Of the cars here, the Saab 9-5 provided the best protection for the driver and passenger in the frontal impact. It also gained full marks for its performance in the side-impact test, meaning that the car easily passes new legislation taking effect from October. The Saab-brand child restraints used for the tests were rear facing, but in the side impact recorded unusually high chest accelerations, indicating a risk of injury was present. The 9-5's pedestrian protection rated as average, but there was a high risk of serious injury to their lower limbs.
The Saab 9-5 was found to the best-performing car in its group when it was first tested in 1998, and scored four stars for driver and passenger protection in frontal and side impact. Saab commissioned a pole test to prove that the head-protecting airbag that has been fitted as standard safety equipment on the 9-5 since its introduction during August 1997, will pass the requirements demanded. This it has done, proving that the car remains the safest that Euro NCAP has yet tested. The head-protecting device is a seat-mounted thorax airbag that has an upper chamber purpose-designed to improve protection for the driver's and front passenger's heads.
The passenger compartment remained stable, although there were small signs of movement around the door frame. The driver's airbag provided a stable contact but was not fully deployed when his head struck it. A well-designed knee bolster provided good load spreading over the knees. However, it was insufficient to protect the driver's upper legs from high loads should his knees hit unforgiving areas around the steering column.
An effective head and thorax side airbag deployed to protect the driver from serious injury – his head was cushioned by the airbag, which protects against hitting objects outside the car. As yet, Euro NCAP cannot test for this, so unfortunately it does not add to the score. Padding around the upper seatbelt anchorage provided further protection. The seat side wing, supported by the airbag, protected the driver's chest. A lower section of the door trim helped protect his pelvis.
The Saab-recommended rear-facing restraints used for testing proved compatible with the car belts. But while they worked well in the frontal impact, they did not restrain the dummies' heads in the side impact. What's more, the pictogram warning of the dangers of fitting a child restraint in the airbagged front passenger seat is not easily understood. Labelling on the child seats themselves was confusing, too. It warned against fitting in the front passenger seat, but also showed how to fit it there. Finally, the route the adult seat belt should follow to fit the restraint facing forward was incorrectly marked.
The Saab's bonnet offered more good than poor protection, but the best the car's bumper and bonnet leading edge offered was weak protection in one place.