Who needs an SUV?

As a bit of a follow up to Bring Back the Hatch!, Gripen’s done some awesome research that SaabUSA would do well to follow up on and use.

I’ve noted a few road tests of the 9-3 SportCombi where the writer compares it very favourably to SUVs, and Gripen’s done the legwork to show us why.

He’s been fossicking around Edmunds on a fact-finding mission. The task: given that the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 outpoint almost all petrol SUVs on economy and emissions – how do they compare in terms of cargo capacity and importantly – towing ability?

Here’s what he found….

Both the SAAB 9-3 Sport Combi and 9-5 Sport Combi models offer more maximum cargo space and more towing capacity than the 2WD versions of the following SUVs in a similar price category:

– Ford Edge (the SAABs get way better than the Edge’s 24 mpg highway too)
– Ford Escape (non-hybrid – the SAABs get better fuel economy)
– Honda CRV (the SAABs get the same fuel economy, but have three times the towing capacity)
– Lincoln MKX
– Mazda CX7 (the SAABs have better fuel economy too)
– Mercury Mariner
– Mercury Mariner Hybrid (don’t know the towing capacity, but because it’s a sister to the Escape Hybrid, I’m guessing the SAABs have it beat)
– Mitsubishi Outlander (the SAABs get better fuel economy too)
– Toyota RAV4

So, one would have to ask why these vehicles are sooooooo popular.

Some may be capable of carrying more people, so there’s a point. Some may consider them more versatile due to ground clearance, but Gripen and I will both bet that very few of these 2WD vehicles see any rough surfaces whatsoever.

There is, of course, the popular myth that a bigger vehicle will keep you safer. But with the 9-3 range’s reputation for safety, that’s about as likely as the SUV carrying more cargo. All of this begs the question: why build the 9-4x? But I guess that’s a market expectation thing.

The point is, if you need to lug a load – get a Saab SportCombi. You’ll carry more, do it more efficiently and safely and in much greater comfort than the usual suspects.

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  1. Need, Want…

    Hardly anybody NEEDS an SUV but so many want them. I remember reading, some time ago, that the 2CV was about all anyone actually needed in a car. Want is another matter!

  2. Yes, I agree, and have thought about this very thing several times when comparing vehicles.

    Before everyone jumps on Americans for being piggish, let me remind everyone how the SUV craze began in the middle 1980s.

    In the mid-’80s, the auto manufacturers were building smaller cars in the US than they ever had — primarily to meet CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standards. Instead of changing the cars to fit the new size, the manufacturers simply built smaller versions of the cars that they previously built. In the process, they built some pretty ugly and undesirable vehicles with very little trunk space.

    On the other hand, Jeep had a smash hit with the 4-door Cherokee, and it looked cool and had a variety of interior styles. Better yet, it had room for all kinds of stuff. The Chevy/GMC Suburban had been around for years, but had only been used by serious outdoorsmen and businesses that needed such a vehicle. The catch: the interior was still designed like a pickup truck, NOT a car! Once GM got their head around the interior design, they had a hit on their hands. A very profitable one since the design had been paid for many times over by the time the Suburban took off.

    So, the trend had as much to do with a lack of choice as it did for the style of the vehicle.

    Saab should bring back the choice of a hatch. It would bring buyers. Even in the US.

    I believe that the only thing that scares Americans away from the hatch design is the vehicles that offer it. If Saab makes a hatch as good as the C900 or 9000, people will buy it, for sure.

  3. I consider todays 9-3s and 9-5s luggage space way inferior to c900 and 9000. Also, today’s turning radii horrible, my 900 turns on a dime! No more 7-point turns!

    Does anyone know the specs on storage space, and turning circles between these models?

