CLASSIC CAR REVIEW | Saab 9-3
Bravo, Sierra Alpha Alpha Bravo
In 2012 architects the world over were weeping onto their 1:8 scale drawings and wiping the tears away from their eyes onto their black slim fit polo neck jumpers. It was announced that Saab were dead!
Things were OK for Saab in the 70s. The Swedes craze for safety changed the way consumers looked at cars in terms of surviving a crash. The boffins at Saab threw their cars off cliffs, crushed them, hit them with hammers, shoved meatballs into the door locks and all other types of things that you and l wouldn’t subject our cars to.
The Swedes are known for being safety conscious. The majority of the time it’s cold and dark there. They also spend a great length of time knees deep in snow so you wouldn’t expect them to become known as makers of a sought after and admired convertible car. Cut the roof off any car and there is always the risk of you falling out of it if the wheels end up pointing towards the sun. Not a very Saab safety thing at all.
The Swedes gave way to some gay abandoning and in 1986 the 900 Convertible was born. The 900 is a serious classic now. In 1989 Saab sought the assistance of another manufacturer and unfortunately for them it was GM in America and Vauxhall Opel to those in Europe. GM took a brand known for innovation and quirky design features and presented the world with polished turds.
Come the 90s and the 900 convertible had become iconic. You could say it single-handedly moved Saab up from the doldrums to Audi territory. All this changed in 1994 when the “new 900” convertible was launched. A well established and fine car was made to feel like you were driving something with a chassis made of only just dried paper-mâché. The rebranded 9-3 was no better.
It wasn’t until 2003’s launch of the new second generation 9-3 that things started to get a bit better.
Today the last of the icons represents great value for money. Because of the demise of Saab as a company, prices remain low, it will forever remain that way.
I’m taking a 2005 9-3 1.8t Linear model for a test drive. This ‘new’ 9-3 was built for comfort and grace. Saab did a good job in disguising its Vauxhall Opel components. The 1.8 low-pressure turbo quietly produces 148bhp at 5500rpm. It has pace to keep up with the modern traffic but you’ll have to stir the gearstick around a bit. All but first gear are set to high in a bid to get maximum economy. In practice, this results in having to keep the revs up to no less than 1900rpm just so you can make good use of the torque the turbo engine produces. This coincides with 180Ib-ft of torque made within a short band from 2000 – 3500rpm. Less than 2000rpm and it feels lethargic. 0-60 time isn’t scintillating in the slightest, however the cruising speed is comfortably high. You could take to the flat-out Autobahns of Germany and make rapid progress.
By today’s standards for an old car, it still remains silky smooth. Roof down motoring makes it a joyous car to pilot. Indeed if it’s night time, you can select ‘night panel’ on the dashboard. This turns off all the facia lights except the speedometer and even this will only then show a maximum speed of 90mph. l am told that if you go beyond that, the rest of the dial illuminates all the way round. Something l didn’t get to try. Despite the sales blurb and use of fighter jets in TV commercials in the 80s, this is the only lasting reminder that Saab had any connection with aircraft at all. It was a gimmick and not a very good one either.
It no longer has that stab you in the back power of the original 900 turbo, After the launch of the “new 900” the turbo derivatives seemed to have been ‘blocked’ like strangers on Grindr with unfortunate profile pictures. In actual fact, Saab had no real sporty models at all after this.
Thankfully the boffins at Trollhättan had managed to take the chassis and give it the stiffness required when you cut almost 2 meters of the roof off a car. The magic also results in a stiff scuttle area too. Drive any car with a removable roof and place your fingers within the door glass and windscreen frame and you’ll notice movement. This is called scuttle shake. The ‘new’ 900/9-3 suffered terribly from this. The ‘new’ 9-3 like we have here doesn’t suffer from it at all with only the merest hint of it over jiggly road surfaces. There is also a nice sense of draft free cabin. Opened up with the windows up or down you don’t suffer from the usual cold draft that engulfs your neck. In this Saab, there is no need to buy the mesh curtain that you see on many open-top cars.
Owner Liz loves her roofless Saab. Partner Dave who never drives it with the roof down because it’s “so gay” has mentioned changing it. The reaction from her if he did would suggest he’d be able to sing soprano.
Being that high, the lovey might want to remove the roof after all.