Following is a write-up by Mike M, aka 1985Gripen, who attended the Saab USA 60th Anniversary press event, which included some time in vehicles from the GM Heritage Collection.
The main purpose of the event was for Saab to display their 60th Anniversary special editions of the 9-3 and 9-5 ranges.
This is a pretty interesting situation. Mike’s in a similar situation to many visitors to this site. He’s a Saab fan, has owned a few of them but wasn’t personally familiar with the latest Saab have to offer. In short, he was exactly like me a couple of years ago, prior to starting this blog.
So what did he make of them?
Quite a bit actually. Read on….
Reflecting on all I’ve written so far, I feel like I have bypassed the whole point of the SAAB 60th Anniversary press event. I was so distracted by the surroundings, the Heritage Collection, spending time with Erik Carlsson, Bob Sinclair, Jan-Willem Vester, Leanne Wandoff, John Libbos, Jorgen Nylen, and Jay Spenchian, and the whole hotel “experience” that I’ve yet to do what I was truly there for: to experience and report to you, the SAAB Community, on the SAAB 60th Anniversary vehicles.
First, let me give you some personal context: my thoughts on SAAB over the last few years.
Fair or not, my opinion of SAAB as a whole has declined over the years. I have felt like SAAB peaked with the Classic 900 and they’ve gone downhill from there. I’m realistic and understand that SAAB couldn’t continue to sell the C900 for another 20 years. Sales were already diminishing in the early-90’s. Every model has a life cycle, and all good things must come to an end.
When the NG900 arrived I was underwhelmed. I didn’t like anything about it, from its shape to its interior. I’m not the only one, either. Some people refer to this model as the “GM900” as a description that’s part indicative of GM’s 50% ownership at the time and part derogatory. In my opinion, the Classic 900 was the last “real” SAAB. Well, technically I guess that would be the SAAB 9000 but the 9000 never really “did” anything for me.
When the current generation 9-3 Sport Sedan was introduced in 2003 I was even more disappointed. My thoughts at the time?
Where’s the “hockey stick”?!?!
A SAAB without a hatch!?!? Where’s the utility!?!?
Not only that, IMHO it was worse than ugly. It was boring. It just didn’t look like a SAAB. I was sure it was a great car and all, but just look at it. You might as well have bought a Toyota Camry.
I had read at the time that SAAB decided they would move away from the 3-door and 5-door body style because Americans “just don’t like hatches” and that in order to compete with other European manufacturers like AUDI and BMW, SAAB would have to dump the hatch.
At the time the 9-3 Sport Sedan was introduced I was walking through a parking garage while taking my mother to see a movie. I pointed out a 9-3 Sport Sedan parked and said, “there’s a new SAAB”. She said, “Where?”. I pointed and said “right there”. She asked me, “That’s a SAAB?”, then added “it looks like a Honda or something”. SAAB had lost its distinctiveness in an effort to appeal to more potential buyers.
Whenever I would go to the local SAAB dealer to buy a part for one of my SAABs I would speak with a saleswoman there who has a long history with SAAB. She kept trying to get me to test drive a 9-3 Sport Sedan. I refused every time. She kept telling me, “just drive one and your opinion of it will change” and I would explain that I can’t get past the boring aesthetics and lack of a hatchback. It just wasn’t a “real SAAB” in my eyes.
A few years ago my wife and I wanted to sell her 2000 Ford Focus ZX3. This model was the first year Ford sold the Focus in the U.S. and it was fraught with problems. After about the seventh recall I told my wife, “we need to get rid of this thing”. We liked the car and all, but were sick of getting a postcard seemingly once a month that we need to leave it at the dealer for yet another recall repair.
My wife always liked the look of SAABs and I’m concerned about safety and crash test performance so I suggested she get an “old-generation” 9-3 (“OG9-3”, which was basically a NG900 that had undergone over 1000 improvements and was then re-named). I had read that it was a very safe car and it would be an upgrade over the Focus. So we ended up buying a SAAB Certified, Pre-Owned and automatic transmission-equipped 2001 9-3, a 5-door base model. She loved it and continues to right up to this day, despite any problems we’ve had with it.
Back in 1985 my grandfather traded his 1978 Saab 99 Turbo for a 900 Turbo 3-door that I still own and love. Ironically, he now drives a Toyota Camry. I don’t know if I’ll ever sell this car. It has sentimental value. However, I’m in the process of replacing the head gasket and getting the head resurfaced and a valve job. I keep meaning to finish the job one of these weekends as the car is up on jack stands in the driveway with my SAAB accessory fitted car cover over it.
