COAL: 2005 Saab 9-5 2.0t Estate

As mentioned in my previous COAL, I was getting ready to sell the 2009 Mondeo and was considering what to buy. Here are some of my considerations:

I wanted something cheap and reliable. So, Toyota. Only, I also wanted something that felt more exciting and had more power than Toyotas available here. So with that in mind, I narrowed it down to either a second generation Volvo V70 gas with turbo or Saab 9-5 estate gas with turbo. Both have great reputations for reliability and lots are for sale with big mileage in Denmark. 

I have had three Volvos before so I was leaning towards Saab as I’d like to try something new, but Volvos are much more plentiful so my search came up with more candidates from Gothenburg than from Trollhättan. 

What I like about these V70s and 9-5s is that all of them have or can get 200+ horsepower easily – and that’s torquey turbo horsepower. Most of them came with leather and generally high specs. They both remind me of a trusty old Labrador – you can rely on them 100 percent, nice, soft, strong and fun when you want to. I love Labradors.

My wife, more or less of her own will, accepted the drawbacks of this scenario – getting a less fuel efficient car that’s older and with more miles than what we were giving up. My wife neither likes gas usage, old cars nor turbochargers. So this was all out of love and I love her for that.

My wife did, however, hate the Volvo design more than the Saab design. She prefers the door handles of the Saab and the overall profile of the Volvo was a 1:1 rendition of a hearse in her view. So the search centered on the oddball candidate of the two – fine by me.

I found a suitable candidate. The story as told by the young woman I bought it from was that her dad bought it as the second owner in 2006 or 2007 and it was used as primary and then secondary car throughout her childhood and youth. It was allegedly meticulously maintained and it did seem well-kept if worn, but hey, at 307,000 kilometers (191,000 miles) what do you expect, right? It had a turbocharger replacement “within the past couple of years” which was really good news. I decided to buy it at the asking price of 33,000 DKK (4,700 USD). We transferred the title and I drove off happy – happy for the first kilometer until I rolled down the driver side window and it fell out of its tracks stuck, tilted 45 degrees forward. 

I called the seller and turned around. She and her boyfriend came out eager to help. We got the door card off and with the help of their neighbors (because they had tools) we got the window put back into place. The neighbors suggested that a new mechanism was needed and they found one on their phone at 900 DKK (130 USD) so the seller transferred me back 1,500 DKK (215 USD) to hopefully cover a mechanic bill.

While getting the window back in place, the ignition had been on to move the tracks back and forth and the battery had been drained, so I needed a push to get the car rolling. And now I was on my way home, strongly questioning my decision to buy this “well-maintained” Saab.

Well, I got home and my wife got in for her first drive after a couple of days. Guess what happened: She hated the famed, supportive Saab seats.It made her back hurt and we had to get a supportive pillow for her. So safe to say, we were off to a bad start. By the way, I must say that in my opinion, Saab seats have nothing on Volvo seats. People always mention at least one of the two as the gold standard for seat comfort, but for me it’s Volvo >>>> Saab. I’d like to hear more takes on this in the comments.

I fixed the window cheaply by simply ordering a new set of the green rollers that had cracked rolling back and forth in the rails for 16 years. That was an easy and cheap fix – a couple of dollars, I think.

Then another thing quickly became an issue: it would sometimes jitter when accelerating. And I started noticing big – James-Bond-confuse-the-enemy-trick-feature big – smoke screens coming out the back. Hmm, weird, as the car had a fairly new turbo.

Did it not?

No. No it did not.

So, I had to call a mechanic to get a quote on a new turbocharger – that was 6,900 DKK (1,000 USD). He did not believe it had ever been replaced. Now this would not be that big of a deal if I was planning to keep this beast forever. And that had been my plan but seeing as how my wife hated it (her exact words) and I realized that while the car was in good condition, it was not in as good a condition as I had been led to believe. All in all, the 1,500 DKK refund from the seller seemed the very least she could do. I do believe she was being honest, but I’m not sure she really knew every detail about the car.

So let’s talk about the car itself. It was a 2005 Saab 9-5 2.0t. Estate. I cannot figure out which trim level it had but it had leather, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and all that nice stuff. It did lack the dual sunshades and ventilated seats which were a worlds-first in the 9-5 – and crucially the boost gauge. 

What I liked most about the equipment, though, was the special stuff that’s more Saab-specific than trim-specific. Take the famous cupholder – what a piece of engineering. The night panel is so cool. As I rarely go on midnight bombing missions in enemy territory, I rarely used it. But when it was dark, you could bet on me pressing the button just to see it. Such a cool feature. It had three nozzles for washer fluid because three is more than two.

Take the overhead lights in front: you have a little adjustable spotlight exactly like on an airliner and if you forget your seatbelt, there’s a chime, again, exactly like on an airliner – dinnnggg-donnnggg – along with the flashing overhead “Fasten your seatbelts”. “and prepare for take-off” you could add.

