Until the Kings traded Chris Webber, Sacramento was always one of my favourite places in the US and right up there on my ‘places to get to’ list for my eventual visit.
I haven’t forgiven the city for letting C-Webb go, but this review of the 9-3 Convertible published in the Sacramento Bee (click below to read) is a start along the road of forgiveness.
Richard Williamson: SAAB RAGTOP SHOOTS THE BREEZE
(SH) – Odds are that a well-heeled automotive shopper who took time to test-drive the Saab 9-3 convertible would want to take it home that day.
The problem is getting him or her into the showroom.
On paper, the Saab 9-3 does not look that impressive. With a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine, the compact convertible cranks a healthy, but not breathtaking 175 horsepower or 210 horses in the stronger version. Getting people excited enough to write a $40,000 check could be a challenge – until they’ve actually driven the car.
Then, there’s the issue of Saab, itself. Long known as a niche model with a fan base dedicated to looking different on the highway, Saab is less of a household word than the other Swedish automotive brand, Volvo.
Over the six years that General Motors has owned Saab, the parent has gradually sought to broaden the luxury brand’s appeal, adding a V6 engine to the fleet and boosting dealership attractions with a new sport utility vehicle.
The difficult balancing act for GM is to widen the market without losing the fan base dedicated to quirky import qualities.
To that end, the 9-3 retains its ignition switch in the center console, even though the key has become electronic ala Mercedes-Benz. The dash derived from Saab’s aeronautic roots maintains the tradition, with big, latticework air vents and a cockpit feel. The 9-3 convertible is clearly a performance car with the same crisp handling characteristics Saab has always been known for.
But changes have occurred that should benefit Saab in the long run. The odd body style that defined the 9-3’s predecessor, the 900, has vanished. And most significantly, the turbo-lag that once plagued the entry-level Saab is a mere memory.
Indeed, the turbocharger on the 2-liter engine kicks in so swiftly and smoothly that you might not even suspect the booster had been planted in the engine bay. This improvement allows Saab to retain its trademark relationship with the turbocharger while competing with rivals powered by V6 engines.
Even with the top up, the 9-3 convertible is loads of fun to drive. But take the top down by pushing a single button – no manual latches to release – and you convert a competent car into a joyride. The completely automated top is a wonder to behold, moving the rear glass window out of the way, opening the storage compartment, stashing the top and then closing the storage cover with a convincing click.
The roof is hydraulically powered and deploys in 20 seconds while the engine is running. Curiously, the roof automatically expands the capacity of the trunk through an accordion-like compression system. When the roof is in position, the well is fully retracted, freeing storage space.
Built in Graz, Austria, instead of Saab’s home in Trollhatten, Sweden, along with the other 9-3s, the convertible requires special structural engineering due to its lack of a hard top. The 2005 model represents the second year of the current generation introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model.
In its new incarnation, the 9-3 grew 2 inches in width and 2.8 inches in the wheelbase while retaining the same overall length.
The aluminum, four-cylinder engine is 33 pounds lighter than its predecessor a well as smoother, quieter and more compact.
The convertible comes with the 210-horsepower version of the engine with a standard six-speed manual transmission. The review car was equipped with an $1,350 optional Sentronic automatic that allows you to choose standard six-speed auto shifting or manual, clutchless shifts.
Although safety is typically not the highest concern of convertible buyers, Saab has taken steps to improve passengers’ chances in a rollover. An active protection system combines pop-up rear roll bars with front seatbelt pre-tensioning and reinforcement of the A-pillars.
For the 2005 models, Saab has expanded the ragtop lineup with a Linear version to go along with the ARC trim level. A DVD-based navigation system is also available for $2,295.
WHAT’S NEW: Options, trim level.
PLUSES: Fun to drive, automatic top, styling, performance.
MINUSES: Price, capacity, 4-cylinder engine limits appeal.
BOTTOM LINE: Pricey joyride.