TROLLHATTAN, Sweden - Saab Automobile AB is launching the all-new Saab 9-5 in Europe this week.
Dealers in Europe start selling Saab's new top model in September. American customers must wait until April 1998 for the car's debut.
The 9-5 is styled like a sedan but has a large rear hatch. The model will be sold alongside the Saab 9000, which likely will be dropped around the turn of the century.
The 9-5 is the second new model by Saab Automobile AB, a joint venture between General Motors and Investor AB. The venture's first new car, the 900, was based on an earlier Opel Vectra. The 9-5 is built on a new platform developed by GM that carries the current Opel Vectra.
Apart from the front firewall and some floorpan sections, the cars do not share any common stampings. The 9-5 is the first Saab to feature an independent rear suspension, using modified Vectra suspension components.
Work on the 9-5 project began in early 1993, with design work done in-house under Einar Hareide. It is evolutionary, showing a clear resemblance to the 9000 but with innovative details. Its 0.29 coefficient of drag is Saab's best ever.
Optional comfort features include an air conditioned glove box and fan-assisted seat ventilation.
Saab plans to build 15,000 9-5 units this year and 40,000 to 50,000 in 1998, its first full production year.
Next year, a station wagon version will be added to the line. By 1999, annual production could reach 75,000. Production capacity of the Trollhattan factory is about 130,000, but it could easily be increased. A new paint shop built by ABB uses water-borne processes. Total investment for the Saab 9-5 was 5 billion Swedish kronor, or a little over $650 million. The paint shop was an additional $260 million.
The Saab 9-5 sits on a 106-inch wheelbase, 3.9 inches longer than the 900. Total length is 189 inches, which is less than an inch longer than the 9000. All engines are low-pressure turbocharged. Both four-cylinder engines are developments of the current Saab 16-valve unit.
The 2.0-liter engine produces 150 hp, and the 2.3-liter engine makes 170 hp. Saab adapted the 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 from Opel.
The V-6 will account for 15 percent of production, and most will be sold in the United States. All engines are front-wheel drive, mounted transversely. Diesel power as well as high-pressure turbocharging are expected later.
Saab has put extra effort in passive safety features. The company says its front deformable structure is effective in protecting occupants in impacts up to 40.3 mph. All Saab 9-5s are standard with front and side airbags and Saab's active head restraint to minimize whiplash injuries.