Saab 60th – The Anniversary Cars

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….

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Addendum:

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.

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20 Comments

  1. Good write-up. And, since the 9000 was a joint devlopment with Lancia and Alfa, it doesn’t rise to the level of ‘true’ Saab IMHO. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad car per se, it just was developed like the others.

  2. I could have told you all about how well the current 9-3 handles 🙂 🙂 🙂

    It’s a dream. You’re right about AWD though, the 210hp 2.0T engine does not need it. The V6 though, needs it desperately, rear wheel steering bushes can only counter understeer so much.

    I’d recommend you wait for the ’08 model, it will hold it’s value better for when you come to exchange for the next model in 2011 🙂 🙂 :), the drivetrain should be tweaked as well, so if you were impressed with the anniversary models, the improvements to the ’08 models should theoretically be jaw dropping.

    And if they are not, you will get an even BETTER deal on an ’07 model as dealers will be wanting to clear their stock levels 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 :).

    Thanks for all the work on the reports, appreciate them greatly. Great writing makes great reading, well done!

    Going to have to take my 2.8V6 Aero round some extra twisty stuff on the way home tonight just to celebrate your articles 🙂 🙂 (ok ok, I know, any excuse to go driving on a twisty country road.)

  3. Great writing Mike. You echo my sentiments about Saab almost 100% When I drove my new (to me) 9-3 Arc home, I felt like I was driving a true Saab, even though the styling doesn’t say a whole lot of Saab. I’m wishing I had something other than the max performance summer tires though. I’m looking out at up to 23 inches of snow right now, wishing I could take the Saab out for some good old-time fun, like I did in my old 2-stroke—now that car was true Saab in every way.

  4. Will someone please tell me what a NG900 is???. I keep hearing this term.
    By the way, this guy is really boring. He goes on, and on, and on.

  5. Why thank you, Tdavid. 🙂

    Without going on and on the NG900 is the “new-generation” SAAB 900 introduced in 1994. It ran from 1994 until 1999 when it was replaced by the “9-3”, which was basically a NG900 with over 1000 improvements and some styling changes.

    As for eggsngrits, Kaz, Tobias, and Ted Y: thanks for the compliments.

    And you bring up a good point, Kaz. Maybe I should wait until the ’08 models come out because even if they don’t “do” anything for me I can get a 2007 Anniversary Edition at that time probably steeply discounted!

  6. Mike M/19865Gripen – thank you so much for the brilliant eyes-on-the-ground commentary and anecdotes from the 60th Anniversary event in LA. I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments, the comments from the Saab guys you peppered with questions, and of course the fantastic photos throughout. I wish I could have been there – but this was a great runner-up.

    I have to completely agree with you on your feelings and assessment of Saab styling since GM entered the picture. One of the things that first attracted me to my old 1985 900 Turbo was that unique styling, flair, performance and engineering that existed no where else. When that car gave it up, I was Saabless for a number of years watching and waiting for Saab to produce something that tweaked my interest. I’ve now recently picked up a 2002 9-3 SE and am quite happy with it for the most part, but there is still an underlying feeling of being short-changed in some way with a slightly less than completely Saab feel to it.
    And as Mike said so well – where’s the hatch? It’s unfortunate that American distaste for hatchbacks spelled the end of the hatch in 2002 (which is why I bought that model year), as the hatch is one of the main reasons I thought Saab was one of the most practical sports cars around.
    But now, after reading your comments on the new Anniversary Edition 9-3, I just may have to give one a go at the local dealer here in Edmonton, Canada…if the snow ever stops piling up on the roads. Sigh. My old Suzuki motorcycle is also awaiting drier roads.

    Thank you again Mike for your superb efforts at the event. Well done!

  7. Mike, loved the articles, fantastic write up’s, all of them. dont forget the european option, you could get a holiday as well as a new car, even better order it for delivery in june…..

  8. Thanks for the reminder, Robin. I did look into the European Delivery option recently with the same thought you have: if I were to go pick up the car in Sweden in June I could also attend the SAAB Festival.

    There are several problems with the European Delivery option for me personally though: I’m sure the trip would cost more than the $2K in spending money SAAB gives one for exercising the option, especially since I’d be flying from L.A. The other problem is that I’d be without a car for a long period of time if I were to trade-in my existing car.

    It does sound like a GREAT deal and is very tempting, but I just don’t see it working for me in my particular situation. Plus, I don’t know how much vacation time I have left from my company! We only get three weeks a year after we’ve worked there for five years, and I’ve already used some (I used two days of it to cover the media event in San Diego last week too!).

    Thanks again for the info and the compliment.

  9. Fyi Gripen,
    I looked into the European delivery last week and was told by my local dealer that I could not use my MY99 9-3 as a trade-in for European delivery. I’d have to commit to the new car via a downpayment, take the trip, wait the 6-8 weeks for the new car to arrive in Denver, then sell them my ‘trade-in’.
    Btw, wonderful reading on your Saab trip. Don’t cut yourself short – you conveyed both the information AND the flavor of the experience! Congratulations – and – Good for us! 🙂

  10. i have enjoyed reading your coverage of the event and commend you for a job well done. i would have liked to hear from the management where they view saabs market to be and who they view as their main competitors. any info on this?

