A Saab buyer’s question. US readers please…..

From my inbox, a story and a question from Andy T:

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Up until about six weeks ago, I was waiting patiently for my lease to expire on my ’05 9-3. Come March, I was ready to pony up for a MY08 Saab, and entertain the possibility of the European Delivery Program.

Then, slightly over a month ago, I took the car in for its fourth “Low Coolant Level” refilling. It seemed odd to me that a two-year old car with 22,500 miles on it would need so much coolant, and it finally seemed odd to the dealer, as well. They said the car might need a new engine, but don’t worry, it’s under warranty. They said the process would take about two weeks. One day shy of four weeks later, I had the car back with a fresh engine. The dealer basically said, “Yeah, a few ’05 models were cast with porous engine blocks. Stuff just happens.” I didn’t feel reassured.

So my problem is this: This is my second Saab (had a ’99 9-3 that got funky at about 45,000 miles). And now this almost new car needed a new engine. I really do like the car and the brand, but everyone has always told me about Saab’s legendary problems. Now I’m expanding my search and have seen early photos/reviews of the Volvo C30, which comes to the U.S. in October. It’s obviously going in a different direction than the 9-3 Sedan, but I’m having a hard time convincing myself to buy a third Saab when the first required a new transmission and the second required a new engine. That said, I’m not interested in American, German or Japanese cars. Which in America, doesn’t leave me with many options in that price range (unfortunately, Aston Martin and the good Jaguars are too rich for my blood).

Alas, I’d like to open the conversation up to the dedicated readers of this blog. The Saab is still the only car I’ve owned that I enjoy driving (not counting my ’75 MGB). But should I trust it next time around?

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My contribution:

I don’t know much about porous engine blocks, but I can’t imagine that’s a problem they’ve had that they haven’t ironed out. Yours was fixed, which indicates that a) they were happy to look after you, and b) they know about the problem – again, I can’t imagine that one would slip past the keeper on a revamped model. And despite your service guy’s flip-off, I can assure you they’d take that problem very seriously at Saab in terms of manufacturing issues. I couldn’t believe it’d be any other way.

Without wanting to emulate your service guy’s seeming indifference, stuff does happen with mechanical items – from all brands – and your transmission problem was likely one of those things. Transmissions go sometimes, though I don’t think Saab have a reputation for those. Not that I’ve heard of at least. That sort of thing could happen with any make of car, even a *gasp* Toyota.

The MY2008 Saab 9-3 is definitely worth testing. I’ve raved on a fair bit about it over the last month. It’s not just because this is a Saab blog and I’m an enthusiast. It’s because the car is really, really good. In the absence of the TTiD, the main improvements that I think US customers will notice, aside from the XWD when it comes, are the sound insulation and ride improvements. It’s a much quieter and somewhat gentler ride, more refined (if I can use that vaguest of terms) but it’s still got that sporty edge to it when you want to push it.

Then there’s all the other things the new 9-3 brings to the table – the new look (matter of taste, but I think it’s brilliant), practicality, economy-power combination, safety, equipment levels, etc etc.

What you end up getting really is up to you, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend trying out the 2008 9-3. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t, I can guarantee that.

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On a side note, my travelling companion and guide through the 2008 9-3 press event, Par Brandt from Auto Motor and Sport, mentioned that the C30 has met with a more lukewarm response than what many might expect. He actually called it ‘tail happy’, which stunned me to be honest, but apparently Volvo didn’t quite get the chassis down right like they would have ideally wanted to.

A lot of the hype over the C30 was based on its looks and the fact that it’s a totally new car in a new segment for Volvo. I haven’t seen too many road tests on it yet, but will be interested to see if others thought the same way.

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Folks, Andy is asking for your input, so comments are open – off you go.

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21 Comments

  1. Regarding the C30’s tail-happiness, the V50 at launch had the same problem, again it seemed to be lift-off oversteer. Not encouraging given that normally aspirated and diesel C30/S40/V50s still to not have dynamic stability control as standard in Australia although it is standard in UK, US and other markets.

