Convertible or Station Wagon: Two Good Saabs

The Saab SportCombi and convertible are both safe bets. They don’t throw much new your way this year and they don’t scrimp on the safety features either. In other words if you like Saabs you are going to like the new models. If you don’t like Saabs you don’t what you are missing in terms of solid transportation and prideful production standards. We have owned Saabs in the past and found them ideal in every way from exceptional fuel mileage to a ready to play attitude. What we didn’t like about them was the expensive maintenance costs for parts.

Outside of a few new colors the on the SportCombi 4-dr wagon and convertible there are few changes. You can order the base model and get a turbocharged, 210-hp 4-cylinder engine or upgrade to the Aero with a

250-hp V6. You can get an automatic or stick shift and we recommend the latter if you want any performance. The smooth shifted automatic smothers the performance of the base engine.

Standard safety features include ABS and traction, antiskid control, front side airbags and curtain side airbags, active head restraints, four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a solid chassis. The convertible has front side airbags. The convertible also has a pop up rollover bar. The past crash testing has revealed outstanding scores.

Mom’s view: I love the convertible. I have never had so many people make positive comments about a vehicle. Perhaps it was the light blue color with a tan top, but every woman gave this Saab the “I wish I owned one” look. It is different and it is cute and doesn’t suffer the same old look syndrome. This is the one to own.

The SportCombi just didn’t have enough room, but it was a great handling wagon with just enough poke to make it playful. The front wheel drive does not have any torque steer with the automatic, but you have to prod the slush box to convince it you’re serious about acceleration. It is an excellent transmission for the mild mannered. Since General Motors owns Saab it shares a few chassis components with the Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac G6, and Saturn Aura.

The power fabric top works well and has a nice large rear window to help with the continual problem that all convertibles have and that is impeded vision to the side due to the large C pillars. To this end the Saab could have larger rear view mirrors. The Saab has a reported 0.28 coefficient of drag which is exceptional and helps with fuel mileage in the 25 mpg on premium range.

You can get five people into the wagon, but four is all that the convertible is willing to hold and those in the rear seat aren’t going to have much toe room. The seats on the wagon fold down with a 60/40-split and you get a level storage area when you do.

The interior is dark, but highly user friendly. It curves around the driver and has such unique features as a night panel button that turns off all the interior dash lights except the important ones to reduce eyestrain when traveling at night. The gauges are green and are easy to read. The ignition key is in the center console area and is typical Saab meaning that it is difficult to use, but they have a safety reason for placing it there. (It won’t hit your knee in an accident as dash and steering column units might.) As well, a cupholder that folds out of the dash is still a unique feature, but at least this one is useful, but terribly fragile. Leather seats are standard in the convertible, although we much prefer cloth in open car tops due to the issue of sun damage to the cowhides and the pain of sitting down on sun burnt leather while wearing shorts. I have learned over the years to always fold the front seats forward when leaving any convertible on a sunny day to avoid this searing experience.

Driving wise the Saab convertible is as solid as a Porsche and much more reliable. The top is well insulated and the cornering and stopping are first rate. The SportCombi is a bit more stable and the ride is quieter due to the solid roof. Both models have the adequate 210-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 221 pounds-feet of torque. The optional engine features a 250-hp, turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 that produces 258 pounds-feet of torque. I prefer the four cylinder, but if you like performance the V-6 is a must drive. The turning circle is a bit large. Handling wise the Saabs can easily stay with the competition from Audi and BWM, but alas, it does not have the nice steering feel or brake feel of those two.

The convertible Saab used what they call a “Ring of Steel” to reinforce the chassis and body to compensate for the lack of a hard top. The result is a very stiff chassis, but more importantly it offers additional safety. Even the seat belts are attached to the seat frames for more crash worthiness. You can also order the optional OnStar that I recommend highly to all women drivers as it provides access to help at all times.

The SportCombi is not supposed to be called a station wagon, but a hatchback. You might want to note that the old version of the 9-3 produced until 2002 still generates new car money because of the hatch back design and its great utility, performance, and fuel mileage. The SportCombi gets LED-lit tail lamps and an integrated roof spoiler. As in the convertible there is some turbo lag and this is magnified with the automatic transmission. Nevertheless this is a great car on the highway. There is a modicum of noise, but you feel like you are in total control at all times. If you can wait a split second for the turbo to come online you will never need to use the manual shifting features. The SportCombi can easily do what a SUV can without the inherit ant dangers of these high riding vehicles.

