Oh, so cute.

Remember your first real experience with a Saab and all the things you noticed that made you think ‘Yeah, this might be alright’?

I think this might be a cadet journalist doing his first Saab motoring review.  Nice car to do it with, too.  A fully loaded Aero convertible.

Key cute observations:

  • It has a turbo guage!!
  • It has a groovy night panel thingy that dims the lights
  • You can open the top from the outside
  • The key has no metal bits, and my personal favourite
  • The key isn’t in the usual place, it’s in between the seats!!!

It’s the little things that sell a car sometimes.  Read on.  This is a good review of a not-new car and worthwhile just to get back that feeling of when you first met ‘the Swede’.

In these first really beautiful days of spring, the temperatures are soaring, the birds are chirping and, more importantly, convertibles are out in full force. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options in the world of ragtops, especially here in the Snow Belt. Convertibles in general stand out in traffic just because they’re going topless, but there are few machines available that garner attention due to its design.

The Saab 9-3 convertible not only gets noticed because it’s a drop-top, but also because of its striking features. Our friends at Gordon Saab on Washtenaw were gracious enough to lend us a Laser Red model for a few hours on Monday. It was over sixty-degrees and sunny, by the way; perfect weather for topless motoring.

Our model was equipped with a 2.0-liter, high output turbo, four-cylinder engine generating 210 horsepower. It also featured Saab’s Electronic Stability Program, a five-speed transmission and the ‘ReAxs’ rear suspension system that allows the rear wheels to help steer the car.

All of that fancy hardware pays off in this application. Handling is top-notch, power is more than plentiful and the transmission is smooth in its operation, even in its manual mode.

What’s surprising is how solid this convertible is. In most convertible cars, special bracing needs to be added to the underside of the car for support because there is no roof. The roof of a car is responsible for much of the structure of the car, and if there is no roof, other measures to strengthen the vehicle must be taken. This Saab is, by far, the most solid convertible I have ever driven.

Over railroad tracks and Michigan potholes there was very little cowl shake, the suspension absorbed the impact of the bumps very well and there were no rattles or squeaks that would suggest poor craftsmanship. On the contrary, this Saab feels and drives quite nicely and is obviously very well put together.

Putting the top down very could be the easiest thing in the world. Press and hold an oddly shaped button on the dash and the top automatically folds down into its enclosed space behind the back seats. The top operates smoothly and quickly, folding from up to completely down and stowed in about 20 seconds. There are no latches to unlock or covers to snap on, its fully automated. You can even lower your top from outside your car using a button on the key fob. How cool is that?!

The Saab 9-3 convertible comes in three different trim options, Linear, Arc and Aero. Our tester was a loaded Aero model and featured 17-inch alloy wheels, a 300 watt CD stereo with 13 speakers, power mirrors, windows and door locks, leather steering wheel and two tone leather seating surfaces, projector beam headlights and heated seats.

The cockpit is driver oriented and finding a comfortable seating position is easy with power seats and mirrors. The steering column also adjusts to your reach. The seats are supportive with good side bolsters that hold your backside tight through the sharpest corners.

The gauges are easy to read and intuitive with a tachometer, speedometer and even a turbo gauge that shows you how hard the turbocharger is working. Buttons for the radio and HVAC controls are confusing at first, but easily deciphered with time. Saab also installed something they call ‘Night Panel’ in this car. Night Panel reduces the amount of glare while driving at night by turning off all the gauges except the speedometer. If something should require your attention, it will blink on. The car’s Profiler system allows the driver to customize many of the settings such as the climate system, anti-theft alarm and rain sensors.

The 9-3 convertible has earned a five-star crash test rating from EuroNCAP and features a roll-over protection system named DynaCage, active head restraints and airbags at the front of the car and on the sides of the two front seats. Also incorporated into the body are front and rear crumple zones.

This Swedish company does things a little differently and one of the coolest little features of this car is the ignition. The ignition is located on the center console between the two front seats, not on the steering column. The placement makes the most sense. No more leaning down to find the ignition hole or searching for it in the dark. It’s right out there in the open and easy to find.

The key itself is different too. It’s not really an actual key. It’s an electronic fob that fits in a matching hole in the ignition. Pretty neat, no protruding metal involved, which means no more jabbing keys hanging out in your pocket.

As with other convertibles, there isn’t much room in the trunk with the top down. A set of golf clubs or a few bags of groceries will fit just fine, which is probably enough for most people. But with the top up, the 9-3 has more space than you’d think; 12.4 cubic feet in fact, plenty of room for those large items such as luggage or the 18-roll pack of paper towel.

Saab also offers ski and snowboard racks, windsurfing and surfboard rack and even a bike rack. The racks can be mounted on the trunk lid of the car and can be used with the top up or down.

New Saabs come with a four-year/50,000 mile warranty, a ten-year anti-corrosion warranty, three-years/36,000 mile no-charge scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance.

Our 2005 test model came well equipped for a price of $45,170. A base 9-3 Linear can be had at under $37,000. Not a bad price for such a great looking and driving car. Other comparably equipped competitors like the Audi A4 Cabriolet, BMW 3-series convertible and the Porsche Boxter S are all a few thousand more. And for that, you don’t even get the quirkiness that you get when buying a Saab.

Nothing could make this spring more enjoyable than a fancy new ragtop ride. The 9-3 convertible has the looks, the brains and the personality to be compatible with a large variety of drivers and their pocketbooks. This is one sweet Swede, and it definitely deserves a look.

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