About take-off, this car’s only shortcoming was that it was not an Aero with the 230 horsepower engine which Saab later admitted had more power and rated it 250 instead. And then 260. Mine had the 150 bhp B205E engine, but it had the factory (or dealer) installed Hirsch engine optimization. It was rated at 210 bhp with this upgrade. I could not find any 0-100 kph times for it but I found one for the 2006- facelift version that said 7.7 seconds. I timed mine with a GPS acceleration app at 6.7 and then 7.6 in the second pull. Add to that the well-known fact that these cars are built for in-gear acceleration and you know that for a 16 years old car, it pulled very hard when overtaking. Of course it ripped the tires loose in first and second when engaging, but it also pulled the tires loose in second when the boost came on in-gear if the road was just slightly moist or if the direction was not ruler-straight. I loved that!

Handling-wise this big lump of Swedish steel did not have anything on the Mondeo. But then this is a different beast. The feeling of understated power at any speed is what makes this car feel great – not its ability to handle the twisties. Even for a well-used example it felt extremely relaxed at speed. It’s a car you’d happily and comfortably cruise at 100+ mph all day. The steering is very relaxed and the steering wheel appropriately big. You need a substantial helm for a cruise ship like this.

Initially the design was agreeable to me but over time it has really grown on me and I think it looks absolutely perfect now, such a long, sleek wagon. I think most of all I love the bulges above the rear wheel openings. Or maybe it’s the wrap-around rear window. 

I also liked the fact that it stood out as seen below. As you may recall from a previous COAL, my Focus did not stand out (I posted a photo of my car in a car lot with only two other cars. All three were same generation silver Focuses) – neither did the Mondeo. It’s nice to drive something that feels special as illustrated here:

The trunk was huge, rear legroom was very good, the seats were comfortable to everyone but the one I really care about – my wife (the kids are still in booster seats. I do care about the kids also). So I really enjoyed this car personally, at least to begin with.

I managed to do a couple of things to it because the night I brought it home (it became night after the window had been fixed at the seller’s place), I ordered a new air filter, new gear knob and handbrake lever sleeve (both like stock, only not worn). I would of course have upgraded the very decent stock audio system had I kept the car. I have two proper Phoenix Gold amplifiers (MS-275 and MS-2125) lying in the basement along with two similar vintage JBL 1200GTI subwoofers. All competition grade components. But that will have to wait.

Obviously my wife and I soon started talking about what to do about this car. My wife is not about impressing the neighbors but she wants something that makes her feel like she’s not driving somebody else’s run-down leftovers. She wants a newer car that feels and looks newer and gets good mileage. I want whatever as long as it’s cool (in my raised-in-the-eighties eyes) and as fast as possible within the budget. Basically we have mutually exclusive wishes for a car.

So the only way to fix that, we agreed, was to get one of each. We would get a slow-ish, reliable and all-round decent car for the family daily driver. And then I will get some old piece of crap/cool eighties dream machine to tool around with registered and insured as a classic which makes it cheap to own – even in Denmark. 

“What’ya gonna do with all that junk, all that junk in your trunk?”
Ridiculously huge trunk in the Saab.

So selling it. Well, one thing I learned from having it for sale for aaaalmost a year is that potential buyers for a car like this are more potential than buyers. I washed and vacuumed it for the first guys, then I didn’t bother as I expected them to either not show up or show up and decline even negotiating. They all fully met that expectation.

During this time the car developed a shudder and an unwillingness to select gears. I had to use excessive force to get the car in gear.

So eventually that had to be looked at, and it meant a driveshaft replacement and a gear shift mechanism. All to the tune of 10,383 DKK. So this car now had more than half of what I paid for it in repairs – and the gear shift mechanism broke again a week later. It was replaced again for free – ending three months of back and forth since I initiated the repair. And the mechanic said it broke again because the clutch was almost worn out. That would be another 10,000 and a bill I would not want to get to. Needless to say, the relationship with this car was deteriorating and my feelings for it were cooling off fast.

While looking for the next car, a dealer made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – 18,000 DKK (2,600 USD) in trade-in value. I accepted it and got another new used car on the 7th of July 2022. That meant just over a year of ownership for this one. Same for the Mondeo before it. But the next one would be a keeper. More on that in the next installment.

Parked by me for the last time.

In terms of cost of ownership this one was ridiculous. Big bills are fine if you plan to keep the car – a turbocharger should last long and so should a driveshaft. But in this case those bills are written off over less than a year and that is expensive.

Cost per kilometer ended up at 4.48 DKK/km (1.04 USD/mi) while my 2007 Focus came in at around half – 2.23DKK/km. So way too expensive for something that was just a burden for most of the ownership.

My previous COAL entries:

1973 Fiat 127

1978 Volvo 242 L

1988 Alfa Romeo 75 2.0 Twin Spark

1988 Volvo 740 GLE

2001 Volvo V40 1.8 Business

2007 Ford Focus 1.8 TDCI Trend Collection Wagon

2007 Ford Focus 1.8 TDCI Trend Collection Wagon, part 2

2009 Ford Mondeo 2.0 Titanium Wagon

2009 Ford Mondeo 2.0 Titanium Wagon, part 2