Car and Driver Comparo

Let me get this right out the way first up – I hate this. I hated reating it and I hate having to write it up. It reeks of the smugness that can breed its way into an affluent society and especially amongst people within that society that have a fantastic, fun job to do for a living everyday. They get removed from the reality that everyday people have to face. They get complacent and picky about such things as the roatation of the cupholders.

My brother in law in Vancouver used to deal with such people for a living when he was the service manager for a Porsche dealership. One guy brought his Boxter in because there was an uneven number of stitches in the leather seats. He’d counted them and one seat had a few more stitches than the other. People with this much time on their hands and this level of pickiness ought to run the gauntlet of the Darwin Awards tryouts scheme – if such a thing exists. And if it doesn’t, then it should.

Rant over.

Now I can get on with giving you all the unfortunate news: that Car and Driver magazine has tested a group of 8 Sport Sedans and found our beloved Saab 9-3 SS, with the new V6 engine, lacking. They found it so lacking that they ranked it eighth out of eight in a field that included the Acura TL, the Audi A4 3.2 Quattro, the BMW 330i, the Cadillac CTS, the Infiniti G35, the Lexus IS350 and the Volvo S60R AWD.

I’d post a link to the article, but at the moment I believe it’s in print form only, so here’s a link to the fat-arsed C&D site. Thanks to Ryan M for scanning it and getting me a copy (even if it did give me heartburn).

So what do they say and why did they bag the sensational 9-3 Sport Sedan (which is still sensational despite their lazy-ass convenience-seeking donut-munching fudge-packing opinion)? Read on……

The first bone that I’ll pick with this test is the unofficial title as mentioned in the first 3 lines of the article: “our annual ‘just try to beat the 3-series test’“. You gotta give it to the momentum theory. Sportsmen the world over can dine out for years on the basis of either a freak occurence or a hard earned reputation. BMW are benefitting from the latter and rightly so, but when a bunch of journos are so entrenched in their love affair with a model it starts to raise serious doubts about the objectivity of the article. In fact, prior to writing their findings about each car they also admit to having feelings for the Infiniti as well – Surprise, surprise, guess which cars end up finishing 1 and 3 in the test……

Next, the bullsh*t reasonings for their eighth positioning of the 9-3:

The 9-3 shares some parts with Chevy and Opel cars. Welcome to the 2000’s lads. The Lexus share mucho parts with Toyotas. The Infiniti with Nissans and the Acura with Hondas. The Volvo undoubtedly has a little bit of Ford content somewhere and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Audi had a VW bit or two in there. Then there’s the Cadillac – ’nuff said. Yet when the Saab’s being reviewed, it’s noted and “such corner cutting doesn’t win points in this group.” There’s no listing of hte corners being cut, just a reference to common platforms as I’ve done in this paragraph. Surely if you’re going to demerit a car for that reason you need to substantiate rather than just smear.

This is going to sound like sour grapes here (and to an extent, I’ll unashamedly admit that it is), but I can’t imagine C&D’s journos having a whetted appetite when it comes to the Saab 9-3. They’re like little boys in a toyshop and the 9-3 is a little more sophisticated than that. Take their appreciation of the interior, for instance: “We counted 45 little buttons, and only fools would dare probe the fussy navigation system while in motion”.

OK, the buttons first. Who remembers the first time they got into their 900 or non-ACC 9000 and were confronted with the heating system’s vent controls with their arrows pointing here, there and everywhere? Hands up? And who spent a maximum of 5 minutes with the manual and then realised it was totally sensible, logical and user friendly and never had to refer to such literature ever again?

If you take a look at the 9-3 cockpit, it’s also logically laid out. The climate and entertainment controls are clustered. The SID controls can be customised. What’s so hard about this? The few days I’ve spent in charge of a 9-3 were nothing but a joy from the driver’s seat and that experience includes the time playing with the dash.

And with regards to Nav systems: I can’t speak about the one in the 9-3. Never used it. But aren’t you supposed to program it at rest and then go? Wouldn’t programming any nav system in motion be on a par with sending an SMS message on your mobile phone whilst driving? I wonder what else they advocate? Giving the seatbelts a miss because they aren’t quilted???

They also complain as the engine management system tends to cut power at around 6400rpm, which is a rev limit they hold frequently in their daily driving, as do we all – NOT.

Finally, they have some complaints about steering feel, body roll and structure flex. I’ve driven several 9-3 Sport Sedans and a few BMW’s. I’ve not driven the other competitors in this field. What I can say from my own experience is that there was nothing shabby at all about the handling of the 9-3. The BMW’s may well be better set up and fair enough if they are. But to completely can a car on this basis is a misrepresentation. The Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan is an excellent handling vehicle and it’d keep me more than happy if I was fortunate enough to have one in the driveway.

And right there is the most telling paragraph of all….As biased as I think C&D might be against Saab, I’m totally biased in Saab’s favour.

