The earth shook with such violence the ground itself became liquefied, swallowing a pair of Bighorn sheep before they had time to bleat with terror. The deadly stench of hydrogen sulfide dropped birds from the sky as the earth bulged like a bursting balloon. A huge rip appeared, and molten rock flowed as red as arterial blood. Rivers of lava streamed westward, burning everything for miles.
Ten thousand years later, Boy Scout Troop 1201 is standing in an underground room 20-ft high and 50-ft long. The magma has long since cooled, and in its depths incredible lava tubes snake downward like passages to the inferno.
My son Cameron, his buddies Vince and Bobby and I had loaded european car's long-term Saab 9-5 Aero wagon for the last time with camping gear and were headed for a remote part of the eastern Mojave. Cam said, "Dad, every time we drive this car, it feels like we're in a movie."
And he's right. The Saab Aero wagon does feel like a movie, because it's pretty damn close to perfect. Smooth, powerful, quiet and comfortable, the Aero is almost impossibly unreal, like one of those special effects you know isn't real but still makes you gawk in wonder.
The Saab's tremendous utility means it has seen lots of action with my clan. There was the trip to the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Pinnacles National Monument, the Utah fossil dig, fishing on the Kern River, quail hunting in Lucerne Valley, snow boarding at Mammoth and about 327 trips to Home Depot (I want my ashes spread there when I die).
I know this car is just a piece of machinery, a device built by people I will never meet. But for all the joy it brought, all the memories, it has worked its way into my soul. It's funny how a lump of man-made stuff can acquire a personality, can dig down and attach itself to your heart. I like this car. My wife likes this car. My kids like this car. My friends like this car. My dog likes this car. Sometimes, I even think the Saab likes me.
From a mechanical perspective, the 9-5 wagon has been perfect--not one switch, relay, belt, button or bearing has failed. The interior has withstood the tortures of the damned, including two toddlers with leaky juice cups, baggies full of Cheerios and assorted Happy Meals. Whoever designed the cabin, designed it to last--every last bit of trim has remained firmly planted to the spot it was born. This car still feels brand new every time you get behind the wheel.
The Saab has a few quirks, the most annoying of which is the transmission and traction control system. The optional five-speed automatic gearbox is okay, provided the "sport" mode is selected on the shifter. Otherwise, it tends to mope around, slogging lazily through the gears. And TCS, should it sense the tiniest bit of wheel spin, steps in and shuts everything down until it's certain the pavement is soundly underfoot. It kicks in too early and stays on too long and is a hindrance when you want every bit of torque. To circumvent this, I would simply turn off the TCS and put it into sport mode (though this was a bad move after it rained, when the Saab's gobs of torque would have a difficult time getting to the ground). My last, minor bitch is with the steering wheel. While its thumb button controls (volume, channel selection, pre-sets) are greatly appreciated, they are not lit, which makes finding them in the dark a chore.
The Aero's striking athletic wear, even the pronounced front lip spoiler, stood up very well. And although we never had to use it, the OnStar system was like having a paramedic, mechanic, secretary and tow-truck driver with you, 24/7. Passengers treated OnStar with a hushed reverence, like the first people to see television or hear a phone ring.
In preparation for the rainy season, we replaced the wonderful, stock Michelin Pilot MXX3s with a tire designed for rain, mud and light snow--Michelin Sport A/S tires (size 225/45ZR-17), developed for ultra-high-performance all-season use. The Pilot Sport A/S features a "three-compound tread"--a special high-dry-grip compound in both shoulders; a balanced compound for cold dry, wet and snow between both shoulders; and a wet-traction compound in the tire's center rib. These compounds are molded into a directional tread design, the continuous circumferential center rib sharpening steering response and enhancing road feel while reducing noise. Other exterior performance elements include high-angle directional tread blocks, which enhance responsiveness and handling, and circumferential and high-angle lateral grooves, designed to evacuate water, resist hydroplaning and enhance wet traction.
Inside, two high-tensile, lightweight steel cord belts are reinforced with Michelin's "Filament At Zero" (FAZ) technology. FAZ spirally wraps an individual strand of Kevlar across the entire tread area under the steel belts, and again above the steel belt's edges, to enhance wear and ride comfort while providing high-speed durability and predictable handling.
Although a bit louder than the tires they replaced, the A/S rubber was predictable with progressive break-away. And they rule in the rain.
It's hard to believe we've already spent a year with the Saab Aero, a car that will break a few hearts when it leaves. If you had told me, a few years ago, I'd be falling for a Saab, I'd wouldn't have believed it. During the recent launch of the newly styled 9-5, Sean McNamara--the American product planner responsible for putting the gorgeous BBS wheels on the Aero--and I discussed this same behavior. "It's frustrating sometimes," said McNamara. "The 9-5 is a damn good car, but it's like some great secret only a few people know."
I promised Sean I'd tell a few of my closest friends about Saab. So here it goes: Check out the Saab 9-5 Aero wagon (the sedan works, too). Tell them Les sent you.