2005 Car Review: Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible


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Saab Active Head Restraint (SAHR)

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THE AUTO PAGE
By
JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS
MODEL: Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible
ENGINE: 2.0-liter turbocharged four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: hp @ rpm/ lb.-ft. @ rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 105.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 182.5 x 69.4 x 56.5 in.
CARGO VOLUME: 12.4 cubic feet
ECONOMY: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
PRICE: $47,640

The 9-3 is Saab's mainstay car. It's relatively small, economical, and sporty. As for size, it's based on the Chevy Malibu platform, since the two are both GM products.

Out tester is the 9-3 Convertible. As with all 9-3s, the convertible is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. In Aero trim form it's rated at 210 horsepower, which is plenty for the 3,483-pound convertible.

I felt performance of the car was very good. Acceleration, even with the automatic, was excellent away from stop signs and traffic lights. More importantly, acceleration for entrance ramps onto crowded highways was also excellent and kept us out of trouble.

The flexible engine allowed us to stay in "D" and cruise at low or high speeds. There were a few tight corners where we used the manual side of the Sentronic transmission, just to improve acceleration. This was a simple maneuver and gave s slightly better kick when needed.

Saabs have been known for years for their handling, and the 9-3 Convertible is no exception. We had opportunities to test the 9-3 over some interesting winding roads we hadn't traveled in a few years and found the car, if not the driver, up to the task. The suspension is compliant and handles turns with ease without jarring your kidneys on rough roads. You get the feeling that the car is on rails and look forward to the next corner.

The instrument panel is clear and straightforward. There are three gauges; tachometer, speedometer and combination turbo, fuel level and water temperature.

In the center of the dash are the sound system and HVAC controls. I felt the sound system was confusing to understand, but figured it out without resorting to looking in the owner's manual. Same with the HVAC; it could have been simpler.

Saab retains the transmission hump-mounted ignition key slot. Also on the transmission hump, the handbrake is nicely integrated into the center console.

On the steering wheel are cruise control and sound system switches. The cruise "set" control is on the turn signal lever.

The Saab 9-3 Convertible has the best high beam headlights I have used thus far. In "low" mode, the headlights have a normal "step" pattern, with the left side of the road's pattern lower than the right side's. But on high beam, a semi-circular light pattern illuminates everything in front of you as if it was daylight. You must be careful to lower the high beams for approaching traffic, but when there aren't other cars on the road you can see everything that's going on.

One of the best switches was the button that converted the Saab 9-3 from a nice coupe to a convertible. It's one-touch and the top drops in about 20 seconds. The rear window is glass and is heated. The unfortunate thing about the convertible, though, is that trunk space, which is 14.8 cubic feet in the sedan, is reduced to 12.4 cubic feet in the convertible because of space needed for the top.

There is a huge glove box and a tricky cupholder that folds out from the dash. There's also another cupholder in the center console.

The front seats are powered. The driver's and passenger's seat both move forward under power when the backs are tilted for rear-seat access. Rear-seat legroom is good when the front seat is forward, too far forward for me to drive comfortably, I felt. Both front and rear seats offer excellent side support. Behind the rear seat is a rollover bar that pops up if sensors detect the possibility of a rollover situation.

Underhood access to the 2.0-liter engine is good, with all the dipsticks clearly marked. Struts hold the hood up so you don't have to go fishing for a bar. Also, the hood release is large and right in the middle, so you don't have to go fishing for that, either.

I had two complaints with the 9-3 Convertible. One, the lime yellow metallic paint scheme was a bit bright for my conservative tastes, although people in the gas stations offered opinions on both sides.

The other complaint was with the price. I though that at $47,640, the Saab 9-3 convertible was about $10,000-$15,000 overpriced. The base price for the car is $42,500. The paint added $500; the Sentronic automatic transmission another $1,350; a color-matched tonneau was $350; a Touring Package that included rain sensing wipers, rear park assist, 6-disc CD changer, remote window and top operation and auto-dimming interior mirror with integrated garage door opener, was $1,195; Xenon headlights were $550; and the cold weather package (heated seats and headlamp washers) was another $500. The destination charge was $695.

For $35,000-$37,000, this is a great car. At $47,640, it's only good.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate

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