Notes from a vacation: When we inducted the 9-5 Aero Wagon into our long-term fleet, we expected that its utility would be a primary draw. And so it was when I signed it out for the family's trek to Lake Tahoe.
As I packed the wagon's empty, cavernous interior for the 500-mile drive north from Los Angeles, I was delighted to find enough room for three adults, two dogs, enough clothing to outfit a platoon on leave and enough food to feed the dozen or so family and friends we were meeting at the cabin. If needed, I could have utilized the wagon's roof rails to anchor more stuff up top, but, thankfully, all our gear fit in the luggage area behind the rear seats.
To offset the car's added weight, I adjusted tire pressures up as recommended by the owner's manual, filled the 18.5-gal. tank with 92-octane premium ($1.89/gal.) and headed for the open road--though, in this case, that "road" was the mind-numbing stretch of Interstate 5 which flanks the great agricultural heartland of California's Central Valley.
I-5 appears, at first glance, to be a simple exercise in keeping the car straight. However, throw in semi-trucks of every description, motorhomes, an occasional farm vehicle and the hordes of vacationers headed here and there, all traveling at wildly disparate speeds ranging from 45 mph up to 90 mph and more, and I-5 reveals its true nature as an extremely strenuous and perilous exercise in staying out of trouble and staying alert.
And here the Saab proved to be brilliant. Its ergonomics are excellent, the air conditioning coolly efficient, the seats comfortable and supportive, and the cruising quiet and smooth. Outside temperatures around 100*F seemed not to faze the turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the pertinent water gauge never budging from normal despite the car's average of 70+ mph over a four-hour stretch. Fuel mileage on the flat climbed to almost 28 mpg, but I knew that figure would fall as we began the climb into the Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento.
The relentless ascent from the valley floor to the 7,735-ft Luther pass overlooking the Tahoe Basin was an object lesson in the advantages of a turbocharged engine. Normally aspirated cars were easily left behind, the deeper-lunged Saab was not once left gasping for breath, though up the steep grades fuel mileage dropped to about 19 mpg.
A routine and uneventful trip is about the best one can expect from an I-5 flog, and the Saab was peerless at eating up the stupefying distances, combining luxury, performance and utility like few other vehicles. Once we arrived at our cabin high above Emerald Bay and the wagon emptied of its contents, the Saab was transformed into yet another of its incarnations--work horse. Every summer the family conducts a work week to maintain or overhaul the cabin's appearance and systems, and there's plenty of running to and from the hardware store or lumber yard. Simply folding down the seats (which can be split in a 1/3 or 2/3 arrangement) allowed the Saab to swallow every board, nail, paint can and brush we threw at it. And when it came time to haul off the detritus left by a gaggle of family workers, the Saab became the world's most well-appointed garbage truck.
The only glitch in the entire week came courtesy of a malicious nail that imbedded itself in the left rear tire. By the time the loss of pressure was noticed, the Michelin HX MXM radial was trashed, the BBS-built rim slicing through the tire's inner shoulder. The car's space-saver spare was slapped on, and I drove slowly to the biggest tire store in Carson City, Nevada. The somewhat embarrassed guy at the tire store informed me the Michelin would cost a stunning $325 to replace, not including mounting--that is, if he had one. Carson City may be the state capitol, but a replacement HX MXM, size 225/45-17, was nowhere to be found.
I pondered the implications of a 500-mile drive home, restricted to 50 mph by the space-saver, and started to make some calls. Several hours later I received a return call from Matt Edmonds at The Tire Rack, who informed me he had one of the things left in his warehouse in Reno, just over the mountains from Lake Tahoe. I took the Saab in and a helpful warehouseman named Jose dug out the last remaining HX in town and mounted it on the correct rim. In celebration of the four healthy shoes, I found a nicely twisted stretch of mountain road and rediscovered the sporty character of the car. But that's another story.