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2006 Saab 9-5 review: 2006 Saab 9-5

2006 Saab 9-5

Laura Burstein
Laura Burstein is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. She covers car news and events for a variety of companies including CNET, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz. Laura is a member of the Motor Press Guild and the BMW Car Club of America, and spends much of her spare time at high-performance driving schools, car control clinics, and motorsports events. She's also an avid Formula 1 fan. When she's not at the track, Laura's rubbing elbows with car cognoscenti at auto shows, auctions, design events, and various social gatherings. Disclosure.
Laura Burstein
7 min read

2006 Saab 9-5
The 2006 Saab 9-5 might not be the brightest star in the galaxy of near-$40,000 passenger cars, but the Swedish four-door certainly isn't the dimmest. This newly redesigned model shines best on long road trips. Its 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine cruises the freeway comfortably and passes with ease. An as-standard Harman Kardon stereo system with a six-CD changer and integrated XM radio pairs a range of entertainment options with high-quality sound. Gas mileage is decent for a midsize car, despite our test model not meeting the documented EPA ratings.


2006 Saab 9-5

The Good

The 2006 Saab 9-5 offers a turbocharged engine that zips along nicely at freeway speeds. A premium Harman Kardon audio system with built-in XM radio offers crisp, full sound, and an accurate parking-distance sensor helps slot the car into tight spots.

The Bad

Turbo lag and torque steer make for a wishy-washy ride around the city and at slower speeds. Goofy design elements kept us searching for some of the most basic features--including the trunk release. Mushy brakes and a slushy gearbox don't scream performance.

The Bottom Line

The 2006 Saab 9-5 cruises easily on the freeway, accelerating quickly and smoothly at higher speeds and over steep terrain. A great-sounding stereo system makes long drives even more enjoyable. But city dwellers beware: The car falls short when it comes to stop-and-go driving. By the time the turbocharger kicks in, it's time to stop at the next red light.

On the downside, the 2006 Saab 9-5 is hesitant and sluggish at lower speeds, which doesn't exactly live up to the Saab's aviation-inspired reputation. Our test car lacked the navigation option, a blessing in disguise, as we didn't have to revisit the ordeal of using the terrible nav unit in Saab's 2006 9-3 Convertible. The car's turbocharger takes a while to kick in and leads to some jerky stop-and-go driving around town. Braking response is disappointing, and some serious front-wheel-drive torque steer had us fighting the wheel in lower gears.

The base price for the 2006 Saab 9-5 is $34,820. Our test model came with metallic paint ($550) and the visibility package ($1,295), which included xenon headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, the Saab park-assist system, and autodimming outside mirrors--for a grand total of $36,665, not including destination charge or tax.

Saabs in general have some quirky traits, and the 2006 Saab 9-5 is no exception. The ignition, for example, sits in the center divide between the driver and the passenger instead of on the steering column. This arrangement can be difficult for first-time drivers to get used to. The design also sacrifices center-console space, which leaves the driver little room to keep personal belongings at hand. The Harman Kardon audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer is amazingly good for a standard car stereo. It features a 200-watt amplifier, nine speakers, and two subwoofers. The stereo also supports MP3 playback and displays one line of track ID, which falls short to our liking but is a neat feature all the same. The interface is easy to use and features manual EQ, as well as automatic. The sound was a tad bass heavy, which was great for house and techno music but didn't quite do justice to jazz and classical genres. Many functions--such as volume, track, station, and mode--can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. Stereo volume can also be set to automatically adjust with the car speed.

The only real tech in the interior of our 2006 Saab 9-5 was the integrated XM Satellite Radio. The lack of an auxiliary jack made it clear that MP3 players were not invited to this car's party. For those in real need of directions, a DVD-based navigation system with a trunk-mounted CD changer is available for an additional $2,795; however, this option comes at the cost of the XM-radio feature.

The Saab 9-5 boasts a Harman Kardon audio system with integrated XM Satellite Radio.

Dual climate control and seat warmers work nicely and respond quickly, and the well-placed vents have a wide range of adjustability. We particularly liked the round rubber control knobs that allowed us to easily change the direction of airflow.

Our car came with a park-distance sensor, which was helpful and accurate while trying to maneuver into parallel-parking spaces. However, the system activates when the battery is on (even when the engine is not), which led to constant false alarms and subjected the driver to annoying beeps and tones while passengers loaded and unloaded the trunk.

The 2006 Saab 9-5's standard leather-trimmed sport steering wheel is comfortable and easy to maneuver, but the Saab, like many performance cars, places its self-proclaimed, enthusiast-oriented molded finger grips and enlarged thumb rests at the 10 and 2 positions instead of at 9 and 3.

We liked the location of the pop-out cup holder near the passenger's side of the center front vents. It held water bottles firmly in place, but its slim silhouette made us wonder how long it would last. The driver's cup holder sits in the center console, which leaves even less room for odds and ends.

The rain-sensing windshield wipers weren't as accurate as we had hoped, and the sensor had a hard time keeping up while driving through spotty showers. We found it necessary to turn the wipers on and off manually. On the plus side, the six-jet, high-pressure windshield-washing system effectively cleared through a heavy layer of bugs and gunk.

The 2006 Saab 9-5's glass power moonroof lets in just the right amount of air and sunshine. When closed, however, the slotted vents in the cover are distracting, and the roof continues to allow in so much light that we constantly looked up to make sure we had sealed everything properly.

Space is plentiful in the glove compartment, as well as in the trunk, although--in another of Saab's quirks--the trunk-release button is on the driver's door, which we found counterintuitive and inconvenient.

The Saab 9-5 has been revamped in its 2006 incarnation. In comparison with its predecessors, the car now features a wider wheelbase and sportier tuning. The upgraded turbocharged, 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine puts out 260 horsepower with 258 pound-feet of torque, meaning that the 9-5 struts its stuff best on the highway. 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.

A turbocharged 2.3-liter engine gives the Saab 9-5 260 horsepower--ideal for highway cruising.

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.

The car gets top marks for front-seat side-impact ratings, as well as a four-star rating for 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.


2006 Saab 9-5

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 6Performance tech 5Design 7


Trim levels BaseAvailable Engine GasBody style sedan