Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aesthetics Matter
Cars can be viewed and judged from many perspectives: performance; comfort; safety; economy; reliability; utility; and appearance. Our first 2011 9-5’s arrived today, and the first one which I came across made some “first impressions” on me. Since I didn’t drive the car, I gauged my reactions purely on how I perceived the car through visual and tactile experience.

Since I had spent some time in a 2010 9-5, I was eager to focus on the differences. When I first saw the car, technicians had the hood opened, and I went to join them to check out the business end of the 9-5. This was the “Turbo-4” variant. First impression under the hood: this looks AWFUL. The top of the engine has a completely goofy looking plastic bonnet adorning it. It looks especially ridiculous because the ribs in the center are lateral, as if to mimic the intake runners in a longitudinal engine. Perhaps worse is the front face of the engine, which is unadorned has an appearance that makes me think the engineers were expecting it to be covered; it ought to be. Once the cover is
lifted off the engine, things actually improve. I like a purposeful look, and even the ungainly, messy frontal area recedes a bit once all that nice cast aluminum is exposed. It is clear that there is a purpose to the engine hat—there is a fair amount of insulation inside, ostensibly to diminish unwanted engine noise. By comparison, the 9-3 2.0 has a cover, but only to hide those ugly bits on the front of the engine. The cam cover blends right into this, and again, all that cast aluminum looks lovely. Thumbs down on the Turbo-4 engine bay!

Upon entering the 2011 9-5, my eyes were first drawn to the console and the shifter for the six-speed transmission. It is beautiful, and feels great. High marks for tactile heft and shape. (I did note, and this was echoed by a technician, that the reverse lockout knob on the front side of the shifter does have a rather sharp edge to it which is not pleasant to the touch.) Then I got to looking around. This car has the pale beige-taupe-parchment-butter cream color which I do not like. To make matters worse, that color is carried to the carpeting. Nightmare. I can’t imagine living with an interior where I felt I had to remove my shoes (though driving barefoot is a guilty pleasure) lest I stain the flooring. This car is brand new, and from just the transport personnel, look at the condition of the foot-well.

Another change for 2011 is the addition of wood-grained material on the dash, console and doors. I like wood. I’m a cellist; I appreciate beautiful wood handled in an artistic way. I like wood in a car. I don’t like fake wood. Saabs of old, say, 2001 and earlier, used a beautiful wood sealed in epoxy. More recent cars have had fake wood, albeit pretty good. The material in the 2011 9-5, especially in the shapes to which it is modeled, is so clearly plastic as to verge on the offensive. If this were a Rolls or Bentley, I might believe that hunks of wood were carved into exotic shapes for the application on the console. Not only does the shaping of this plastic convince one that the material is not wood, but the seams in the console pieces have gaps which amplify the tawdry result. Even the Lacrosse handles the fake wood thing better.

This interior had a cocoa brown color to compliment the butter-cream of the doors, carpets and seats. My only complaint here is that the application of the brown goes too far. I rather like it on the dash top, and maybe even on parts of the console. I’m not so sure about the steering wheel. I know, though, that when you start to bathe everything in a color, down to the dash vents, their toggles, the clamshell on the steering column, and even the wiper/directional switches, that this is too much. I can only think that as the years go by, between the brown and cream colors, that the interior will look dreadful much before its time.

Lastly, I discovered a nifty storage container on the left knee pad of the dash. This was a disappointment, not because it looks cheap--it looks fine. But when unlatched it swings down with a thud, with no dampening at all. That makes it feel cheap in a way that would barely acceeptable in a Camry, let alone a Saab.

The next step for me will be to drive one of these front wheel drive, Turbo-4 9-5s. There, I’m sure, I’ll have much less carping to do. While I have done nothing but complain here, I should mention that the overall effect of the interior is still handsome and the cockpit would be a lovely place to spend time. These quibbles are with details, and while the details aren’t everything, they do matter. A lot.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The gear shifter looks nice...if perhaps somewhat bmw-ish.

Not having a super-attractive engine bay is one thing, but it seems like a lost opportunity to use low-grade faux-wood trim pieces. Prospective upscale car buyers know the difference. If Saab is trying to move more upscale skimping on customer-touching materials won't cut it.

I'll agree with the over-colorization comment. I'd go one step further and say they really need to smooth things out. The dash and console are definitely busy w/too many colors, curves, angles and textures.

Paul ---