Saab vs Alfa Romeo

OK, this one doesn’t strictly fit in with the “I drove a ….” category, but I didn’t know where else to put it. And I’d find it very hard to print if it denigrated Alfas at all anyway, given my love for them.

But it is a good Saab story and shows how they’ve offered the right car in the right market with the right combination of practicality and importantly, performance.

This comes from TD, and you’ll pick up on where he’s from as you read on…..


I have been an avid Alfa-driver since “for ever” and owner since 2001. I’m now into my second Alfa, after the first was totalled on a highway when someone in a car in front of me had dropped a wheel (rim and all) onto the grey stuff wheels are supposed to roll on – attached to a car, not laying down flat.

Second Alfa is only half true, as I also have an Alfetta from 1979, that is more of a “drive it till it blows” hobby-car than anything else.

Then several things happened:
1. Sweden decided to give large discounts to drivers of “eco-cars”;
2. Stockholm (re-) introduced the congestion charges;
3. My Alfa 156 Ti turned 3 y.o;
4. I had a second child (in March)
5. The company I work for put a new lease-plan into place.

With all that in mind, I decided to go to my runner-up favorite brand, Saab. Mainly because Saab can give me a car that not only fills all of the criteria above, but also a car which is quite a lot more comfortable than the super-sporty 156, and not to mention roomy boot.

So, I went to the local Saab dealer and ordered myself a new Saab. A 2008 9-3 Vector Active 2.0T Biopower with all but three options ticked (curve lights, integrated BT and navigation). The color was chosen in close “cooperation” with trollhattansaab: I chose Snow Silver after reading the posts and seeing the images. (Originally we had chosen red).

Now, what would I have done had I not lived in Stockholm? I would most likely have chosen to switch cars then too, but opted for an Aero TTiD – a choice the politicians in Stockholm have made all but impossible due to the congestion charge model.

What am I then missing most from the Aero? Simple: The very very nice aluminum trim around the fog-lights. I know several posters on trollhattansaab are not so fond of them. All I have to say to them is: Get yourself a 9-3 non-Aero – problem solved!

For the rest of us who like the trims (=me)….


TD attached a picture of his new car, built from Saab Sweden’s website as it hadn’t arrived when he wrote to me. And just for fun, I’ve sourced a shot of a 156 as well.

First the 9-3, which is looking sensational from the website….

Saab 9-3 Vector Active

And the Alfa, with an almost unfortunate number plate, but still beautiful regardless. Ah, Italians….

Alfa Romeo 156

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  1. “What am I then missing most from the Aero? Simple: The very very nice aluminum trim around the fog-lights.”

    I´m now being a picky, but there´s other stuff as well missing on non aero models. Larger brakes, excellent twin exhaust system, steering wheel with those ugly plastic decorations and Aero sill plates. Anything else? I cannot point out more, but maybe someone else?

    Okay, but about the car. Congratulations! Excellent choise of colour. Did you get the sunroof also? It looks as it is a Vector active with sports suspension and alloy wheels special for the package. Good choise for engine.
    Show us some pics when you´ll get it!



  2. We don’t have Alfas in the States anymore so if it weren’t for Top Gear magazine ads I wouldn’t know what one looks like. I do note that in the magazine ads they don’t show a license plate on the front. Those crazy Italians! They KNOW that some jurisdictions require a front plate yet they ignore this fact in the design, causing the plate to look sorely out-of-place as in the pic above.

    My first car was a 1976 FIAT (another make no longer sold in the States) 124 Sport Spider 1800 and it had the U.S. DOT-mandated front chrome bumper which looked really out-of-place. Really screwed-up the design lines of what was otherwise a beautiful Italian car.

  3. Wait. The rims on the 9-3, are the 2004 Aero rims…are they still offered on new Saabs just in Europe. Those are probably my favorite rims that Saab has come out with.

    I think Saab has some of the best rim design in the industry, but those rims are by far my favorite out of theirs.

  4. Charles: I don’t know specifically about the rims you’re talking about, but I do know that the 2007 60th Anniversary Editions “pulled-forward” the 2008 wheels. Toward the end of the 2007 MY production they started running out of the wheels so the later 2007 60th Anniversary Edition models feature the wheel design used on 2006’s 20th Anniversary Convertibles.

  5. Personally, I think people who hate the look of Alfa Romeos have no soul.

    I think the 156 is easily one of the most beautiful saloons in recent memory (pre-facelift) and is more striking than the subtle SAAB.

  6. Those rims are still offered, at least in Finland and Sweden. If you select Vector trim with Active package, you´ll get those – 5-spoke Twin 17×7″ (ALU 50).

  7. I am also and old Alfa fan (only an rusty Alfasud sprint 1978 left) that got the message today that my 2008 9/3 Vector active will be delivered next week. Since I live in the congestion charges free town Växjö in southern part of Sweden instead of Stockholm I choose an 1,9 diesel instead. If I need more power later it is good to know that Växjö is also the hometown of BSR (
    You can watch a picture of my 9/3 configuration here: (

  8. By the way, does anyone have accurate detailed information how is the noise insulation improved on MY08? Actually I cannot find a s**t of this if I try from the internet. At least nothing official. And most of the test drives does not mention it being any better than the previous ones?!

