Saab vs BMW 335i Convertible

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Saab doesn’t have anything in the class of the BMW 335i Convertible. Let me say that right from the outset. This is a car that at base price costs over A$120,000 and the highest priced Saab here in Oz is around A$90,000 – for a V6 Aero Convertible. So we’re talking a step up in price right from the get-go.

Around lunchtime today I had the opportunity to jump into the 335i Convertible for a quick spin. When I say quick, I mean it in both senses of the word.

First up, I only had 45 minutes to drive it. The car was on a schedule and after I was finished with it, it was going to be test driven by none other than Australian cricket legend (and still holder of the beer drinking record between London and Sydney – 46 cans) – David Boon.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, this car is quick. You don’t get the full effect on the video below, but this twin turbo 300+ horsepower engine can really get up and boogie. The peak torque (400Nm) is available at around 1300rpm so it’s all pretty instant, too. Previous BMW 6’s that I’ve driven have been about as exciting as a mouse farting. You really needed to push the things to get some response from them. This engine lets you play in the same range that a Saab engine does and it’s quite a bit of fun feeling the thing move.

There’s several great things about the 335i Convertible. The way it looks isn’t one of them. It’s not too bad from the front, but it can’t claim the most attractive side or rear quarter profile there is.

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Perhaps it’s one of those things with tin-top convertibles….they’re not quite sure whether they’re coupes or convertibles. The 335i Coupe is actually quite a nice looking vehicle but it seems to lose something in the transformation.

This is a much better angle on the car:

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There’s two things I learned on my short drive today:

1) BMW have hit a bulls eye with turbocharging. The engine does a great job of kicking it when required and just dozing in traffic. The note was nice but not so substantially different that I’d be getting crazy about it. For me, it was just good to get in a BMW that felt familiar in the way it pushed down low.

2) Saab really are going to have to lift their interior quality. As far as the layout of the BMW interior is concerned, I could take it or leave it. It didn’t overly excite me, nor did it offend at all. The great (and very noticeable) thing about it, though, was the quality of the materials used and the choices available. Before taking my drive today I had a wander around the showroom and grounds, and the variety of dash trims offered in the BMW range is quite impressive.

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This is a premium product we’re talking about and in my mind, Saab is supposed to be a premium product, too. GM might argue that at the price they’re forced to sell the 9-3 for at the moment that they can’t afford to use better materials.

I’d argue that they can’t afford not to.

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Bottom line – this is one heck of a nice car. Obviously in just 45 minutes I didn’t have the time to really get used to the driving and handling dynamics of the 335, but from the little chance I did get you could tell it was a very solid drive. There was the slightest bit of cowl shake on one of the rougher sections of road on one occasion, but other than that it was smooth as silk.

That being said (and me being a bit of a tightarse with big spending), for the money that 335i costs I’d still be quite happy in a 9-3 Aero Convertible. It’s got that traditional ragtop appearance (seeing a tin-top in the flesh I’m more than happy to retain the ragtop) and the money I save on it could go towards a carbon-leather dash from Hirsch. I guess the people that can afford this type of car aren’t necessarily too worried about price, though.

The BMW is an excellent drive, but the iConvertible from Saab’s still a reasonable comparison for my money. No Tony, I’m not going to change.

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The following is a brief video from the drive. It’s hand held and just quickly edited. I took the drive with Tony Breckenridge, who up until recently was the Saab sales guy here in Hobart. He’s recently taken the job as Sales Manager for BMW Autohaus Hobart.

I’d like to thank Tony for the opportunity to take the car for a spin. It was a great experience in what is without doubt an excellent driving machine.

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15 Comments

  1. Ah, come on Swade!
    While you are out there promoting a bimmer you will probobly miss some new 9-3 info that we are very keen on to get.
    You should know better!

    Nice day i guess?
    Good for you.

  2. Swade,
    Thanks for sharing your experience via the video.
    Sounds like a great time; the more informed you are the better – so your time was well-spent.

  3. Nice piece Swade and it is why I think BMW would be a great but unlikely home for SAAB.

    I used my wifeโ€™s 3 series for 2 weeks and I agree with everything you said. I donโ€™t want a BM clone but I want the material choice and quality available to the BMW buyer. The more choices SAAB offer the wider the appeal.
    What car in the UK have just completed a 12 month test with a diesel Vector Sport SportWagon. It did not go well with, you guessed it, interior quality and refinement the main bug-bears. In the JD power survey in the same issue the 9-3 and 9-5 came bottom of the executive class and the 9-3 came 91st out of 113 cars. I always treat reviews and surveys with suspicion but the buying public will see these reviews and stay away.