  2. I believe that Saab sources its transmissions (at least the automatic ones) from the same company that Lexus uses. Aisin-Warner.

    And the 9-3 uses a Saab version of GM’s Ecotec motor, which now has millions if not tens of millions of miles on the road. The sheer volume of Ecotec motors out there reflects a large quantity of development resources and engineering time, much greater than the Saab-only motor in the 9-5.

    And new Saabs have GM’s extended powertrain warranty (7 years, 100,000 miles IIRC). And while repairs are never fun, repairs under warranty are much less painful.

    All manufacturers have certain issues. Toyota has sludge issues, and had to recall its new big pickup for engine flaws; Mercedes has its annoying electrical gremlins; etc.

    Life’s too short to drive a car that you don’t enjoy. I’d rather drive a loaner for a month, and a Saab for 35 months than a Toyota for 36 months.

  3. I am a Volvo and Saab fan, but there are two developments that have recently happened that will keep my interest in Saab.
    1.)Volvo killed the R
    2.)Saab has a black turbo 9-3 on the way. I will wait for the black turbo. If Volvo ever gets some balls again I will play both fields.

  4. Not that my 9-2x counts, but I had that 2 years without a single problem, and I put 40,000 miles on it. Ok, so it was a Japanese car!

    My wife’s MY03 9-5 now has 65,000 miles, we bought it certified pre-owned almost 1 year ago and put 15k miles on it, still no problems. I’m worried about the looming “sludge” reputation that the 2.3 L engine has, but ok so far.

    Now, here is where you want to tune in. On 4/30/07 I purchased a MY07 9-3 SportCombi. It is my baby. I love her dearly. I’ve had her 60 days, broken her in well with 4500 miles, and had my first “problem.”

    Nothing too major like engine trouble. Last week my “Stability Control” and Traction Control” features failed. My dealer assured me it was not “life-or-death” so to speak, and I had it brought in yesterday around 2 PM. (Hence the comment I made yesterday about the loaner, the Caddy CTS.) I got a call at 2pm today, 24 hours later, my car was ready. The verdict: A pin had come loose from the speed sensor on the wheel, preventing the TCS/Stabilitrack to read the speed of the wheels in motion, hence disabling the system. A part was ordered, some work done, and good as new. (Minor problems I’ve had were: a) Mat tack on floor came loose b) Interior b-pillar molding came loose c) 1 bad key fob)

    I know it is still early in the game but I LOVE MY CAR!

    Chew on this. The 2.0 L Ecotec engine has been used in the 9-3’s since MY03 and any “bad batches” have been studied and corrected. If you get a MY08 2.0T, I would say not to be too worried with engine problems — basically I think they’ve worked out the kinks. 🙂

    Not that I have heard any bad press about the LP1 HFV6 2.8 L, but it was implemented in MY06 models and is fairly newer (same engine used in Caddy CTS without Turbo since MY05 to current).

  5. “Life’s too short to drive a car that you don’t enjoy. I’d rather drive a loaner for a month, and a Saab for 35 months than a Toyota for 36 months.”

    Right on, Greg! Great point!

  6. it’s my experience that the newer cars just have soo much technology in them that things are gonna’ go wrong… I currently drive a 98 Buick LaSabre but all my other cars were pre-1985 and every car of mine has had over 140,000+ miles.

    Wear n’ tear happens, but to me the newer cars wear faster and there are just more things to go wrong with them. It’s like shooting fish in the barrel, the more fish… the easier. That’s why I look at warranties before considering a new car.

  7. Saab does use an Aisin automatic transmission – and like Greg said above – anything mechanical can break – as long it is under warranty – and as long as there is not a huge failure of a part, of course.

    Overall the Ecotec has been a fairly successful engine for GM. Recent applications in the Pontiac Solstice are now equipped with direct injection and turbochargers produce a fairly impressive output. The global V6 (2.8 to 3.6L) is used in just about everything and that motor seems to have done better than the Ecotec in terms of performance.

