You know it’s spring in the North…

….when the papers are rolling out tests of the 9-3 Convertible.  Sun’s out – top down. 

I’ve taken a few short-ish rides in Saab convertibles and whilst they were fun, I was never really convinced.  Then I borrowed a 9-3 ragtop for a day.  Our then-nearly-16 yearold was having his school social and wanted a fancy ride for the night, so I arranged to borrow the 9-3 from our local dealer, Motors Saab.  What a sensational car.  Comfortable, quick, stable.  It had everything, including the 20 second push button top, which definitely has the "look at me" factor covered when you’re stopped at the lights and need a bit of sun (if you’re that way inclined.)

This review is from the Globe and Mail in Canada.  Enjoy.

Saab pushes all the right pleasure buttons

By BOB ENGLISH

Thursday, May 5, 2005 Updated at 8:39 AM EDT

Globe and Mail Update

Saab lopped the lid off its 900 model in 1986 to create its first, and what turned out to be a surprisingly good-looking, four-seater convertible.

Since then, I’ve driven drop-top cars from this Swedish car maker in the desert of Arizona; the Maritime Alps in France; above the Arctic Circle to Nordkapp, the most northerly point in Europe under a midnight sun, and, most recently, on a bright spring day in Oshawa.

And all have been remarkably enjoyable experiences, even Oshawa in April.

Saab may be a somewhat unlikely source of something as frivolous as a convertible — given Sweden’s Canadian-like climate and its people’s similarly innate practicality and conservatism — but it seems to get this type of car right, nevertheless.

Maybe it’s something to do with a symbolic shedding of the Swedish equivalent of toques and galoshes and celebrating the arrival of spring’s warm sunny days that inspires the designers.

And that’s just what the 2005 Saab 9-3 Arc allowed me to do.

The asphalt expanse of General Motors’ Oshawa industrial complex parking lot was dusty and desolate after the long winter, but the freshly buffed 9-3 was easy to spot among the ranks of sedans, SUVs and pickups. Nothing dowdy about this stylish Nordic worshipper of Sol.

I rapidly doffed its top (one button, 20 seconds, and neatly folded away in the trunk) to let the warm spring sunshine in.

It wasn’t warm early in the morning, but enough to make top-down motoring more than comfortable enough at modest speeds, particularly with the windows up and the heater going. There’s little wind bluster to disturb you in this mode, even at highway speeds.

As the day warmed, I drove along the shores of Lake Ontario, dropping in at a yacht basin and checking out various parks before heading inland. The windows soon came down (although I didn’t turn the heater off) allowing the full sensation of open-air motoring that makes a convertible such a treat — and a more practical one these days, thanks to advances in technology.

The 9-3’s structure is solid and safe thanks to a "ring-of-steel" reinforcement that links front, side and rear structures to compensate for the rigidity usually provided by the roof.

Saab has a reputation for safety and the car is designed with that in mind. Rollover protection is looked after by pop-up rear roll bars and a strengthened windshield structure.

The convertible top has also benefited from advances in design and material. Nothing "rag-top" about this one. It looks good, is thickly padded, making the car acceptably quiet with it up at speed, and as noted, it is easy to put up and down.

It folds itself away under a hard tonneau panel into an accordion-like soft storage well that makes available more trunk space. There’s a useful enough 351 litres top up, 251 litres top down.

But convertibles are about pushing your pleasure buttons, not winning awards for practicality.

Which is why the 9-3 Arc comes with a 2.0-litre, twin-cam, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 210 hp at 5,500 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, but ours came with the optional five-speed shift-it-yourself-if-you-like automatic.

Performance is decent with 0-100 km/h taking a smartish 8.6 seconds and the sprint from 80 km/h to 120 km/h just seven seconds. The automatic works well with the turbo motor ensuring smooth drivability.

And the car’s structure does feel quite rigid, although some steering column and cowl shake are apparent. This is made more noticeable because the MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension is set up to deliver a sporty level of handling.

The optional ($900) 17-inch rims and 225/45R 17-inch all-season tires on the test car add a slightly jarring note of their own. Overall ride quality suited my backside’s sensors fine.

And the handling, including as it does prompt response to steering input and fairly flat cornering, tickled my driving pleasure centre. Equipment includes ABS, stability, traction and cruise control systems.

Your visual and tactile senses receive their share of stimulation as well. The car looks great from the outside, as I think all Saab convertibles have, with a pleasing yet distinctive shape.

The black top and silver paint create a dramatic effect that might just be worth the $1,220 price of the latter. The test car’s interior was done in a techie-looking black, with some wood highlights and a pale cream leather on well-shaped front seats.

The rear seat, with little shoulder room, will be a too-tight squeeze for two adults (even one won’t be very comfortable) and certainly claustrophobic with the top up.

Those up front are well catered to with that effective climate control system, a good audio setup and a range of comfort and convenience features, now with a nav system available, all neatly arrayed on a mostly flat black background.

The 9-3 convertible is available in the Arc model reviewed here for $57,800 (as tested, $59,920) and a sportier, although with the same engine, Aero for $58,300 with six-speed manual.

A great car to enjoy a summer day in, or even an early spring one.

Specifications

2005 Saab 9-3 Arc

Type: Two-door convertible

Price: $57,800 (as tested $59,920)

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline four

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.7 city/8.1 highway

Alternatives: BMW 325Ci, 330 Ci, Audi A4 1.8T/3.0

Like: Great look; strong engine; a feel-good car

Don’t like: Impractical rear seat makes the 9-3 essentially a two-seater

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