Saab History

Saab’s Legacy of Performance: The Collaborative Journey with Hirsch Performance

Experience the Saab 9-5 Aero Hirsch Performance: A Perfect Blend of Performance and Elegance

2002 Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon by Hirsch

For over half a century, the world of automobiles has been at the heart of Hirsch Performance AG‘s endeavors. Alongside sister companies like Hirsch AG, Hirsch Automobile AG, and Hirsch Ruckstuhl AG, Hirsch Performance AG boasts a rich history dating back nearly five decades. What began as a Saab dealership in 1967 has evolved into a leading center of expertise in vehicle enhancement, extending its influence far beyond the borders of Switzerland.

Hirsch Performance AG’s success is grounded in decades of specialized knowledge and expertise. The company’s product development is led by a team of employees with over 15 years of experience as Saab factory tuners – a brand that pioneered turbocharging in mass production vehicles. Keeping abreast of current market trends and technological advancements, Hirsch Performance AG conducts intensive research to create new and improved products. Valuable insights and inspiration are gleaned from dialogues with customers and dealers worldwide.

Cutting-Edge Infrastructure and Unwavering Quality Assurance

Hirsch Performance AG’s commitment to excellence is underscored by its state-of-the-art facilities and rigorous quality control measures. The modern development center, equipped with engine and performance test benches, allows for testing under extreme conditions. An air conditioning intake air conditioning machine enables the simulation of various climatic conditions. This meticulous approach ensures that Hirsch Performance AG’s enhancements maintain the everyday usability of standard models, offering consistent performance, maintenance intervals, and mileage.

Dedicated Employees with Over 15 Years of Saab Factory Tuner Experience Lead Product Development
Dedicated Employees with Over 15 Years of Saab Factory Tuner Experience Lead Product Development

The expertise at Hirsch Performance AG encompasses all aspects of vehicle development. Performance upgrades are meticulously documented and homologated in compliance with Swiss regulations for all vehicles. The Swiss type approvals covered by their products are listed accordingly.

Engine Testing at Hirsch Performance AG

Within Hirsch Performance AG’s soundproof testing chamber, engines undergo thorough examination. Harsh environmental conditions are simulated through temperature and pressure adjustments, replicating extreme climates. Computer-controlled regulation of coolant and intake air temperature enables the simulation of traffic jams on scorching summer days, for instance.

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These extreme tests guarantee that critical parameters such as cylinder pressure, exhaust temperature, turbocharger speed, and pressure conditions before and after the turbocharger remain within safe limits, preventing damage. Transmission and drivetrain protection mechanisms are also in place, including adjustments to control unit software, if needed.

Sleek Saab 9-3 and 9-5 Latest Generations with Hirsch Performance Aerodynamic Packages and Wheels
Sleek Saab 9-3 and 9-5 Latest Generations with Hirsch Performance Aerodynamic Packages and Hirsch Wheels

Hirsch Performance AG employs the same tools as manufacturers for software calibration. Using control unit emulators, engineers optimize maps in real-time while the engine is under load. Additional sensors, such as temperature, pressure, turbocharger speed, and cylinder pressure sensors, continuously provide data.

Unlike aftermarket control units that may tamper with sensor signals, Hirsch Performance AG ensures that all protective functions remain intact. This means that the engine control unit in the vehicle is always aware of the engine’s performance and can intervene immediately if necessary, preventing further damage in case of a sensor or actuator malfunction.

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Warranty and Guarantee

Hirsch Performance AG stands behind the durability proven on test benches and on the road. The base manufacturer’s warranty remains intact (up to 100,000 km or 3 years from the warranty start date). Any warranty work must be performed by one of their authorized dealers (see terms and conditions).

A Journey Through History

Hirsch Performance AG’s highly motivated team has achieved remarkable feats. What began as a small company with a vision has transformed into a globally renowned name in vehicle enhancement. In 2002, this small yet highly specialized team earned the status of the official Saab factory tuner.

The experience gained in working with turbocharged engines during the Saab partnership has greatly benefited the team at Hirsch Performance AG. With Mercedes-Benz, Hirsch Performance AG found a solid foundation for their developments. High-tech infrastructure and quality management were adapted to meet the new requirements, and enhancements were made where necessary.

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Mercedes-Benz produces formidable vehicles, and Hirsch Performance AG’s goal is to elevate their strengths further. “Built for a reason” – products from Hirsch Performance AG combine a unique driving experience and passion with the reliability and safety typical of Mercedes-Benz.

Once upon a time in Switzerland – Saab 9-5 Hirsch Performance

In the early 2000s, Saab was experiencing some of its best sales years, with the 9-5 being a top-seller. However, the 9-5 had aged, and a boost to its image was in order. Saab sought external assistance from a country known more for expensive watches and exclusive chocolates. The story begins in the small town of St. Gallen in the northeastern part of Switzerland, where the Hirsch dealership had established itself as a major player in Saab sales, posing a significant challenge to German premium competitors.

