WARNER SPRINGS, Calif. -- Flying across the California desert on a straight-line trace that swoops through every drainage wash, a sleek mid-size sedan from Saab of Sweden -- the 2007 9-5 Aero wearing Ice Blue Metallic paint of a special 60th Anniversary Edition -- rides the roly-poly pavement contours like a Saab 37 Viggen jet shooting through bumpy pockets of turbulent air.
With each whomp through a pavement dip, the independent suspension elements of coil springs and gas-charged shocks float and compress then float again in a bouncy rhythm which in time may rattle a rider's equilibrium yet never upset the balance and poise of this precision machine.
A run on a serpentine road winding over the San Ysidro Mountains near Warner Springs demonstrates that our 9-5 can hang around a tight hairpin bend while maintaining a flat stance with the 235/45R17 all-season tires tracing an aggressive line.
Such road tricks, while fun to perform yet unnecessary for everyday driving, reveal that Saab's top sedan can maneuver around dicey street situations with the agility of a mechanical athlete. Ultimately, this flexibility translates to a safety benefit because the 9-5 is an active vehicle which in the hands of an alert driver may actually avoid a potential accident that less nimble cars could not.
Spend time in this Saab, as one driver does through a series of tests in San Diego County, and its performance and handling traits will no doubt impress, as will the comforts provided in a passenger compartment canted toward luxury.
Yet there's more going on here than goosy pedal power, nimble tire tricks and cushy cabin appointments. Occupant safety, it seems, becomes the overriding point behind the design of the 9-5 because Swedes in general rank safety above all other automotive assets and Saab in particular has a long record for safety innovations.
Saab's safety-oriented cars spawn cultish loyalty among owners. Cast in front-wheel-drive (FWD) format with a steel cage encasing passengers and the alphabet soup of safety systems aboard -- an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and electronic brake distribution (EBD) plus non-skid electronic stability program (ESP) and electronic traction control system (TCS) -- a Saab is engineered to plow through Sweden's severe arctic winters and even survive an up-close encounter with a massive Swedish moose.
Consider the front structure of the 9-5: Instead of deflecting forces from a frontal crash along a single predictable chassis path, the arrangement in a 9-5 uses three routes to diffuse the disruptive energy. Steel braces crush like cushions and the defused energy flows up, under and around the passenger compartment, where high-tech seatbelts, smart air bags and safety seats protect riders.
Further, the front structure of this Saab has not one but five different progressive frontal deformation zones. Other deformation areas appear in back and at sides of the vehicle.
And Saab's bucket seats form a rigid and stable support for the side air bags, with anti-submarine ramps under frontal edges to prevent an occupant from slipping under the seatbelt during a severe crash. Even headrests become active: If the vehicle is hit from the rear, a situation which often produces neck whiplash for riders, front seat headrests quickly move forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head moving backward. This movement is designed to cradle the head promptly and prevent the painful whiplash effect.
Saab fans will also find some Saab-exclusive traits inside, such as the ignition key switch located on the floorboard between front seats where it's out of the way.
Saab cars also represent consistency of design and models because styling changes do not appear often at Saab, the name an acronym for "Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget," which translates into English as "Swedish Airplane Company."
This corporation, now in the folds of General Motors, is so steeped in aviation that its first automobile -- the Saab 92 production prototype of 1947 -- resembles an aircraft wing in profile because Saab's engineers at the time had more experience designing aerodynamic wings than car bodies.
With 2007 marking the 60th anniversary for Saab's automotive division, the 2007 9-5 adds a special 60th Anniversary Edition. Content includes new five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, solid black leather sport seats with grey inserts and dark walnut wood cabin trim.
Also on the 60th Anniversary Edition is a Visibility Package with xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming outside mirrors and Saab's rear parking assist (RPA) system.
All 2007 issues of the 9-5 earn a 10-point power boost from a 2.3-liter high-output turbo four-cylinder engine. It now delivers 260 hp at 5300 rpm with torque of 258 lb-ft peaking between 1900-4000 rpm.
Transmission is either a sporty manual five-speed or Saab's automatic Sentronic five-speed with steering wheel tab shift controls. The optional new Aero package for 9-5 installs a sport-tuned chassis, sport seats and metallic cabin trim. Suspension upgrades also apply.
In front for the sport chassis of Aero the spring rates are elevated with increased damping for the twin-pipe gas shocks and a larger anti-roll bar attached.
In the rear there's a larger anti-roll bar and softer springs on the standard chassis, with reduced toe-in for more predictable behavior.
Further, power assistance for the rack and pinion steering system is recalibrated to enhance the steering effort and produce more feedback to a driver.
Appointments include the leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, power controls for the two front bucket seats and three-position memory for the driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate controls, a cooled and lockable glove box, power controls for windows and exterior mirrors, split-folding seatback for the rear bench with fold-down armrest and a pass-through hatch, central locking with remote fob, anti-theft alarm and a deluxe audio kit with CD player and six-disc changer.
Pricing for the 2007 9-5 begins at $34,695. For 9-5 Aero the MSRP is $35,790 with a manual transmission or $1,350 more for the Sentronic automatic. The 60th Anniversary Edition package lists for $1,595.