20% of C&D’s total scoring is based on their impressions of it being fun to drive and the ‘gotta have it’ factor – which for me would give the 9-3 top marks. For them it was bottom of the class, and it was this final set of totally subjective measures that lumped the Saab into last place. Prior to that it was mid-pack; not good enough but a respectable result for an under-resourced company.

C&D can shove their opinions where the sun don’t shine. There are certainly improvements that can be made to the 9-3, but it’s a fine car and getting better with time. Anyone who tries to talk me into looking at a Honda, Toyota, Nissan, VW, Ford, Caddy or BMW can just go right ahead and speak to the hand.

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  1. Hey Swade, I think the problem with C&D is they score all on testosterone. Having not driven all 8 of those cars back to back, I’ll guess that maybe they know something I don’t, and for 2 laps around a track the BMW may well be the best, but I still hold that from a true “real ownership” standpoint the Saab is best. It’s the little things that count.

    I think that’s why so many publications that try out a Saab long term just don’t want to give it back. I don’t buy my cars (cough{I don’t own a car the 9-5 is my dad’s}cough) er, I don’t recommend cars based on the “track day” factor, I go for long term ownership.

    Another thing, Saab may not handle the best at the limits like the Bimer, but Saab are set up to do their best in the situations you and I find ourselves in most often. I think that’s the best part about owning one, you don’t have to break the law (not too much anyway) or void the warranty to enjoy it.

    To sum up, I’m going to shamelessly rip off Jeremy Clarkston who said, describing the 9-5 (email me if you’ve not seen the video) that it was “Good in parts…better in others.”

  2. its hard not to take this sort of “journalism” personally but look at it this way; they can’t help it. They are but one step away from the hypothetical “monkeys with typewriters trying to write shakespeare” and the article in question surely reveals this.
    Its a shame for cars like SAAB which have a lot to offer but its unfortunately inevitable. The global 3 series journalism love-in is still in full swing and for those of us who can afford/justify a $90K+ compact sedan ( 330 Ci etc) , possibly relevant.
    For the rest of us plebs dealing with reality, there are more options out there and we’ll find them ourselves. Wheels mag are not far away from these goons in this matter, nor is the SMH Drive section: both of whom would apparently rather eat broken glass than constructively appraise a SAAB.

    None of this is too cast aspersions at BMW by the way, nice cars if thats your thing. However, as a German colleague of mine stated recently;
    “there’s no such thing as german sports cars”. Discuss.

  3. I was having a chat recently with a SCCA colleague. There’s going to be a big journo test of the 2006 9-3 later this year. About 40 or so journos being flown in for a drive. He cheekily quieried if he might be able to join in the test drive and was told he couldn’t as these guys thrash the crap out of them and push every button, knob and lever – pretty much constantly until they almost break.

    My question was – why? Why would you do that? Who does that to their own car and would want to hear about someone else’s thrashing? What would you hope to impart by telling a reader that the handbrake doesn’t stand up too well to 25 lusty blows with a crowbar?

    It just made me wonder.

  4. Ryans right…the everyday driving thing is really all that matters. And just wait till one of these jackasses hit some rain or snow. But I do question the wisdom of the V6 in a 9.3 as the
    2.3T (in the 9.5) has exact same HP/Nm numbers, better econ and emission and weighs maybe 1/3 less…oh right everybody else has a 6. Also i’ve
    hated ACC since 85 in the 9K, so i can see that the 40 buttons is distracting. What’s wrong with the classic 99/900/linear knobs? As far as nav
    systems, most will never have another…a road atlas is cheaper, easier, and safer. Overkill and testosterone trumps everytime. At least Saab has the best cupholder.

  5. Well you guys all said pretty much what I have in mind after picking up that issue of C&D. Yeah, Saabs have come in last or close to last place in previous comparos, but for the first time I really feel C&D didn’t spend enough time driving the 9-3SS, all the while getting all googoo-gaga’d over the new 3-series, the IS350 and the TL (as usual). I’m somewhat consoled that the A4 didn’t reach top 3, and they thrashed the S60 too, maybe even worse with words than they did to the 9-3SS. Overall a poor comparo not just because Saab came in last place, but I feel C&D didn’t conduct it with the *FULL* objectivity it deserved. But then again “C&D” and “objectivity” don’t belong in the same sentence …….

  6. I recall C&D liking Saabs pretty well in the 70’s/early 80s, particularly the turbo models. But later in the 80’s the competition got better, BMW’s 3 and 5 series continually got accolades (rightly so). I think part of the problem is until 2003, Saabs never compared well against the equivalent BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus in a “driver’s” magazine when track performance was part of the equation. Their comment about the 6400 RPM cutoff is ridiculous.

    Automobile and Road & Track are the only US car magazines I would peruse in a doctor’s office, and I generally find all of them a waste of time.

    That said, I like my Saab becuase I don’t drive on a track at high speed, and don’t intend to. A BMW is more car than I need or desire. I do wish the fit and finish were better in my Saab 9-3.

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