    That said Wendy loved the 9-3 for the 2 week swop and she likes the interior but then mine is an 07.

    BTW Swade I forgot you guys drove on the right side of the road, so you could import a UK car โ€“ you could pick up a 2006 210 bhp aero for about 36000 Australian Dollars. Probably a bit tame after the Viggen though ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Bimmers are so ‘common’.

    The mechanical top ruins it for me, too. The ragtop is more sporting to me.

    Good piece. I agree with the interior stuff. Shoot, Saab may not even measure up to my wife’s Toyota Avalon in the interior department.

    Hobart looks a lot like the Southeastern US except that we drive on the right and our ocean views are generally the low-level beach variety rather than the steep overlook. Beautiful.

  5. “Nice piece Swade and it is why I think BMW would be a great but unlikely home for SAAB.”

    But one of Saab’s strong points is simplicity and ease of use, something that goes along with BMW like a bag of Doritos goes with a diet.

  6. Matt, when BMW owned Rover they made sure that the cars did not have a BMW design ethos but a Rover ethos. The pipe and slippers Rover 75 may have had a 5 Series chassis but it looked nothing like it inside or out. Does the current Range Rover remind you of an X5?It was designed when BMW owned Landrover.

    BMW is the one comapany I trust not to mess with SAAB but to keep the best bits and give them the money to do what needs to be done.

  7. I don’t like that top at all. What if it were to stop working? In my C900 I can just operate it manually, but I don’t think you could with that thing.

    Also, where’s the trunk?

  8. I worked at a Land Rover dealer for a bit, and I can safely say that pre-BMW Land Rovers, while terrible in every aspect, still had an acceptable level of complexity.
    After BMW started shoving their engines and stuff into the Rovers, they became this tangled mess of unreliable, overly complex, impossible to fiddle with mega turds.
    There is also no reason for a vehicle to shred the front diff apart after only traveling 134 miles, on road, since leaving the factory.

    I don’t trust BMW as far as I can throw one of their cars.

  9. The BMW interior materials are without a doubt high quality even if the design is less than inspiring. That was the impression I got from a recent ride in a new 5 series.

    SAAB does have great seats and leather trim. But maybe a few more colour options, on the seats and fascia trim, would be a good thing.

    And, why isn’t carbon fibre an option anymore? It certainly looks better than the plastic tree trim included with some models.

    SAAB still has a huge price advantage over BMW et al so I think it can afford to improve the interior quality and maybe charge a little more.

  10. Matt, to use the example of my own country the is 1 Mercedes Dealer, 1 Audi Dealer, 1 Volvo Dealer 2 Alfa Dealers and 6 BMW dealers. I said before and I say it agin I don’t want a BMW clone but they seem to be remarkably sucessful. The new Mini is a massive sucess world wide. The complexity and poor reliability don’t seem to keep the customers away.

  11. Swade, I think the best part of your piece was this:

    “GM might argue that at the price they’re forced to sell the 9-3 for at the moment that they can’t afford to use better materials.

    I’d argue that they can’t afford not to.”

    I think this is Saab’s biggest weakness now, even over other quality issues. GM needs to let Saab fix this problem appropriately and give them the budget to do so. As a potential buyer, I wouldn’t mind paying a couple thousand extra for a world class interior.

  12. Nice work swade. I’m not a mindless fan of BMW but they do a lot of stuff very well and we should acknowledge this where fit.

    I must admit that my principal thought about tin-top convertibles is…….why? Its what coupes are for.

  13. sethsev7n: agreed. I think most SAAB buyers would be willing to shell-out an extra couple of grand for a really nice interior. Even if it cost SAAB that much, they’d still be priced lower than the competition and they’d have fewer people turned-off by the inferior interiors.

    I sat in the 335i sedan and coupe at the L.A. Auto Show directly after visiting the SAAB booth and I was VERY scared for SAAB. The interior of the SAABs is shameful. The layout is nice, but the materials just look and feel like junk. It’s flat-out embarrassing.

    Sit in a USD40K SAAB 9-5 and then go sit in a USD40K (admittedly they’re not supposed to be in the same “class”, with the 9-5 SUPPOSED to be a class “above”) BMW 335i and the Bimmer feels SO much more refined and quality. The SAAB feels like a… I would say Pontiac, but even the G6 has a nicer interior than the SAABs, so it can’t possibly cost SAAB a couple grand more for a better interior (look at Pontiac’s price point). ๐Ÿ™

    Like sethsev7n points out, even with an increased price if SAAB had a more quality interior they’d move more product at closer to asking price (without such steep discounts).

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