Saab was way ahead of its time and the proof of this is in the sudden rise and appeal of turbocharged engine technology, while everyone else was using non-turbo designs with large engine displacements. Saab used smaller four-cylinder engine which offered similar horsepower and torque to the larger six-cylinders and some eight-cylinder engines. It saddens us that Saab no longer produces vehicles and well this is another tribute to Saab. We managed to find a 2003 Saab 9-5 Linear Wagon and well we couldn’t resist driving it.
The Saab 9-5 wagon has always been a particular favorite of mine. I love way it’s styled inside and out. It’s a bit of an oddball but in a good way. The styling is still fresh even after all these years. Our tester car had a few scrapes here and there but for what is essentially a thirteen year old vehicle it surely doesn’t feel worn out or out of shape.
The engine that’s equipped in our 9-5 is a 2.3-liter light-pressure turbocharged four-cylinder which pumps out 185hp. There were two other engines available, a more potent 2.3-liter turbo pumping out 220hp and the top of the range high-output turbo four with 250hp. We’ve only driven this engine which was called Linear and the mid-range Arc trim. We loved how classy the Arc trim felt with the burled wood interior and fancier leather seats. The Linear trim which we have here has a lighter wood trim and well the leather seats are still fantastic. The ignition switch is in the center console which is a signature Saab design and the overall feel of the cabin is pretty much straight forward.
The engine is the sweet spot for the 9-5 wagon because it has a turbocharged design. It has oodles of torque at low revs which helps make it very smooth to drive around town and on the highway. Surprisingly this engine feels enough, you’d expect us to complain about how 185hp for such a large vehicle isn’t enough but it really does feel enough. It’s such a comfortable car to drive that you’d immediately forget about horsepower figures and you’re more focused on the driving experience at hand. The dashboard sort of wraps around you and everything is within reach of the hand. We even got a few glances from other drivers, because well let’s face the facts here. The 9-5 is so handsome looking and wagons are such a rare sight on the road that you can’t help but stare.
Highway ride comfort is excellent and dare we say better than most BMWs we’ve driven. Handling isn’t a strong point for the 9-5 but it does hold its own well. Steering feedback isn’t the greatest but it does the job good enough. We’ve tried hard to find fault in the 9-5 but it’s pretty hard to especially with such a rare gem like this. Visibility is actually good too thanks to large windows, which helps make the cabin feel airy and the optional sunroof our tester car had equipped makes things even better. What’s also rare is that most 9-5s we’ve driven had halogen headlights, and this one came equipped with factory installed xenon headlamps which both worked properly. Also in Saab tradition is the headlamps and tail lamps stay on the whole time you drive, whether it’s day time or night time. The headlamps also feature a follow-me-home feature which keeps the headlights on for 60-seconds after the engine has been shut off.
Rear seat space is roomy for three and the boot space is very generous. Fold the rear seats down and you’ve practically got yourself a cargo van. If you run out of space in this you need a Chevy Suburban. During our test we were able to fit a few weeks of shopping in the boot and still carry four aboard with no trouble.
Saab is very generous when it comes to standard kit. Along with xenon headlamps, our 9-5 came with climate control, auto-dimming mirrors, and power-folding mirrors as well as heated front seats. We wish that this also came fitted with Saab’s amazing perforated leather seats. The Arc and Aero are worth paying extra for because they trade the plain exterior looks for body-kit and flashier alloy wheels as well as added features.
Comparing the 9-5 wagon to today’s competition, the 9-5 wouldn’t be class leading but it would offer a very compelling package for those who aren’t swayed easily by everything less in the segment. We really do wish that Saab was still producing cars today because their different perspective on vehicles is a breath of fresh air.
2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 185hp.
5-speed automatic gearbox