Incredibly Aggressive Sports Styling of the Saab 9-5 Sportwagon by Hirsch Performance
Incredibly Aggressive Sports Styling of the Saab 9-5 Sportwagon by Hirsch Performance

Around the turn of the century, Hirsch introduced several optimized models based on Saab’s lineup, with the moniker “Troll.” These cars featured significantly upgraded engines, improved chassis, more aggressive exteriors, and other performance-enhancing upgrades. The quality was high enough to impress decision-makers in Trollhättan, and the partnership was forged. The decision was unsurprising, as BMW had M, Mercedes had AMG, and now it was time for the small manufacturer from Trollhättan to create its own performance division. Hirsch models targeted consumers seeking something extra beyond the top-of-the-line Aero model and a more personalized experience.

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Troll Became Saab Performance by Hirsch

In 2002, the first result of the partnership was launched. The Troll name, which Hirsch had used, had ties to both Sweden and Saab’s hometown, Trollhättan, but it was considered not sophisticated enough for obvious reasons. Instead, performance upgrades were introduced under the self-explanatory brand “Saab performance by Hirsch” at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2002. Sales began in October through selected dealers in Sweden, England, Germany, and Switzerland.

Hirsch Performance Exhaust System and Bold Rear Spoiler Enhance the Rear End of the Saab 9-5 Aero
Hirsch Performance Exhaust System and Bold Rear Spoiler Enhance the Rear End of the Saab 9-5 Aero

According to Rene Hirsch, who was the CEO of Hirsch Performance AG at the time but now sells Lamborghini and Mercedes, “The products we’ve developed for the Saab 9-5 Aero are a natural extension of the car’s sporty base character. For example, the engine characteristics don’t fundamentally change; we just enhance them.” And the components that affect design are clearly functional, adding more to the car than just cosmetic features.

The Geneva Motor Show

At the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, two levels of performance optimization were introduced (280 and 305 horsepower), along with an exterior package and an interior package. By the 2003 model year, the optimized cars were on display at dealerships, and press vehicles were made available to the media.

First Impressions

The first thing you notice as you approach the car is its discreet but significantly more aggressive appearance, thanks to the front, skirt package, and roof spoiler. The performance-oriented look is accentuated by the 18-inch alloy wheels, made from an aluminum-magnesium alloy to reduce unsprung weight. At the rear, you can’t miss the distinctive dual exhaust outlets.

Carbon Fiber Interior

Upon opening the door, you are greeted by carbon fiber door sill trims that complement the carbon fiber panel and the substantial yet ergonomically designed steering wheel, also equipped with carbon fiber accents. It was a statement of luxury, especially in 2003 when carbon fiber as a material was often reserved for the most exclusive sports cars like Koenigsegg and Pagani. The former press car is generously equipped, featuring a Saab innovation – ventilated seats, introduced with the 9-5 in 1997. These ventilated seats feature perforated leather to facilitate proper airflow in the lower regions.

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Saab Performance by Hirsch Seats - photo by Dejan Kondić from his 9-5 Horsch
Saab Performance by Hirsch Seats – photo by Dejan Kondić from his 9-5 Hirsch

A common misconception is that the fans blow air, but they actually suck it, which experts at Saab considered the healthier option. Now you know! In any case, the seats offer an exceptional blend of comfort and lateral support, and there are few seats on the market that can match them despite their age. The only criticism could be the somewhat high seating position, partly due to the aforementioned fans, which add some height.

When you settle into these comfortable seats and prepare to close the door, you’ll notice that Hirsch has replaced the plastic door handles with leather-covered ones, enhancing the overall sense of quality. The car is started in classic Saab fashion by turning the ignition key, which is located between the front seats.

Saab Hirsch Performance carbon-fiber central console- photo by Dejan Kondić from his Saab 9-5 Hirsch
Saab Hirsch Performance carbon-fiber central console- photo by Dejan Kondić from his Saab 9-5 Hirsch

Crisp Engine Sound

The engine noise is subdued but enhanced compared to a regular 9-5 Aero. Hirsch has replaced the entire exhaust system from the downpipe to the two tailpipes, and it shows. At the moment of ignition, the idle is a bit higher, intensifying the engine’s presence before it quickly settles down, and you can engage first gear and roll away.

The somewhat imprecise gearbox received its fair share of criticism at launch but now, a few years later, it feels charming. Similarly, the low-speed characteristics require skillful manipulation of the clutch pedal to avoid unpleasant juddering. The 9-5 Hirsch is not about cruising slowly; it’s about stretching its legs on endless highways and motorways.

A Power Explosion

Once the engine and gearbox reach operating temperature, it’s time to see what it can do. At first, nothing much happens, and you might wonder if everything is functioning correctly. Then, the orange needle crosses 2500 revolutions per minute, and it feels like an explosion of power has been unleashed under the hood. Racing driver Hubert Bergh commented on the power development when he test drove the car in 2003, saying, “The power curve in this one feels like there are a thousand horses under the hood.” In other words, there’s plenty of power, which, combined with the high gearing, promises fantastic long-distance capabilities. The ultimate 9-5 experience is to settle into the comfortable seats, activate Night Panel, and set your sights on a distant destination – perhaps somewhere on the continent.