  4. Saaboy: playing on my OCD, huh? 😉

    Here are the specs from Edmunds.com:

    C900 hatch turning radius: 33.8 ft.
    C900 hatch seats up: 21.8 ft^3
    C900 hatch seats folded: 57 ft^3

    9000 hatch turning radius: 35.7 ft.
    9000 hatch seats up: 23.5 ft^3
    9000 hatch seats folded: 56 ft^3

    9-3 SS turning radius: 35.4 ft
    9-3 SS seats up: 15 ft^3
    9-3 SS seats folded:

    9-5 Sedan turning radius: 37.1 ft
    9-5 Sedan seats up: 16 ft^3
    9-5 Sedan seats folded:

    I don’t know if the seats fold in the 9-3 and 9-5 sedans because there’s no spec for them at Edmunds.

    The 9-3 Wagon (I don’t like “combi” as it’s a misnomer in this case) and 9-5 Wagon have a maximum cargo volume rating of 72 and 73 ft^3 respectively. But they’re not true “combi coupes”, and a wagon’s expected to have a decent carrying capacity.

  5. I think, from time to time, that I have a slight case of OCD myself. It’s amazing that c900 supposedly has more space than 9000?

    I wana compare Vig to c900 🙂

  6. The site is http://www.edmunds.com… oh hell. You just had to do that to me, didn’t you!?!? What is this, “Mess With Gripen Day”???

    Viggen turning radius: 34.4 ft
    Viggen seats up: 21.7 ft^3
    Viggen seats folded: 46 ft^3

    C900 hatch turning radius: 33.8 ft.
    C900 hatch seats up: 21.8 ft^3
    C900 hatch seats folded: 57 ft^3

    Another thing with the NG900/OG9-3 is that they had this big lump spine thing across the cargo area when you fold the seats down, meaning you can’t lie large objects flat on the floor. Also, there was a lip on the opening of the cargo area you’d have to lift things over to get them into the trunk. The C900 hatch opened so you could slide things right onto the cargo floor. That was much more utilitarian, IMHO.

  7. Sorry I forgot a point. Another inferiority (IMHO) between the C900 hatch and NG900/OG9-3 hatch is that in the NG900/OG9-3 you have to push the front seats almost all the way forward to fold down the rear seat backs. This makes it very uncomfortable to drive and I’m only 5’10-1/2″. I can’t imagine it’d even be possible to drive with a load if I was much taller (eggs – have you run into this problem?). The C900 didn’t have this requirement.

    C900 RULES! 😉

  8. At the risk of being accused of heresy, the european market killed the hatch too, so don’t just blame the yanks for everything… To quote from car magazine in 2002

    “why have they dumped the unique and very versatile ahtchback format? First off, in the BMW3 series/ Audi A4 market 60% of slaes were saloons and 15% estates. Another 10% are coupes and 8% convertibles. That just leaves just seven percent in harchback form. Second, the huge hole created by the hatch door plays havoc with bodyshell stiffness and therfore handling and safety. Third, SAAB’s research suggests only 20% of 9-3 buyers would insisit on having a hatch”

    The hatch is more practical and SAAB loyalists may like it but it not what this market wants (sadly if they want versatilty they will buy an estate of a Freelander). The safety point is right too – the cross-member AND the high boot lip in the GM900 mentioned above was to make the car stiffer to improve safety and handling. Also the poor turning circle is supposedly down to wider wheels. No idea if this is true.

  9. Seems to me 20% of your customer base is pretty significant!

    I’m sure SAAB would not object to a 20% increase in sales right now.

    Why didn’t they just build a limited number of the vehicles in hatchback form to placate those 20% of 9-3 customers who “insist” on a hatch rather than replace it outright with a sedan?

    Have the sales numbers of the 9-3 been THAT much better since they went to an all-sedan body style? If so, can the fact that it’s now a sedan rather than a hatchback be pointed to as the sole or even primary reason?

    It’s got to cost a heck of a lot less to make a body variation of an existing car than to develop a whole new chassis.

