Shooting fish in a barrel?
Historically, long production runs had been something of a holy writ at Trollhätten. As an independent company, Saab’s engineering integrity, coupled with well-judged updates and their slightly left of centre appeal meant the frequently cash-strapped carmaker could eke out model lines long after rival offerings had succumbed to the inevitable.
General Motors’ 50% equity acquisition of Saab in 1989 inevitably precipitated a shared platform strategy, one which spawned both the NG-series 900/ 9-3 and the larger 9-5 models. The latter arrived in 1998 as a replacement for the then long-in-the-tooth 9000 series which had debuted a good fourteen years previously. [A mere stripling in traditional Trollhätten terms].
Like its immediate predecessor, the 9-5 was to some extent a well-regarded wallflower of a car. Broadly competent in most significant areas and not unattractive, especially in more elegantly wrought Sportwagon versions. However, it never really set anyone’s heart a’ flutter, or significantly aided Saab’s push further upmarket, in line with General Motors’ ambitions for the marque.
The 9-5 received two significant facelifts over its lifespan, the second and most controversial occurring eight years into its career in 2006. This saw, amongst other alterations, significant stylistic revisions to both nose and tail, much, it has to said, to the car’s detriment.
What tended to receive the lion’s share of critical opprobrium was confined to the treatment of the revised headlamp units, which by themselves were perfectly acceptable. However, the chromed surrounds with which Saab stylists saw fit to garnish them were quite understandably vilified. It’s difficult to rationalise what creative thinking might have sat behind this move, but while this feature remains the most frequently cited visual affront, it wasn’t in fact the worst.
For this we must travel aft, to the rear of the car, where Saab’s designers altered the bootlid pressing, tail lamps and rear bumper clip. All to the good in theory perhaps, but close examination suggests that each element appears to have been designed in a hermetically sealed vacuum.
Now I’m all for well executed asymmetry, (which may have been the intention here), but in this instance nothing quite gels. The tail-lamp lenses not only have the appearance of being misaligned (a consequence of their curiously ill-defined shapes), but either due to an optical illusion or a production engineering fault, both elements also sit slightly askew of one another.
In addition, a crease was added to the lower portion of the bootlid pressing – we assume to lessen the visual sheerness of the tail treatment. However it fails to harmonise with anything, least of all the revised bumper/ valance panel, a matter which suggests a cheapskate carry-over, whereas it was a new pressing. The combined effect suggests a boot lid off a different car entirely.
Such a ham-fisted example of automotive styling and production engineering places the much-criticised efforts of Centro Stile Fiat into perspective. That it was signed off by Trollhätten management and their GM masters speaks volumes about the level to which the Swedish carmaker had dropped off General Motors’ priority list and how straitened Saab’s fortunes had by then become.
Because buried within this derisory facelift was a thoroughly decent reworking of a thoroughly decent motor car. The fact that it arrived a good four years too late and was fudged so spectacularly illustrates better than any flowchart or company spreadsheet why by mid-decade, Saab’s fate was sealed.