The car's single, water-cooled turbocharger kicks in nicely at high speeds and climbs easily over steep terrain. We were able to pass slower drivers safely and with ease. Cruise control was even and smooth, including up and down steep grades.
Despite its prowess in the fast lane, however, the 2006 Saab 9-5 leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to stop-and-go driving. Acceleration is slow off the line, and the front-wheel drive creates a good deal of torque steer that translates to a slight swerve when increasing speed.
Our manual five-speed transmission made for a more active driving experience than the optional automatic transmission, but the gearbox wasn't as tight as we would have liked. We also noticed quite a bit of vibration in the stick when completing a shift. One element we found surprising was the location of the reverse gear: Saab's is in the lower-right corner, as with most Japanese cars, instead of the upper left, as with other European cars.
For those not wanting the grunt work of changing gears, an optional, electronically controlled five-speed automatic version of the 2006 Saab 9-5 with three shift programs is also available for an additional $1,350.
Handling and suspension felt solid, and we were able to smoothly swerve away from road debris, albeit with some noticeable body roll. This may be partially attributable to the car's weight distribution of 60 percent in the front and 40 percent in the rear.
The four-wheel disc brakes with power assist and ABS felt a bit weak, and we had to apply hard, deliberate pressure to stop satisfactorily. Saab claims its electronic brake-force distribution helps allot braking between the front and rear wheels to reduce stopping distances, but we didn't really notice any difference in response between an empty car and one with a trunk full of luggage.
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2006 Saab 9-5 are 21mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway for a manual transmission. Ratings for the automatic transmission are 18mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. Our manual-transmission test car averaged about 19mpg to 20mpg in the city and 24mpg to 25mpg on the highway, and despite not meeting the documented fuel-economy ratings, we were relatively pleased with our gas mileage. To put it in perspective, we made it from San Francisco to Los Angeles on one 18.5-gallon tank of gas, with a tad extra to spare.The rundown of safety features on the 2006 Saab 9-5 is impressive. Along with traction control, the car features an electronic-stability program that brakes one or more of the wheels and reduces engine power if the car starts to skid or slide. Both traction and stability control may be turned off.
Saab uses adaptive driver and front-passenger air bags, which, according to the manufacturer, adjust deployment force, depending on the severity of the crash. Head/thorax side air bags built into the backrests of the front seats are designed to protect the driver and front passenger in the event of a side impact. An automatic occupant sensor activates the passenger-side air bags when another person is riding in the front seat.
The front seats also feature active head restraints, which are designed to reduce whiplash injuries in the event of a collision. The 2006 Saab 9-5 boasts a five-star, front-seat side-impact rating, as well as a respectable four stars for both rear-seat side impact and rollover safety.
Other features include anchor points in the back for attaching a child seat and a function that keeps the headlights on to provide extra light when getting out of the car. OnStar is available for an additional $699.
One concern: We noticed that the side-view mirrors tended to warp images on the outer edges, especially on the passenger's side. This made it somewhat difficult to see nearby traffic and judge distances.
The 2006 Saab 9-5 features a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and power train warranty, a six-year corrosion warranty, three years/36,000 miles of no-charge scheduled maintenance, and four years/50,000 miles of roadside assistance.