    As for the rigidity issue, if you want a racing car buy a sedan. If you want a versatile, utilitarian car with a fun side get a hatchback. The C900 seemed to do all right without crossbraces and lips on the trunk.

    Maybe SAAB can put those crossbraces UNDER the cargo floor in a future hatchback if they insist on it and have some sort of fold-down lip on the trunk.

    The Aero-X has the makings of a nice hatchback, methinks!

  10. The rigidity issue can’t be that much of a problem. The convertible sells very well and I can’t imagine it being more rigid than a hatchback.

  11. Ted: Yes. The C900 hatch was solid as your average Panzer tank anyway, so who cared about rigidity?

    ’85 grip: The C900 required the seats to be moved forward some, but not all the way. Both of my C900 3-doors required that I move my seat about half way between fore and aft. On my ’86 900S (velour) I could leave the seat in the ‘somewhat’ reclined position. In my ’93 SPG (why did I sell that car?????) I had to straighten the front seat backs a little because the seat backs were padded a little more than the 900S seats were.

    I could drive across town with the seats like that, but I couldn’t do it across the country or anything more than a hour or so.

    I’m dreaming of a black 900 SPG, buffalo grey leather interior, six-speaker stereo system, perfect. Sniff. Sniff. I WANT IT BACK!!!!

    Swade, I so, so understand that you Jones for the 99 Turbo from time to time.

  12. They’re like old friends, Eggs.

    The first thing I remember being so cool about the 99 Turbo was the actual turbo badge on the flank. Silver on black with a turbofan for the ‘O’. I can remember nearly every detail about seeing that car for the first time.


  13. Gripen, i’m only trying to keep myself from buying a Viggen, which I actually want. I almost can’t believe that 9000 fits more than a c900?! what?!

    I am also 5’10-1/2, i tilt the seats forward, as if letting someone into the back, put the rear seats down and all that mumbo jumbo, then tilt my seat back, and i’m fine.

    Eggs, how tall are you again?

  14. Gripen and Ted, you raise valid points. The convertible is much less stiffer than a hatch but when they wobble and rattle, customers expect that – all convertibles suffer scuttle shake to some degree. However don’t dismiss the issue with structural stiffness as it affects everything about the car from ride and interior quality to fuel economy – for example here in Europe the a Ford Mondeo saloon can be about about 35kg lighter than the Mondeo hatch, as it does not need all the extra metal to stop the body flexing. Manufacturers spend a LOT of time and money trying to stop body flex. When the body flexes it affects the quality of the ride – it is not just about having a sporty drive. It also means that the doors and internal plastics squeak and rattle so a car with high structural stiffness will seem more solid as the c900 did. For SAAB to make a 9-3 hatch would incur serious costs to attain the quality required, I don’t disagree that the hatch would be a good car I just don’t think they would have / spend the money. Gripen you are right though that SAAB should not ignore 20% of the customer base but the Sport Combi was to appeal to hatch fans (not all of them apparently!) and draw in new sales too. The best hope and format for a hatch is the 9-1 which personally I will consider over the 9-3.
    The reason I quoted fom the car article was that foccused on how SAAB was losing its identity to attract new customers, commenting that a company with one of the most distinctive design approaches was becoming more mainstream in the belief it would add sales (it was the 2002 9-3 launch road test). I dont want a BMW or AUDI clone but the cars must have a broad appeal to bring in new sales and yet still be a SAAB – a difficult task. Has the 9-3 SS gone too far? I bought a MY 2007 so for me the answer is no (although I am not decided on whether I really prefer the new dash to he old one), but I understand the frustration of long time owners watching the cars become, for want of a better word, diluted.

  15. Hi All – has anyone spent much time towing with a 9-5 aero wagon 2003? I’m trying to decide whether to have the dealer install a hitch or not – to tow a small travel trailer. It’s $1200 and I know my gas mileage will drop, but I like driving my Saab so much better than driving a truck or a Suburban, even though there is one for sale in my neighborhood for $6500.

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