11 June 2005
While Saab continues to throw rebadged Subarus and Chevrolets at its US buyers, it's building a 9-5 BioPower model for the Swedish market that runs on gasoline, on ethanol, or anything in between.
The 2.0-liter turbo four is pretty standard Saab fare; what makes it different is the revised fittings (heavy doses of ethanol play hell with a car's fuel system, proving that cars really do reflect their drivers) and the revised engine-control software to adjust for whatever is coming through the fuel line.
Conventional wisdom holds that ethanol is less desirable as a motor fuel because of its lower energy density; to get the same performance, you'll end up with fewer miles per gallon. The Saab, however, tunes itself to get maximum value out of grain alcohol: while the engine produces a respectable 148 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque on gasoline, feeding it a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, which costs about 25 percent less than straight gasoline in Sweden, yields 180 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, with about the same mileage. (Performance figures from Automobile Magazine, July '05.)
American automakers have turned loose a few fleet cars over the years that run on this same E85 mix, but refueling stations have been few and far between in the Midwest and virtually nonexistent anywhere else. (Gasohol, which is more common, and which I sampled in western Minnesota last year, runs about 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol.) Given the fact that Saab is part of the GM organization in fact, GM's Brazilian outpost, used to ethanol-based fuels by now, consulted on the Saab BioPower project it's theoretically possible that this engine, or even this particular model, could end up Stateside, though there'd have to be a lot of them to justify opening up a bunch more E85 pumps. (Yes, it does run on ordinary gasoline, but someone paying $35k for a Saab is, I suspect, not going to tolerate the performance hit.)