    The most important thing is that a manufacturer stands behind their product and keeps the customer feeling confident about the purchase they have made. Toyota has had a massive problem with engine sludge issues, but you really do not hear about it as much as one would think. Recent problems with Tundra camshafts snapping in half have gone unnoticed by the press as well for the most part. Toyota however has a reputation for building a quality product – and most owners wouldn’t think twice about purchasing another one – even if they have minor problems with a vehicle.

    In my experience customers turn away from a brand when they are treated poorly at the dealership level – and have to swallow a fairly large repair cost early in the life of the vehicle. I think any customer anticipates to invest money into a vehicle for maintenance, however when a certain brand of vehicle becomes consistently unreliable – than that is when the customer loses faith in the brand.

    When I tell people I am looking at Saab’s some immediately tell me about the high cost of maintenance and that they break all the time. None of them have ever owned one but they seem to ‘know’ this. “Get yourself an Accord or Camry – they run forever” is what people tell me. No thanks – I will buy something fun to drive. As for the repairs – guess I will find out, I am still going to buy one.

  8. Both problems can be summed up with “Shit happens”. A transmission going bad early is almost always a fluke, and a porous engine block is ALWAYS a fluke. When a company has to make tons and tons of product, at least a few are expected to be failures. The fact that you got two of these in two Saabs is just bad luck, man. As far as non-fluke problems, Greg said it best, sometimes you have to make little sacrifices when you’re driving a car that isn’t oriented towards reliability.

  9. I think it’s one of those wierd double-negatives there. The Saab and the MGB are the only cars he’s owned that he’s really enjoyed driving.

    I think that’s correct.

  10. I am not sure that the lift off over steer is an error, unless it is unprogressive and can catch you out. The Focus is pretty tail happy too. It all comes down to pleasing the press again. See this weeks 5th Gear with T.Needell sliding base model Focus and Astras round a circut for proof of this.

    UK journalists always bemoan the loss of lift off oversteer in the 205 GTI. I lost the back end of my Clio when I was young and foolish. Far from feeling like a hero, it just scared the s**t out of me.

    Andy I just saw a survey in the UK and the average car scored an 80% reliablity score. What they never tell you is that means only 20% of cars go wrong so it is unlikely you will get a problem again. Its kind of like news reports – they never bang on about good news.

    At the end of the day the C30 is just a 3 door S40 with all the positives and negatives of that car but with a hatchback. I like it myself – the 2.5 diesel is a hoot but the 9-3 is the better car overall.

  11. They were under warranty! Lucky you!

    tranny death -> doesn’t usually happen at 40~k miles…

    porous engine -> crazy fluke…

    buy a 3rd one!

  12. If you haven’t got the point already Andy, I too would concur with the others – desperately unlucky.

    Aisin make a LOT of transmissions and have done for a long time. They are Japanese with the expected build quality in my experience.

    The engine? Saab have made a lot of these too so just be grateful you got hit under warranty and stick with it. If you are adamant about moving brands heres two that I’d suggest ( with gremlins all of their own…) that Swade will let me get away with:

    Alfa Romeo
    Porsche.

    Buy a lottery ticket.

  13. What PT really wanted to say was “buy a BMW”, but as Andy’s not keen on Germans, he’ll either have to get another Saab (good move) or an Alfa (heart over head). As he’s in the US where there’s no Alfas, the Saab’s it!

  14. As a C900 guy, I know little about the issues with the newer models. However, porous engine blocks? Casting technology being what it is, I’m not sure that’s a good explanation, because I don’t think it’s likely.

    I agree with Greg. All cars may be problematic, drive the one that you like.

  15. Either Consumer Reports was smoking something when they tested the MY03 9-3 or I got the best one ever made. Regardless, I had a great ownership experience with my 9-3 SS. My only trouble being the emergency brake redesign, a sunroof sensor, a head light, a bad battery and a scrambled key. That was it. I even went an entire year without having to see the dealer.
    I recently traded it in for a MY07 9-3 60th Anniversary Convertible (as mentioned in an earlier post.) My dealer service from Sewell SAAB in Dallas is outstanding. I LOVE driving SAAB’s, this being my third and if this experience continues, I do not see me driving anything else (other than my 1972 MGB…)
    Besides the 2 9-3’s, a MY93 9000 CDE turbo, and the MGB, I have had a MY79 M-B 300D, an Alfa Romeo Milano (75 in other markets,) an Infiniti Q45, VW Passat, and even a Honda Accord. SAAB is the only brand that I have purchased more than once and I think that says it all right there.