  11. Yes, turboboy. During the presentation over breakfast by SAAB USA President Jay Spenchian they appear to now be targeting the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord as competitors.

    Thanks to you and everyone else for the compliments on my writing. Kudos to Swade for having the guts to publish the stuff and for the difficult task of editing it (yes, believe it or not I actually wrote MORE than was printed!!!) for content and relevence.

  12. Mike, I loved your narrative partly as it echoes some of my thoughts. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool 99 lover although none of them are daily drivers. Next in line are my 900 and 9000 (this IS a REAL SAAB).

    I have always thought that the 9-3 and 9-5 were a bit, well, bland. Not saabie enough. Until I drove them, particularly a 03MY 9-5 Aero. It’s in the driving even if it’s not in the look. Maybe that is partly what SAAB is about.

  13. thats kind of sad to hear that their “competitors” now are the hondas and toyotas.. i never hear of people who buy toyotas and hondas go from that to saabs.. I always hear of people who own audis and volvos to also be interested in saabs. Just because GM hasnt given them enough resources to compete with a market they are capable of doesnt mean they should just give up… *miffed.

  14. Mike, Loved the write-up. I would have been torn between the classic SAAB’s and personalities and the need to drive the Anniversary models as well, only difference being that I already liked the current SAAB’s.
    I bought my MY2003 9-3 SS Linear brand new and currently have 43,000 miles on it. I will knock-on-wood and say that this has been a great car. I do not understand all the negative consumer reports that I have read about them. I also have an incredible dealer here in Dallas, Texas that have taken care of what little problems I have had.
    My 9-3 is not my first SAAB. I had a ’93 9000 CDE turbo. Loved the car, but the electrical problems nearly kept me out of SAAB’s for good. I also do not understand all the dislike of a sedan. Hatchbacks are useful, but I love the look of SAAB sedans. From the 99 and C900 sedans (my favorite) to the 9000, 9-5 and my 9-3, I think they are much better looking than current BMW’s, and Mercedes. They could be a bit more distinctive, but overall, I still catch myself glancing back as I walk away from it.
    I totally agree with the “People who test drive a SAAB, usually buy one.” I love driving my linear with manual. It is so smooth. Combine that with the ride and handling and you have a very fun drive. My only complaint would be that the interior dash and door panels needed higher quality materials. The leather has held up amazingly well though.

  15. huh?–saab’s targets, according to jay, will be honda and toyota?–that’s not good news. the brand will lose pretty much all of its cache when that happens.

  16. sethsev7n (and saab9x):

    I did just that: drove a ’97 Accord for a couple years, got sick of seeing my mirror image at every stoplight from here to Timbuktu. I sold my wife’s coupe, gave her the Accord, and bought a used 2002 9-5 Arc last September.

    I think Saab’s focus is smart for two reasons:

    One, lots of regular people are looking for something sporty and different.

    Two, they don’t want to shell out $35-$40k for it.

    Mazda has done very well in this niche here in the U.S. (Zoom zoom?), and Mercury is trying really hard to push “styling and sophistication that the Accord and Camry can’t touch.” It’s not hard to see whose throats they are going for.

    Saab could do well in this area- if you are looking for a loaded Accord, why not buy a base Linear 9-3? It’s the same price, it’s sporty, and most importantly, you’re not looking like a clone of the person next to you.

    And if you get someone in on that, you can bet they’ll buy more Saabs in the future.

  17. I’m sure the fact that Toyota is slated to overtake GM as the world’s #1 automaker this year has something to do with this too.

    Maybe GM no longer sees SAAB as their “premium brand” and since they’re trying to push Cadillac as THE premium brand they’re positioning SAAB as their “import killer” that Saturn was originally supposed to be.

    I think SAAB realized that they can’t match BMW and AUDI unless they increase the sales price of their cars to a point where nobody’s willing to buy them anymore. That’s just my hunch.

    The Toyota Camry is the best selling car in America. The Honda Accord has got to be up there in the top-5 too. If SAAB could take even a small percentage of those sales it would probably be a dramatic increase for SAAB sales.

  18. Good write up but I think you forgot one important element: not all of us came from the era of the 900 and 9000. My first introduction to Saab was the MY01 9-5 Aero (169kW, 350Nm) and it was miles apart from anything I have driven so far (I am coming from the Audi, Alfa Romeo, Honda and Renault brigade): the pace, the comfort, the lugging power, the intrinsics of having controls just were you want to have ’em, the space, novelties in terms fo the sunvisor – actually it makes sense, the location of the ignition (key, gears, handbrake, window controls) – it just made sense and above all else, the guts to be different and avoid the uber trio of VAG/DC/BMW and the odd-ball of PAG (Premier Automotive Group which also houses Volvo).

    And above all else, I ended up buying one of the demos I drove 2 years down the line ending up with two MY01 9-5 manual Aeros. Yes, I did drive the previous generation 93 hatchback and it was my car of choice, but when I was offered the dealer principle 9-5 Aero with 28,000km on the clock (though it was out of my price bracket), I could not refuse. And besides, I still have ’em: lovingly being looked after and that huge grin on my face everytime I take them for their staggered 15,000km service over a distance of 4,000km return leg included. Crazy, perhaps. Loving and passionate about the ethos of Saab no matter what year I was introduced to the brand: 100%! Keep ’em rolling, Mike, great read!

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