Saab Shows Lots of Design Quirks and Nifty Touches

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Saab Shows Lots of Design Quirks and Nifty Touches

One thing Saabs don't lack is personality. Their penchant for quirky designs complete with the unusual location of the ignition switch on the center console, a Saab trademark, have achieved cult status.

My personal favorite has to be the location of the "Fasten Seatbelts" sign, up there on the overhead console, just like on an airliner. The aeronautical pedigree of these cars is hardly a pretension because Saab's other business is manufacturing fighters for the Swedish Air Force.

While the top-of-the-line Griffin has the larger 3.0-liter engine and costs just a tad more, the 9-5 Aero with its turbocharged intercooled 2.3-liter engine has to be the pick of the Saab litter. Its four cylinders churn out 230 hp (30 more than the Griffin's V-6) while peak torque measures 35.7 kg.m, most of it available from 1900 to 4000 rpm. Push the pedal to the metal and its free-revving personality really begins to shine.

It's the kind of car that makes you grow little horns when you get behind the wheel, confides one Saab enthusiast.

Such praises do not extend to the Aero's four-speed automatic which is the most dated aspect of the car. Where its competitors like Mercedes, Jaguar and Audi offer seamlessly shifting 5-speed autoboxes, the Saab gearbox struggles to make seamless shifts across the wide torque band. And it lacks a semi-automatic or "manumatic" mode that is increasingly becoming the norm among cars in this class. The shifter knob has a lovely feel and features "Sports" and "Winter" mode shift schedules which are available at the touch of a button.

The dashboard retains that vintage, austere Saab look. But it works. Nifty touches abound, such as the ingenious cupholder which should win an award for design cleverness.

Also unique to Saab instrument panels is the Night Panel function. Hit the Night Panel switch while driving at night and all non-essential lights and dials go dead in order to sharpen driver concentration. Information is then displayed on a need-to-know basis.

Then there's the information panel which shows the date, time, temperature and radio settings. Assorted trip computers and computerized functions dwell below in sub-menus. Now, if they could only add a compass feature.

There are other things about this car that are way, way cool. Like the refrigerated glove compartment and air conditioned seats.

"Excuse me?" I hear you saying.

Well, you can't quite jam a six-pack inside this glove compartment but the vented air from the air conditioner will keep your chocolate bars from melting.

And the seats. Well, they are upholstered in perforated leather through which moist, trapped air is sucked away from the body by fans installed in the front seat cushions and seatbacks. Even at the lowest setting, the fans cause quite a ruckus but I would imagine that on sweltering hot days, these seats would be a godsend.

Electric seat warmers, first introduced by Saab in 1971, are standard as are the derriere chillers which are also an industry first.

Saab also pioneered the cabin dust and pollen filter back in 1978. Well, not only do the Saab air filters remove airborne particles (down to 4 microns) but they also feature a gas and odor-absorbing filtration stage.

An activated charcoal filter soaks up hydrocarbons such as benzene, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants to reduce irritation of the eyes, throat and lungs.

In the safety department, the Aero comes with standard front and side air bags, new cornering lamps, four-wheel power disc brakes with antilock and electronic traction control. And Saab's unique active head restraints will make you wonder why all other head restraints aren't as comfortable.

Where the Aero really excels is in ride and handling. The ride is quiet, and comfort is on par with the finest European luxury-sport sedans, while handling is precise.

Even more impressive is the fact that this 1,645 kg (3,600 pounds car delivers a fuel economy rating of 8.1 km/l equipped with an automatic transmission.

In addition to the aforementioned features, our test car also included keyless entry, tilt/telescopic steering column, a premium 240-watt Harmon-Kardon AM-FM stereo cassette with CD changer and a power sliding glass sunroof as standard equipment.

Price of the 9-5 Aero 2.3 TS Aero as tested: 71.9 million won ($55,307).

Next Week: Jeep Grand Cherokee

by Oles Gadacz

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