  9. MarkoA: I’m guessing that the test drives of the MY2008 most reviewers are writing on were the pre-production ones at both the media event in Sweden and in Washington D.C. They may not have had all the MY2008 features included yet, including the “noise package” or whatever it’s called. From what I understand it’s a redesign of the areas around the windshield, which was a trickle-down benefit from the BLS.

    I know the pre-production MY2008s I drove in Washington D.C. in August didn’t have the “new and improved” reinforced cupholder I’ve heard the MY2008 will get…

  10. “And the Alfa, with an almost unfortunate number plate”

    …aah, memories of bad bar jokes about why Alfa is like Mrs. Robinson! Great to look at but you know you shouldn’t do it.

    Does anybody know when Alfa is stated to return to the U.S.?

    Am I the only one who gets wisty eyed thinking about the Alfa-Saab-Fiat of a byegone era?

  11. Before I go on: how well spread is the expression “Saab is tha Alfa from the north”? It’sused quite alot here in Sweden…

    Lemme try to respond individualy…

    Marko: yes, you are 100% right. I was speaking of the esthetics only. 🙂

    85grp: The license plate looks fab from the front on teh Alfa, but less so on pics. The fact that it’s offset to the left doesn’t detract. Now, in some countries they legislation allows for a smaller plate (Sweden, Italy) which looks great. In some, there’s only one size (Denmark, France) which looks stupid.

    Charles: yes those are the previous Aero-rims, now available as standard-rims for “Vector-Addition” 9-3’s. The new Aero-rims are 18″-ers.

    person: that Alfa is (sorry Swade, I know you like the 9-3 better) the best looking wagon out there. 😉

    Jeff: you are very right. The 9-3 (and _many_ othr current cars out there) draw clear design influenses from the 1998 Alfa 156, and even more so the 2000 156 SportWagon. Very much also why I now like the 9-3 🙂

    Matthew: I prefer the post-facelift. Somehow, the pre-facelift looks a bit “sad”, while the Giugiaro model looks like a hawk.

    Bengt: is that the nice TTiD, and if not, why not, if I may ask?? Nice Alfa-choice btw 🙂

    Gunnar: those pics are not comparable… Nice photoshoped pics of the Alfa look as striking as the Saab ones, trust me. But yes, the MY08 Saab is nice from that angle.

  12. Marko… Noise in the MY08 requires an individual post.

    (“Facts” below collected through reading Swedish motoring articles through the years, not claiming they’re the absolute truth)

    I think Swade’s gonna hate me now, but I believe the MY08 wouldn’t have hapened had it not been for the ghastly Cadillac you all know too well…

    The Cadillac of horror required Saab to redesign a few things to make it “less sporty”, or “more refined”. Amongst those were the doors without rubber and without Saab-handles. Other changes to the chassis were new bushings and more “refined” body control.

    Add those to a few other cahnges made between the older 9-3 and the Cadillaugh, and you’re half-way to where the MY08 takes on.

    So all that to say that the MY08 is in fact as quiet as the BuLlShit (and uses its doors besides)… And that is a whole more quiet than the older 9-3 (not to mention how much more quiet it is compared to the 156 which I sometimes think has no bushings at all – but boy is it a hoot to drive)

  13. TrakDah: it doesn’t surprise me that Italy provides a smaller front license plate upon request for aesthetic purposes. This is the same country whose police uniforms are designed by Armani and they actually have some Lamborghini police cars.

    The Italians and Swedes seem to be polar opposites when it comes to design, but I think there’s a lot of cross-appreciation between aficionados of marques from both countries. I have to admit that Italian cars are like works of art and are very appealing for their aesthetic value. However, unlike the Swedes’ “form follows function” it seems to the Italians “function follows form”.

    This is coming from a guy whose first car was a 1976 FIAT 124 Sport Spider 1800 convertible! 😉

    As a completely unrelated side-note but the Italian police uniform factoid reminded me of, something I learned a couple of years ago that surprised me: the current Boy Scouts of America and Cub Scouts of America uniforms were designed by Oscar de la Renta in 1980!

  14. TrakDah: It is not the TTiD, it’s the 150 Hp version. There is a number of reasons for this; It was possible to have a test drive of the 150 Hp version (a very nice drive indeed) and I hadn’t time to wait another 2-3 months to test the TTiD version and then wait another couple of months for the delivery.
    When I ordered my car I met a man that just had ordered his second 9/3 1,9 diesel 150 hp this year (!). He had already run his car 60000 km with an average diesel consumption below 5.5 L/10 km.
    I will get my car in the middle of the coming week and if I feel that I need more power I i will drive 2 km from my home to BSR and get a 150-184 Hp Stage 1 upgrade that also will increase the torque from 354-412 Nm (see
    I will let you know my decision later.

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