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Click for pictures“Distinctive, different
  and definitely not
  from Deutschland,
  the Saab 9-5 is the
  perfect alternative
  ‘executive’ for the
  executive who’s not
  afraid to be different”

IF PRIVATE or company car drivers don't fancy a mass market brand such as Ford or Vauxhall, or do not want to be yet another convert to the premium German marques such as Audi, BMW or Mercedes — yes, there are some! — or don't quite feel audacious enough to make the move to the recently launched Chrysler and Cadillac American brands, what choices are left?

Not a lot — except for Jaguar, Honda or Lexus. But there is one brand that has stood the test of time for the individualistic owner or user-chooser driver. And that's Saab.

Now, Saab may now be owned by the giant GM corporation with its cars sharing components with Vauxhall — and now Cadillac BLS — models, but the Swedish arm of the company has steadfastly maintained its individuality.

This appears to be a move which is paying off, with Saab sales increasing at a healthy rate — especially to those independent people who just want to drive something different.

The new Saab 9-5 range of saloons and estates sell in the premium
D sector and they offer an all-turbocharger engine line-up of petrol, diesel and — for the environmentalists — bioethanol powerplants.

Much of Saab's sales growth is coming from the business user-chooser sector of the market: normally business people who generally cover high mileages.

To this end, Saab has recently introduced a new GM sourced 150bhp 1.9 litre TiD Euro IV compliant turbodiesel engine option to their
9-5 range. This engine produces 236lb ft of torque — a figure only exceeded by the Saab Aero 2.3-litre's turbocharged petrol engine. What makes this diesel unit ideal for the high-mileage driver is not only the savings in fuel, but the driving flexibility offered by a modern diesel engine and the fact that customers can either stay with a 5-speed manual transmission or, as more people are doing, opt for an automatic transmission which is ideally suited to the diesel engine characteristics.

Although you pay 1,240 for the 5-speed auto 'box it makes driving
so much easier and more relaxing, given the stressful conditions we experience on today's stress-fuelled and congested roads. Unfortun-ately I wasn't able to get my hands on the new 1.9-litre diesel Saab
9-5 Saloon with automatic transmission, so it was the 5-speed manual gearbox for me.

The car I ended up driving was the Saab 9-5 Saloon 1.9 TiD in Vector Sport specification. Priced at 25,365 on-the-road, my test car was fitted with several added cost options such as the Sports leather-faced, electrically-operated and ventilated seats (1,050) and the upgraded stereo and navigation system which raised the price by an additional 2,200. Customers in this sector are well used to paying more for options these days, which can easily add over 5,000 to the initial list price. Audi, BMW and Mercedes are classic examples of this practise.

The Saab 9-5 is an acquired taste. If you love Saabs, you'll love this car. But it will not appeal to everybody. Especially when viewed from the side. The new front-end is sporty and aerodynamic to look at and the rear is practical, with easy access to a large boot.

The interior is large — a true and comfortable five-seater. It looks very up-market and is clearly a quality product. The facia panel retains Saab's instantly-recognized aircraft cockpit' look: the driver-focused instrument panel is very vertical and packed with all the dials and controls needed for the pilot — or on this case, the driver. Everything is close to hand or in easy vision. Again, it will not be to everybody's taste but it is distinctive and it works. In fact, it's nice to have the choice.

Of course, being a Saab it is a very safe vehicle right from the construction through to the comprehensive on-board safety systems.

So, distinctive, strong, well built, roomy, refined, comfortable and different. But the biggest reason to buy the Saab 9-5 is the addition
of the new 1.9-litre four-cylinder direct-injection common-rail turbo-charged diesel engine.

The installation of this engine is superb. It is very quiet — even at tickover — and very responsive (its maximum 236lb ft of torque is available from 2,000rpm). And it is a very good vehicle to use as an example to D-segment car buyers on why, these days, they should seriously consider having a premium car with a diesel engine. It's not just about saving money on fuel. Today's diesel power just provides
for a better drive, particularly with bigger cars.

Although I think the 1.9 TiD engine would benefit even more from having a 6-speed manual transmission to further improve fuel economy, the 43mpg returned by my 5-speed test car for day in, day out driving on motorways, stuck in traffic and for short journeys was decidedly impressive.

The performance also stacks up as well. With a top speed of 127mph, it's no slouch. And the 0-62mph acceleration time of 9.5 seconds is virtually the same as the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine. The 43mpg fuel economy is far better than the 32mpg given for the petrol version and emissions are lower too, at 174g/km. Perhaps the BMW, Audi and Mercedes diesel engines still have the edge for refinement, but this GM/Fiat diesel unit is still pretty good overall.

Being such a large car but with its Sports suspension and electronic handling programme, the front-wheel drive layout gave good grip
and the car rode flat and level even during high-speed cornering. The stiffer suspension was not intrusive and there was no discernable penalty in terms of a harsh or noisy ride. It felt a very taut and pre-dictable car, something that is not always the case with larger saloons.

Standard kit on my test model included dual-zone automatic climate control with a cabin air filter, cooled glovebox, electric windows all-round, powered heated door mirrors, driver's information display, heat adsorbing glass, audio system with single slot CD player, follow-me-home lights, a split fold/lockable rear seat, a height/reach adjustable steering wheel, ABS, traction control and electronic stability control programs, adaptive airbags, head/thorax side airbags (front), active front head restraints and 17-inch 7-spoke alloy wheels. The 9-5's class-leading safety levels are confirmed by its maximum 5-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.

Why wouldn't you buy one? Its looks — although, paradoxically, they are as much a reason to buy. And it is not quite as sharp in some
ways as similar-sized rival German brands. However, overall it's roomy, refined with excellent safety and good equipment levels. Definitely one for the discerning driver. And very capable. — David Miles

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Saab 9-5 Vector Sport 1.9 TiD | 25,365
Maximum speed: 127mph | 0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
Test MPG: 43mpg | Power: 150bhp | Torque: 236lb ft

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