  16. C30? Oh no! It will be share the same fait as the Volvo 480 that hit Europe one or two decades ago.

    As long as you have warranty, everything is fine with the 9-3 My2008.

    You should drive that you like the best. Saab?

    Statistically, the next Saab will be fine.

    But do you want to take a risk and start a new statistic in a C30?

  17. C30? Oh no! It will be share the same fait as the Volvo 480 that hit Europe one or two decades ago.

    As long as you have warranty, everything is fine with the 9-3 My2008.

    You should drive that you like the best. Saab?

    Statistically, the next Saab will be fine.

    But do you want to take a risk and start a new statistic in a C30?

  18. There are a lot of good options out there. Don’t limit yourself to non-American/German/Japanese. Drive everything, look up all the data, and find the best car for you.

  19. HERES SOMETHING FOR YOU ALL: I DROVE A ’99 DODGE DURANGO FOR THE PAST 5 YEARS….SLID IN A RAIN STORM DOING ABOUT 15-20 MILES PER HOUR – HIT A CURB, ROLLED OVER AND CLIMBED OUT WITH MY D COMPLETELY UPSIDE DOWN – BACK WHEEL STILL SPINNIN’. IT WAS DECLARED TOTALED AND I DECIDED TO GO BACK TO A CAR WITH THE GAS PRICES THESE DAYS (I WAS VW DRIVER PRIOR TO THE DODGE – DROVE 4 DIFFERENT V DUBS). I HAVE TEST DRIVEN EVERYTHING…JAGUAR, BMW AND MERCEDES ALL THE WAY TO CADILLAC DEVILLE. THE 2004 SAAB 9-3 ARC I PURCHASED IS BY FAR, FOR THE PRICE – THE BEST OPTION OUT THERE IN MY EYES. THE TURBO-CHARGED 2.OT KICKS ASS AND EXCEEDS THE PORSHE BOXTER I TESTED OUT. THE ONLY ISSUE I HAVE HAD SO FAR – IS A DEAD BATTERY…I JUMPED IT AND THE DEALER CHANGED IT UNDER FACTORY WARRANTY. THE CAR DRIVES BEAUTIFULLY. IVE BEEN DRIVING JUNK FOR THE PAST 5 YEARS AND I HAD FORGOTTEN HOW SUPERIOR A EUROPEAN CAR IS OVER AMERICAN MADE….PLASTIC MOLDINGS, INTERIOR SOUND, PERFORMANCE….ETC. I AM ALSO SURE I WILL NOT FIX HALF OF THE NONSENSE THINGS I DID WITHY MY DODGE……THIS I AM CONFIDENT OF. I HAVE ALSO LOOKED AT PRICING FOR PARTS AND ACCESORIES – THEY ARE ON AVERAGE HALF THE COST TO COMPARABLE DODGE ITEMS. MY SAAB RIGHT NOW HAS 41,000 MILES ON IT – I PLAN ON BUYING A BRAND NEW SAAB IN ABOUT 2-3 YEARS AFTER THE NEW DESIGN HAS ITS BUGS WORKED OUT. YOU NEVER REALLY WANT TO BUY A CAR IN ITS FIRST NEW MODEL YEAR. ***IN A NUTSHELL – I AM NOTHING BUT 150% IMPRESSED WITH THIS CAR ALL AROUND AND HAVE JUST 3 WORDS FOR IT: FIRE-IT-UP!. PS – MY LAST NAME IS REALLY DODGE (NOT COS I OWNED A DODGE EITHER FOR ALL THE SMART-ASSES OUT THERE)….OTHERWISE I WOULD HAVE TYPED “JONNY SAAB”.

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