It was 9 a.m., exactly two hours after I'd wanted to depart for a morning surf session and a day at the beach with the family. A couple of hours may not sound like much, but it's the difference between beating the crowds and catching wave after glassy wave, the type found most often in the early morn.
Nothing was going to get us out of the house on my schedule, let alone anyone else's. Much of the delay was getting the kids ready and packing the car with the requisite beach gear -towels, chairs, umbrella, radio and ice chest, along with an arsenal of cumbersome and messy sand toys. I need only my board and wetsuit-but, I digress.
We were finally en route, happily driving in our long-term Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon. Though it's no classic Woody, the 9-5 wagon-Saab's first in roughly 25 years-played the part of toting my old-school longboard amazingly well. This wagon's got style and is a far cry from your typical minivan or SUV. Jeannette, our three kids and I cruised in absolute comfort to the Beach Boy's "Surfin' Safari," already a favorite of our 4-year old son. Even though we'd been delayed, something about the song pumping through the wagon's eight premium speakers changed my mood for the better.
Our jaunt to the ocean was pleasurable in every respect. The cabin is spacious and well designed-all 134.5 cu ft. Seating is exceedingly comfortable, and the front seats come with standard power and heating controls, including a driver's side multiple setting memory function. As an option ($995), you can order the perforated ventilated leather front seating, which pulls cool air away from the occupants via a three-speed fan. Our model came so equipped and is surprisingly effective.
Other interior amenities we appreciated include an adjustable center armrest (front and rear) with underside storage/tray compartment, a directional map light, additional map/misc. storage on the leading edge and back of the front seats, as well as multiple cup holders, including retractable dual holders at the front of the rear armrest. The theft security central locking and childproof rear door locks and child seat anchorage points are very welcome standard items. For 2001, Saab also enhanced its OnStar Telematics for further driver convenience. And, perhaps to chill the Grey Poupon, the glovebox is refrigerated by way of a cooling vent connected to the a/c.
As far as interior luxury goes, the 9-5 wagon seems to have it all, including leather upholstery, adjustable leather-wrapped wheel (with convenient audio controls) and a beautiful burl wood dash. The cabin is also well insulated against exterior noise, making the ride all the more comfortable.
Equally impressive is the massive amount of luggage space, roughly 37 cu ft with the second row seats in place and an impressive 73 cu ft with the seats folded down, exactly the sort of dimensions required for hauling our beach-bound cargo. I especially liked one of the wagon's most utilitarian components, a state-of-the-art floorboard that rolls out over the rear bumper 20 inches beyond the floor edge. Designed to ease the loading and unloading of heavy and/or bulky items, its construction is very stout and can hold up to 440 lb. In addition to this feature, two floor-mounted aluminum rails with one-grip locks and special belts ensure cargo doesn't shift when the car gets underway. Saab also has several accessories available that work in conjunction with the CargoTracks, including miscellaneous straps, elastic nets, cargo guards and even a dog leash. Moreover, the cargo area is unusually well illuminated. The interior lights brighten the entire load area, and the ground behind is abundantly lit when the rear hatch is fully opened, exposing two strategically placed lights-which later came in handy while unloading our gear in the dark.
Motivation for the 9-5 is also abundant in the form of a 2.3-liter turbocharged four. The transverse-mounted 16-valver offers 230 bhp at 5500 rpm, providing superb acceleration down low as well as flat-out cruising speed. Its five-speed automatic transmission seems ideally geared for a wagon and also features three shift programs: Normal, Sport & Winter.
In terms of handling, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the wagon and its sedan counterpart-thanks, in part, to its Sport Tuned suspension and low profile 225/45R-17 tires. Precise and responsive steering ads to the mix, as does a set of beautiful BBS 17-in. two-piece alloy wheels (an extra $1,650 for those who prefer the extra flash).
Speaking of flash, we found the 9-5 Wagon attracted attention like a magnet. Everyone seems to mention the exterior styling and sleek aerodynamics. One person at the beach said it was the most stylish wagon he's ever seen and couldn't believe the factory offered such great looking wheels.
Thus far, the staff has logged nearly 20,000 miles on the odometer. Outside of two regular services (oil change and inspection service), we've only had to visit the dealer to replace a lost key. Though it would seem an inconvenience having to wait to re-program a new key, we were pleasantly surprised by the level of courtesy and professionalism displayed at our local dealer, Saab of South County in Mission Viejo, Calif.
The key was ordered a few days prior to our actual visit, and we were in and out of the dealer in a matter of minutes (just long enough to sample a few complimentary pastries. Delicious).
The 9-5 has asked very little from us, especially in regard to fuel. Unlike gas-guzzling SUVs, the 9-5 fares extremely well, averaging around 23 mpg despite our heavy right feet. Its $40,875 base price seems a little steep, but compared to other luxury wagons within its market segment, it's arguably tough to beat.
As fate would have it, we arrived at the beach to find small, inconsistent and sloppy surf. Not wanting to dampen a happy spirit, I remained positive and ended up enjoying myself immensely. Those sand toys aren't all that bad after all.