2000 Saab 9-5
2000 Saab 9-5
2000 Saab 9-5. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2002 Saab 9-5
Test Drive: 1999 Saab 9-5

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By Chris Chase; photos courtesy GM Canada

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Saab 9-5, 1999-2009

Saab’s large sedans – the 9000, sold from 1985 to 1997, and the 9-5, which replaced the 9000 for 1999 – have a history of sharing much of their makeup with other cars; but while the 9000 was based on an all-Euro platform also used by Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, the 9-5 shared its basic bones with a number of European General Motors models, as well as the Saturn L-series.

The 9-5 could be had as a very attractive sedan or station wagon. It was a good thing the 9-5 looked good when it was introduced, because little was changed during this car’s decade-long run. The only significant update came in 2006, when the car got all-new front and rear lights and a new clamshell hood.

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.

The 9-5 benefitted 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 lineup. 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.

2000 Saab 9-5
2000 Saab 9-5
2000 Saab 9-5. Click image to enlarge

The 2006 update also saw Saab trim engine choices to a single version of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder, making 260 horsepower. The Linear/ARC/Aero were also merged into a single trim line.

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. Six-cylinder models are rated at around 13.0/8.5 L/100 km (city/highway), while numbers for four-cylinder cars are in the low 11 L/100 km range in the city, and about 7.5 L/100 km on the highway.

While a manual transmission is typically the gearbox of choice for enthusiastic drivers, many 9-5 owners suggest that the optional automatic is the better choice in this car. They cite the manual shifter’s unsatisfying rubbery feel, and the decent quality of the automatic used, particularly the five-speed unit in 2002 and newer cars. This Aisin AW is, apparently, the same one that Lexus installed in the ES 330, and while it hasn’t been completely bulletproof in either car (the AW transmission’s one known problem is erratic shifting caused by wonky software; read a bit about that here), it seems like a solid bet (and probably one of the more dependable things about the 9-5).

2009 Saab 9-5 sedan
2009 Saab 9-5 sedan
2009 Saab 9-5 sedan. Click image to enlarge

The 9-5 gets below-average reliability ratings from Consumer Reports, and also makes the publication’s list of used cars to avoid.

The 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine is known for catastrophic failure due to a buildup of oil sludge. 2004 and newer models got a redesigned positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system that is said to address the problem; a retrofit kit was also made available for 1999-2003 models. Read this thread at SaabCentral.com for stories of sludgey 2.3-litre engines.

Also, watch for leaky head gaskets and oil pressure switches, and the DI (direct ignition; note that this is not the same as direct injection) cartridges are a well-known for being failure prone. This issue was addressed in a 2005 recall covering 2000 through 2003 9-5s.

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