Saab sets 9-5 models apart

ATLANTA - At first glance Saab's 9-5 flagship looks like a carryover from the 2001 model year.

But Saab claims that it made more than 1,200 changes to the 2002 sedan and SportWagon. The changes include safety, chassis and engine enhancements, Saab says.

For 2002, Saab has dropped the base and SE model designations and adopted names from design and architecture to create models with distinct personalities. Each model name features a specific interior trim, wheel design and engine.

For example, the Linear replaces the base model. The Linear has a 185-hp 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, leather seats and a new satin finish on the walnut instrument panel.

The Arc, which replaces the SE model, features ventilated leather seats, walnut trim on the door panels and center armrest, and a 200-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6.

The top-of-the-range Aero includes bolstered seats, 17-inch wheels and a 250-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, up from 230 hp on the 2001 model. The Aero name is carried over from last year.

Higher Aero sales

Saab estimates the 2002 9-5 Aero will account for 30 percent of the 9-5's sales, up from 15 percent for the 2001 model year. The Linear will account for 50 percent.

"In 2001, whether you had the base, SE or the Aero, it had basically the same interior, the same leather seats, the same wood, everything else," said Sean McNamara, director of product planning for Saab Cars USA Inc.

With the new lineup, "you have sport seats that are unique to the Aero, a dash treatment that is unique, standard electronic stability control, front and rear heated seats standard that were optional. So we have increased the value," he said.

The 2002 9-5 Aero, at $39,405, is priced $3,590 below the 2001 model on a comparably equipped basis. The price includes the $625 destination charge and $130 for prep and handling.

Adds McNamara: "Before, the 9-5 ads focused and showed the base car, so no one really knew about this car. Now the (Aero) is going to be used more and more as the halo car." He was interviewed during an October press event in Atlanta.

Among the other changes on the 9-5 range:

  • A five-speed automatic transmission replaces the four-speed automatic.

  • The front subframe was strengthened to isolate road shocks more effectively from entering the passenger compartment.

  • The front springs were stiffened 10 percent, and the diameter of the front anti-sway bar was increased 1 millimeter to improve front-end handling.

  • The steering rack was redesigned to handle changes in the springs and shock absorbers.

  • Larger rear disc brakes are standard on the Aero and Arc.

    Passenger sensors

    The 9-5 receives adaptive airbags with a passenger sensing system, improved knee protection for the driver and passenger, and improved antilock brakes to reduce stopping distances.

    Electronic stability control, not offered on the 2001 9-5 range, is optional on the Linear and the Arc.

    The 9-5's exterior sheet metal is untouched. The grille and front and rear fascias were restyled, and a bi-xenon headlight system is optional. The light is spread over a 60 percent larger surface than Saab's halogen lights.

    Saab USA expects to sell approximately 38,000 Saab 9-3 and 9-5 vehicles this year and approximately 42,000 in calendar 2002.

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