2002 Saab 9-5
2002 Saab 9-5. Click image to enlarge

Sweden’s known for a few things: blonde-haired people, meatballs and a crazy Muppet chef. Abba too, of course, and if you’re really into cheesy pop music, then you’ll remember Roxette, Sweden’s “other” big-name pop group. This Scandinavian nation is also home to two storied car manufacturers, but like the Abba/Roxette situation, one is better known than the other. Volvo has long been known for its older, boxy cars which have since given way to sleeker models, and Saabs are known for, well, being odd.

Cars like the weird-looking Sonnet and 99 were among the company’s first offerings in North America, and were followed by the somewhat ungainly 900 and more conventional-looking 9000. But Saabs have never sold in large volumes here, possibly because most car buyers understand the company about as much as they understand that nutty chef on the Muppet Show. As a result, the company is now in financial trouble, even with (or because of?) the hand of General Motors to guide their way.

But regardless of the Scandinavian strangeness that Saabs possess, the company has produced some truly interesting cars in recent years, including the handsome 9-5, the car under the microscope for this week’s used car review.

In 1999, the 9-5 was the attractive and marginally larger replacement for the dated-looking 9000. Where that old car was available as a sedan and – typically for Saab – a five-door hatchback, the new 9-5 could be had as a sedan and a rather dashing station wagon. It was a good thing the 9-5 looked good when it was introduced, because after six years on the market, next to no changes have been made to it. That said, a heavily face-lifted 9-5 is due out for 2006, with rumours of a totally new car for a couple of years after that.

Initially available in base and SE forms, a top-of-the-line Aero model was added in 2000. Then in 2002, Saab altered the 9-5 nomenclature completely to include the base Linear and mid-level Arc, with Aero maintaining its place at the top of the heap.

2002 Saab 9-5
2002 Saab 9-5. Click image to enlarge

The 9-5 benefited from Saab’s affinity for turbochargers, with initial models being available with either a blown 2.3 litre four-cylinder (170 hp) or a 3.0 litre V6 (200 hp). In 2001, a high-output version of the four-banger with 230 horsepower was added to the line-up. Then in 2003, the V6 was dropped, and the two fours got power boosts: base models got a 185-hp mill and the uplevel motor was a 250-hp version of the 2.3 litre. In 2004, a third 220-hp engine was added to the mix.

Four-cylinder cars all got five-speed manuals as the base transmission while a four-speed automatic was standard in V6 cars, and was optional on four-cylinder cars. In 2002, the automatic grew another gear to become a five-speed as well.

Fuel consumption numbers are about where one would expect for a mid-sized sedan. Expect a 9-5 to use anywhere from 11 to 13 L/100 km in city driving, and 7 to 8.5 L/100 km on the highway, depending on the engine and transmission combination.

2002 Saab 9-5
2002 Saab 9-5. Click image to enlarge

Like Volvo, Saab is known for making safety a high priority in its cars, and the 9-5 is no exception in this regard. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tested the 9-5 from 2002 through 2005 and gave it five stars each for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side impacts, the car earned five and four stars respectively for front and rear seat occupant protection. Much of the credit can be given to the side airbags that have been standard equipment on the 9-5 since its arrival on our shores in 1999. Dual front airbags were standard too, of course, as well as ABS and traction control.

Consumer Reports gives the 9-5 an average reliability rating overall, noting engine and electrical system troubles in earlier models. According to the publication, only the 1999 model is a poor choice as a used-car due to potential reliability issues, while the 2004 model earns the magazine’s recommended rating.

Given the car’s stylish looks and high safety quotient, you might be surprised to learn how low 9-5 resale values are. According to Canadian Red Book, a 2004 top-of-the-line 9-5 Aero wagon is worth $43,225, or 80 per cent of its $54,000 M.S.R.P. Go back to 2002, and that same model is worth $25,825, less than half of its M.S.R.P.

Just like the Swedish Chef spent most of his time being misunderstood by his Muppet Show co-stars, Saab has always had a hard time convincing the majority of car buyers to embrace its cars’ quirkiness rather than be wary of it. A used 9-5 is a nice car at a bargain-basement price compared to that of many of the 9-5 luxury-import competitors. With that in mind, maybe it’s worth your while to see if you speak Saab’s language.


On-line Resources

www.saabnet.com – A comprehensive site that covers all manner of Saabs. The 9-5 and its owners get their own discussion forum (in addition to forums for all other past and present Saab models). There are also forums dedicated to performance modifications, detailing and future Saab models. The site’s design is a little antiquated, but it’s easy to navigate and has lots of good information.

www.saabcentral.com – Like saabnet.com, this site covers the whole gamut of Saab models, past and present. There’s lots of good information to be had here too, and the layout is more modern. Choosing between this site and Saabnet will likely come down to personal preference as both appear to be excellent enthusiast sites.

www.saabforums.com – This looks like a new site, judging by the deficit of information as compared to the first two sites listed above. The forums concentrate on current Saab models, and ignore older generations of the company’s line-up, which may turn off many of the marque’s enthusiasts.


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002247 Units affected: 2,868

1999-2003: On certain vehicles, when changing back and forth between alloy and steel wheels (as for winter tires), rust and other contaminates may build up on the mating surface of the wheel hubs. If this surface is not cleaned between wheel changes, uneven torque forces may cause wheel bolts to fracture. Although this is most likely to happen during wheel change service, it is possible that the bolts may break later while the vehicle is being driven. Correction: Dealer will clean the hub and reinstall the wheel with improved bolts and attached washers that will eliminate the clamping force reduction.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002003 Units affected: 145

2002: Certain passenger vehicles. The steering knuckle castings may have been contaminated during the casting process. These knuckles can break resulting in possible loss of steering control. Correction: dealers will inspect the steering knuckle for the casting bunch number. If the knuckle belongs to the defective batch, the steering knuckle will be replaced.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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