On Saabs and journos

I’ve covered a lot of road tests here on Trollhattan Saab over the last two years. One thing I’ve learned is that some journos just don’t get it.

Being around the cars so much and actually living with them, I know, like you do, that they’re an incredibly good blend of versatility and performance. How many other cars can you take to the track to belt out a few hot laps, then go home and load up your friends motorbike into the back? All the while you’re sitting in perfect comfort and looking cool in one of the classic automotive designs of all time: the Saab 900.

This is the heritage that modern Saabs have grown from and whilst they’ve lost it a little with the elimination of the hatch a few years ago, they’ve regained some of that original cachet with the advent of the SportCombi.

A lot of motoring journos haven’t lived this, however. And it often shows in their writing. it’s like they don’t know how to assess a Saab. Difference is not a good thing in these situations. The journo has a job to do and that is to produce a coherent article that makes them look like they know what they’re on about.

If they don’t know what they’re on about then it’s obviously the car’s fault. In a form-dictates-function world, a car that’s built the other way around takes some time to get used to.

A few weeks ago I featured an article called Man Tests 9-3, Forgets Guide Dog…. In this review, our tester, Matt Nauman, couldn’t see the difference between the button dash and the new dash in the 9-3. He found the car to be a pretty good drive, but was left a little cold by the subtlety of the styling, which was fine with me.

One visitor to this site, Randall W, contacted Mr Nauman and expressed some feedback on the review. His letter and Nauman’s reply follow:


I read your article reviewing both the Saab 9-3 and the Volvo S80. I just wanted to mention a couple things:

(Apart from the cars being in different classes, which I am sure many have mentioned already)

While you brought up both the companies’ shortcomings in similar fashion, it is not hard to see your general distaste for the Saab brand. I won’t lay into you about the virtues of Saab or anything, so don’t worry. But let me mention this:

I am a pretty average guy who lives in Utah. I have driven Fords most my life, and a couple late model Toyotas; I own and have driven a ’97 Accord the last few years; and last year I bought a used Saab (2002 9-5 Arc). What I have learned through the long-term experience of mainstream brands and more recently the Saab badge is that Saab isn’t supposed to be flashy. You’d be right in saying the Saab 9-3 interior is unassuming- but what you don’t mention is that’s the goal , not a design oversight.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Saab USA doesn’t sell very many vehicles- it’s a much different goal in mind than what many are used to in the US, or in short, to a very different audience. So much rides on appearance here (Escalade and its bling come to mind, among others). In addition, many of the luxury cars today are bought as status symbols (BMW is the quintessential example today- the 3-Series is just about everywhere) whereas Saabs are the anti-establishment vehicle. It’s an odd approach, it’s true. They just simply aren’t trying to replace BMW or Audi, they are the opposite of such big companies.

If you expect your luxury car to brag loudly, you’re almost definitely not going to like a Saab.

Oh, and the floor-mounted ignition is more a Saab thing than a Scandinavian thing, wouldn’t you agree? I can’t think of another company that still does that today, if ever.


Randall W

To which Mr Nauman replied:

All good points, Randall. And I think you’ve identified Saab and its appeal correctly. I should have noted more strongly that it probably doesn’t just speak to me. But, I do think that GM has spent more time and money coming up with not-very-Saablike vehicles such as the 9-7x than in figuring out what the future of Saab will look (and drive) like.

(And if you haven’t seen the inside of a Volvo lately, it’s probably worth a look at the next SLC auto show or if you’re even near a dealer.)

But I appreciate your comments and criticisms, and the fact that you read my story.

Matt, 2/5

PS: And, yes, that floor mounted ignition is a Saab thing, not Volvo. And other than Porsche putting it the left of the steering wheel, I think nobody else does much different with the ignition, although that’s changing as more and more automaker are now using stop/start buttons to replace the old key slot.

Thankfully, he’s identified in the letter that the Saab didn’t speak to him. I just wish the same sentiment were expressly stated in the review so that reported deficiencies in the car were viewed by the reader in the correct perspective.

You’ll rarely get a totally objective review from me. I’m a Saab nut and this website is totally geared for that. I’m passionate about driving them and I love they way they’re styled and the fact that they make total sense for me.

But I don’t get paid to write reviews for a living.

This week, Saab have conducted a 60th Anniversary event in San Diego with a bunch of journalists and bloggers from around the US in attendance. It’ll be interesting to see the contrast in styles from the different sources that report on it. At that event they’re not only driving the 60th Anniversary models, they’re getting a chance to drool over and even drive some of the Saab vehicles in GM’s Heritage Collection. They’re getting a real chance to see where Saab’s come from and whilst it’s not as good as living with them day to day, it’s a perspective that many of them wouldn’t otherwise see.

The guy I’ve asked to go along for TS, 1985Gripen, has been writing about it (part 1 and part 2) with a level of honesty, passion, nervousness and enthusiasm befitting a treasure hunter stepping into an untouched King Tut’s tomb. I’m sure he’s going to come away from the event with a much deeper appreciation for the brand.

It’ll be interesting to see what the mainstream journos come back with and how they approach Saabs in the future.

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  1. land rover copied Saab and put the ignition between the seats in one of their earlier Ranger Rover models I believe. Didn’t last long as far as I am concerned.

    I totally agree with the gentleman who wrote to the journalists. He nailed Saab’s approach to design and practicality dead on.

  2. Thanks, Swade, for posting it. You put it nicely:

    “Thankfully, he’s identified in the letter that the Saab didn’t speak to him. I just wish the same sentiment were expressly stated in the review so that reported deficiencies in the car were viewed by the reader in the correct perspective.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

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