My “daily driver” is a 2006 Dodge Stratus V6 sedan. It’s a fleet car provided by the multinational corporation I work for (no ties to SAAB or GM). I wish SAAB was one of my choices of fleet car as I understand is common in Europe, but I only had the Dodge Stratus, Ford Taurus, and Dodge Caravan (minivan) to choose from. I chose the lesser of three evils. I think the base model SAAB 9-3 (at around USD$27K) is probably almost twice the price of the Dodge Stratus. You do get what you pay for though in this case…
Back on track again. That was all just background so you can see where I’m coming from. When the opportunity came along to attend the SAAB 60th Anniversary media event in San Diego I was extremely excited. However, I was more excited about seeing the Heritage vehicles and meeting some Saab legends than I was about driving the Anniversary Edition models. My opinion of SAAB was so stubbornly made that it would be difficult for me to change.
Or so I thought.
After driving various models of the 60th Anniversary Editions of the SAAB 9-3 and 9-5 in San Diego I found myself telling my wife that we need to figure out a way to trade-in her 9-3 for a new one!
The difference between the driving dynamics of today’s SAABs and those of just a generation ago are stark. It’s like black and white. I found myself driving around corners on back roads at speeds I would imagine would rip my wife’s car apart. I wasn’t driving recklessly, in fact the contrary. I had been lucky enough to pair-up with legendary rally car driver Erik Carlsson for the day so I was driving very cautiously. However, I did find myself driving into corners and looking at my speedometer and thinking “that can’t be right. I can’t be driving that fast”.
The car took corners effortlessly, with no harshness or indication of inappropriate speed. I found myself having to consciously remember to slow down on the corners to make sure I didn’t get a ticket, though admittedly I was thinking how great a story it would be to get a speeding ticket with Erik Carlsson as my navigator. I could tell that one to my grandchildren!
The seats were incredibly comfortable in both the 9-3 and the 9-5. There was a little more space for the driver in the 9-5, as to be expected, but I’m not that big of a guy so I really don’t feel I need the extra space. In fact, the slightly more confined space in the 9-3 helped me stay firmly in the middle of the seat on the corners.
The manual transmission in both models was a world of improvement over my Classic 900’s, which I never really thought there was anything wrong with in the first place. I just read the Motor Trend magazine account of the media event and the author of that article didn’t care for the feel of the manual transmission. I don’t know what he was using as a reference point, but when you’re used to a 22-year-old manual transmission the new ones are a world of difference! There was more than one occasion when I prematurely downshifted into 1st gear and instead of responding with the sound of grinding gears and tactile feedback that this is a “no-no”, the transmission in the new SAABs simply accepted it. They revved a little higher than I had intended but no harm done.
Driving the 9-3 SportCombi you’d never know that you’re in a ‘wagon’ unless you look in the rear-view mirror. The driving feel was very close to that of the 9-3 sedan, which I drove immedately prior. I personally prefer the external styling of the 9-3 SportCombi to any of the other current SAAB models, though I’d really love a hatchback in with the Aero-X silhouette even better.
The aerodynamic properties of the current 9-3 Sport Sedan with a drag coefficient of 0.28 and the 9-5 at 0.29 in Sedan guise, 0.31 in Combi, would make them more “SAABy” than even my beloved Classic 900. The 1947 SAAB 92.001 (or “urSAAB”) prototype had a drag coefficient of just 0.32 – astonishing for its time. If we use that car as a model of “SAABiness”, my Classic 900, with its pre-1987 non-integrated bumpers is slightly more aerodynamic than a brick.
You may notice I haven’t written a whole lot about the 9-5. This is because it is quite a bit out of my price range, and though it is a very nice car it doesn’t warrant the price premium over the 9-3, in my opinion. It does have a number of conveniences that the 9-3 doesn’t have, however, and I like those. One that comes to mind are the “double” sun visors. How many times have you been driving toward the sun so you put your sun visor down only to make a turn and now the sun is beaming in the side window, so you push the visor over to the side window only to make another turn so the sun is in front of you? In the 9-5 there is a visor underneath the main sun visor. So you can move the main sun visor to the side window whilst the undervisor can be lowered to block the sun from the front of the car.
