Road Tests


Wednesday 19th January 2011


Swede dreams are made of... Agnetha from Abba?

The last Saab Convertible I drove was a 9-3 in the late '90s and, in spite of a wobbly scuttle and unsophisticated chassis set-up, I couldn't help but like it.

I've got the Saab gene, I think, having spent formative years in a V4-powered 95 estate and now the OH and I share a 2000 9-5 2.3t estate with Goose (the dog) for walkies and the like. (It's much more comfortable off-road than the PH long-term Land Rover Defender, although a little less 'go anywhere'...)

And having lusted after Saab convertible models since whenever they first appeared I knew I was going to like the latest one too, having requested a test drive for 'Open Season'. The surprise (for me) was how 'together' it felt on the road.

It's not a new machine, based as it is on a 2002 model that was effectively updated by a comprehensive facelift in 2008. But Saab convertibles have always stood the test of time from a style standpoint - for those of us with the gene, at least.

The Arctic White 9-3 Aero from the Saab press fleet that turned up in the PH car park the other week looked crisp and aggressive, with the latest TX Design Pack featuring dark accents around the grille and lower intake, side skirts, a neat boot lip spoiler topping-off a diffuser-style rear end, matched to some suitably Saabilicious 18ins alloys.

It looked nice on the inside too, with the white exterior theme carried over onto the door top trims, and the rest of the cabin trimmed in black leather titivated by a bit of carbon-fibber on the centre console. With the upright fascia giving that classic Saab feel to the cabin, it's a secure, comforting place to sit with the roof up or down. The fit and feel of interior plastics and switchgear passes muster too, although this is an area that Saab will need to look at with the next generation car - reportedly due in 2013 - if the 'premium' aspiration is to be maintained.

Fabric roof up, the headlining looks luxuriously padded, well finished and of good quality, but a quick dash up the dual carriageway revealed the limitations of Saab's NVH investment. There's a fair bit of wind noise (mainly coming from around the rear side windows) even at 60-70mph.

But this being Open Season, it was roof down-motoring we wanted to explore, and here the Saab rewards. OK, this is no sports car, and trying to make it behave like one quickly exposes the limitations of a powertrain and chassis configured for more 'everyday' performance.

Our car arrived with the 210hp, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and 5-speed automatic combo, which features paddly/flipper-type things on the steering wheel. It's jaunty rather than rapid, offering 0-60mph in 9.0secs, but that does feel a little faster with the roof down. The gearbox shifts pleasantly on its own too, and there's little benefit to be gained from playing with the flippers. Sadly the engine has a thrashy drone in its upper reaches, but at least it's not intrusive thanks to some proper bulkhead insulation and the wind roar you get in any convertible with the roof down.

The ride is mostly pliant and comfortable, and the steering sufficiently pointy to reward purposeful drivers if not the committedly sportive one. But the thing that most surprised me was the near absence of scuttle shake, even over some properly pot-holed tarmac. The Saab Convertible is a solidly engineered thing nowadays, it seems.

And if your 'thing' is more about motoring in the classical sense rather than the pure driving dynamics that more hardcore PHers might be looking for, the Saab really can deliver - especially on a chilly winter day when the excellent cabin heating keeps your tatties toasted as you take the air on that favourite country route. (Alternatively you could take your new convertible to Abbott Racing and have some proper fun with it.)

There's a fly in the ointment aside from a driving experience that veers towards acceptable rather than exceptional though, because with the optional extras of Leather Sport Interior trim, DVD sat-nav with touchscreen, plus the good-looking TX exterior design pack, the whole lot 'as tested' adds up to a mighty £39,502.01 on the road.

There's a lot of thoroughly competent, prestigious and more up-to-date convertible action available at that price, from out-and-out sports cars to more cruisey numbers with four seats. Think Audi A5, BMW Z4, 1 and 3 Series, Nissan 370Z, Merc E-class and SLK, Porsche Boxster, Volvo C70... well, you get the picture.

You probably need the gene. For those of you that haven't got it, there's always Agnetha.

Author: Chris-R