4-door-coupe-sedan market. It's too early to tell, but the raked roofline could very well be hiding a very Saab-ish hatch. This is a good thing; remember, hatches were what made Saabs special. The rear and rear three-quarter view is impressive considering the designers at Saab have mostly been creating unrealistic concepts for the past decade.

I'm not too sure about that kink in the A-pillar leading into the roofline, but I'll hold my judgment until a final product is revealed. What I won't hold back on, though, is that front end. The front three-quarter view is likely to be the worst aspect of this car (spiffy LED lights or no). Hopefully it's just clever camo made to trick us into thinking the front end is ugly, and at the unveiling we will be pleasantly surprised.

Inside, well, that's purely hypothesis. One thing is for damn sure, though: it had better be pretty good. None of this asymmetrical driver-centric rubbish meant to convince out-of-the-loop buyers that they are driving something sporty. It's no Teutonic sedan, after all.

Lastly is the power plants. The rumors are saying the next-gen Saab 9-5 will be sporting (I feel almost dirty using that word and Saab in the same sentence these days) the 210-horse 2.0T four-banger and the 280-horse V6. The sad part is Saab thinks this can compete head on with the 5-series. Yeah, right. For that to happen, we're going to need, oh, something along the lines of a refined V8 powerhouse and standard all-wheel-drive. If they want to top out with the V6, they'll have to lower the price, target the VW Passat and its CC brother, and then maybe - MAYBE - they'll sell. Try to go after the big boys and this will get burned faster than you can say "Rest in Peace, Saab".

Even if by some miracle everything works out, Saab still deserves to be benched. This is a company that has fumbled the ball way to many times to be left out on the field. Its 9-5 is a model that was left out to dry, a car that needed a new look about seven years ago. Now, all of a sudden, people are scrambling to look like they give a damn. I believe the phrase is: "Too little, too late."

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