Sharing Brakes with Ferrari

It’s evident that Hirsch Performance AG engineers prioritized fast long-distance driving characteristics when developing the Performance package. The chassis characteristics are sporty but not overly harsh, and Hirsch has upgraded the brakes to substantial units from Italian manufacturer Brembo. The brake calipers are of the same type as those found on many high performance cars.

Saab Performance by Hirsch Brakes
Saab Performance by Hirsch Brakes

The Sum of It All

The 9-5 is one of Saab’s most iconic models ever, and the Hirsch model unquestionably reigns supreme when it comes to performance and exclusivity. As record numbers of Saabs are scrapped, unique models in good condition will appreciate in value, and it’s time to acquire a good specimen before it’s too late. The first-generation Aero model has already hit rock bottom in terms of pricing.

Hirsch Performance exhaust
Hirsch Performance exhaust

Experiencing one of Saab’s fastest models ever provides a fantastic insight into what Swedish engineering (with a touch of Swiss expertise) could achieve in the early 2000s. The 9-5 Performance by Hirsch offers a delightful overall experience, but it’s also understandable that competition from Germany was fierce. However, it would have needed at least 100 more horsepower and all-wheel drive to truly compete with the likes of the BMW M5, Audi RS6, and Mercedes E63 AMG.

Included in the Performance Package

  • Larger turbochargers (Garrett TB28) and intercooler
  • Larger intake pipes, a different fuel pressure regulator
  • Upgrades to the Trionic engine management system
  • Firmer springs and dampers, 10 millimeters lower ride height
  • 18-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero Rosso 235/40 tires
  • Front and rear spoiler package, unique side skirts
  • Mesh grille inserts
  • Complete sport exhaust system, including a sports catalytic converter and separate tailpipes
  • Dashboard in gray carbon fiber, leather-covered door sill trims
  • Leather-clad door handles
  • Drilled aluminum pedals
Konstantin Jokić
an automotive journalist and dedicated Saab enthusiast hailing from Novi Sad, Serbia, is a valuable contributor to With a wealth of experience in the automotive industry and a strong affinity for Saab cars, Konstantin brings a unique perspective to the blog's content. His in-depth knowledge, engaging writing style, and passion for Saab automobiles enrich the platform, catering to both local and global Saab enthusiasts. Through his articles and insights, Konstantin strengthens the sense of community among Saab lovers and helps elevate as a trusted source for Saab-related information.


  • I had a discussion with a SAAB representative back in 2005-2006 (don’t remember which year).

    Since car manufactures’ attitude towards third party tuning companies has been quite…hmm….uncomfortable I was surprised SAAB chose to co-operate with Hirsch.

    The representative answered: “Well because of GM’s unwillingness to invest more money on SAAB we had nothing to present @ Geneva Motor Show. Since we had seen Hirsch products we decided to co-operate with them.”
    Not a bad move I must say.

    Too bad they don’t have a tuning kit for NG9-5 TTiD :(

  • I had the original Hirsch demonstrator from Saab Reading in the UK back in 1998. It was based upon the then 9-5 SE auto and came with uprated adjustable suspension, new exhaust, bigger wheels, much bigger brakes!, new seat covers, an aluminium dash facing, and a 250bhp upgraded engine ECU. It was a very accomplished car and certainly didn’t feel like an after-market upgrade. It went well, stopped very well, and went round corners significantly better than the car it was based on. The later cars had too much power IMO, I’ve heard stories from reliable sources that they went through engines at an alarming rate, resulting in a lot of warranty claims. Still, they looked the part and were more fun to drive than the subsequent 9-5 Aero that I bought afterwards. I really miss Saab😔

  • Martin Finlayson ..
    I have another of the 95 hot Aero demonstrators from Reading SAAB !! She’s 24 years old in February 2004 !!
    Still performing well and looking beautiful, bodywork almost as new , just clocked 157k ! Don’t think there’s another left, going to be selling soon.

    • Curious about photos and info I’d love to buy hirsch parts I want to built my 2004 9-5 sedan or wagon into a troll

  • Many don’t know but here is a proper write up about the rare almost super car status Saab was hoping to head towards if GM had only given them more length on their short leash! Yet again as ad story of mismanagement by the gigantic corporation that is GM! Killing Saab, Holden, Pontiac, Saturn, Oldsmobile and many others. I could do without GMC (basically Chevy) and Buick if only they X’d them instead.

  • I’m just gonna get to the point. Please answer if you can….”PLEASE”: Currently or “RIGHT NOW”, AS OF FEBRUARY 29, 2024 are there body kits and high performance kits for engine tuning for the 2011, SAAB 9-5, 4iL Turbo SAAB’S that were made in or shipped to the United States by GM, “YES or NO” ?. If yes, where can I purchase these products who ever makes, sells and installs them. I’m in Sacramento, California, USA.

    Thank you sooooo much, Cam. I’m at: Talk to me baby, talk to me!!

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