Another feature I really like on the 9-5 that’s not present in the 9-3 is the map light. The 9-3 has map lights, but not like the one in the 9-5. The 9-5 map light is like one you’d find in a commercial aircraft. You can move it around to direct it to where you want light. Just like R2D2’s holoprojector (nerd alert!).
The 9-5 is also the only car I know of with the cargo track and optional load-bearing sliding floor in the Combi. That is extremely utilitarian. Who needs a pickup truck for light duty?
The last thing that comes to mind that I wish I could have on the 9-3 is the ventilated seats option. This consists of fans embedded in the seats with perforated leather that pulls air through the seat to cool your back. I live in the Southwestern United States (specifically, Los Angeles) so it can get well into the triple-digits in the middle of summer. This would be an extremely nice option for those days. Also, the United States Department of Energy has put the seal of approval on ventilated seats, stating that their use tends to decrease the use of air conditioning, which could potentially save a lot of fuel.
But as much as I like the 9-5, I don’t personally ever see myself owning one.
So now I’m torn: do I trade-in the OG9-3 now for an Anniversary Edition or wait until the next-gen 9-3 comes out around 2010 as is now suspected?
Being a smart consumer and learning from the mistake of many a MY2003 9-3 Sport Sedan owner, I might not want to buy a 2010 model 9-3. Maybe I’ll wait that extra year for all the bugs to be ironed out.
Can I wait until 2011 for a new SAAB? That would make my wife’s current model ten-years old. Will it hold together that long? Should we wait until the 2008 9-3 model “refresh”? Do I really need AWD living in an area without any real seasonal changes? Could I really afford the rumored 290 bhp AWD SAAB 9-3 “Black Turbo” model even if it is released in late 2007 concurrently with the MY2008 9-3 mid-cycle-enhancement as rumored? Would I ever effectively be able to make use of 290 bhp? I was stunned by the power of the base model! I don’t see myself attending track days at my age.
Truthfully, I’m leaning toward this year’s Anniversary Edition 9-3.
The reason? It’s a heck of a deal. You get the Aero “look”: special seats, special wheels, but with a price point closer to the base model than the Aero. It doesn’t have the V6 engine. But truthfully, in everyday driving, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo in the 9-3 Anniversary Edition model is more than adequate. It’s even markedly better than the 2001 model my wife drives daily.
There’s no turbo lag evident whatsoever and in the automatic model you can’t even feel the shifts. The cabin is also much quieter in terms of the perception of outside road noise as compared to the 2001. For example, the sunroof in the current model 9-3 is quieter in the open position than in the closed position in my wife’s SAAB! An added benefit is that the 9-3 is quite possibly the safest car on the road. Parents such as I take this as a serious consideration.
The difference between the current generation of SAABs and the previous generation are marked. It turns out the dealer who kept insisting I just drive one was right. I fell in love at first drive. As for the exterior aesthetic I can deal with the Combi body style until 2011 when hopefully a true hatchback is re-introduced to the 9-3 lineup.
SAAB sold me on the new models and I was about as harsh a critic as there was prior to driving the 2007 9-3 and 9-5 60th Anniversary Editions. Are they perfect? No. B ut they’re the best SAABs in many years, in my opinion.
Kudos to SAAB and General Motors. This company has a bright future and seem to be headed in the right direction after the hiccups of the past.
I suggest you all go to your local SAAB dealer this weekend and take a test drive. Even the biggest skeptic will be won-over. I may not convince anyone to trade-in their Classic 900 or 9000, but it couldn’t hurt to add another SAAB to your stable!
Mike M (1985 Gripen)
If you aren’t willing to trade-in your beloved SAAB for a new one but instead would look to add one to your stable (hangar?) in the U.S, Saab are currently offering a “loyalty discount” to people who already have a SAAB in their household.
You have to prove it by showing the registration documentation for your existing SAAB. Details are here
The offer’s good until the end of this month.
Jay Spenchian even pointed out last Friday that it’s less expensive to lease a 60th Anniversary Edition SAAB 9-3 than it is to lease the base model 2.0T 9-3.
So, if I trade-in my wife’s SAAB to lease an Anniversary Edition 9-3 SportCombi before the end of this month I’ll get $500 off for owning another SAAB (my 900T) and add that to the already great discount leasing the Anniversary Edition gets us!?!?
I’m going to have to talk seriously with my wife about this.