Overall these are two great cars with a rare combination of practically, safety, exclusivity, and a fun to drive factor. Make mine the convertible anniversary blue with a tan top and let the sun shine.

College going male’s view: Nice looking, easy to park, and unique are what I liked about the Saab convertible. The rear seat room in both is limited with a tall floor hump taking up legroom. I still don’t know why this is occurring in a front wheel drive vehicle. The only thing that would prevent me from owning one is a lack of dealerships and poor resale. However, I have noticed that most Saab owners don’t sell them anyway, and the lease rates are so good that it is almost impossible to ignore.

The suspension has struts, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar in front with a multilink set up in back aided by coils and an anti-roll bar, too. Saab claims that its convertible is three times stiffer than the previous model and it feels that way. Nothing seems to shake it and the only a slight quiver through the steering wheel lets you know you have hit a significant pot hole or other road irregularity.

The stereo isn’t very good in either car and reception is only adequate. The head unit is difficult to work in a hurry and the fact that both AM and FM stations can be co-mingled makes it even more confusing. You get a CD player and an auxiliary audio input as well as a very good information center to keep track of issues such as miles to empty. If you opt for the optional stereo and information units you can get an in dash six disc CD changer and a GPS nit with a good sized 6.5 inch monitor. The Bose stereo is significantly better than the base model.

The side view mirrors on the convertible are too small for a vehicle with such large C pillars and the car always seems to be a tad slow to respond to accelerator inputs. However, the automatic soft top is really good. It looks great up or down and the road noise is far less than would be expected. Of note is the fact that the Saab is actually longer than the Toyota Solara and most other convertibles in the class giving the 9-3 a smooth highway ride. Unfortunately, rear seat room is still quite limited. The trunk has about 12 cubic feet of room, but the lowered top takes up about 4 cubic feet when it is lowered.

Even when driving at speed the wind isn’t that much of a problem and all the while you are averaging over 25 mpg on the highway using the cruise control. Options are a better stereo for $900, OnStar for $700 plus a monthly fee, and not much else short of the larger engine package. The $42,000 list price is probably too high considering the competition, but Saab is famous for the best lease deals in the business and I would recommend that. I can only conclude that the Saab convertible and station wagon are quality vehicles, albeit on the pricey side, with plenty to offer those that are looking for quality and fun in a safe vehicle. And, if you decide on the 9-3 Aero with its V6 turbocharged engine you are going to have a very fast vehicle indeed. Look for 0 to 60 mpg times in the low six-second range. As a single guy I can’t say enough about the babe magnet the Saab convertible is so be warned.

Working woman’s view: I love Saabs and these two only added luster to that belief. They are invigorating to drive even with an automatic transmission, get nearly 25 mpg on the highway on premium, and have a taut suspension that is very reassuring. I won’t consider the sportier and faster and more expensive Aero. One factor I felt good about was that Saab had cured the vehicles of the tremendous torque steer that had infected them for several years, especially the Aero version.

Driving the Saab you are immediately greeted with a feeling that someone took his or her time putting this vehicle together. Except for the stalks for the turn signals and windshield wipers everything else had a hefty feel. The Saab feels much more sporty than the Volvo and more eager to please. The seats are very supportive and a lever enables you to move them forward easily in the convertible for access to the rear seats. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but not enough in my case. I like to sit high in a car and the steering wheel just doesn’t move far enough for me to see the gauges and still feel comfortable. I think tall people will have to make some compromises.

Both Saabs have very large glove boxes, but the center consoles are too small due to the placement of the ignition key. There is another problem with the Saabs that I have personally observed in my Saab ownership and that is the high cost of routine maintenance. Although I truly felt that my Saab was the most versatile and fuel frugal vehicle available, every time I took it to the dealer I was shocked at the price charged. If you want to buy a Saab, and everyone should at least test drive one, check out the prices at the dealership for maintenance and ask about specials.

Family conference: Two good Saabs, in fact, probably the best ones from the standpoint of ride quality, but they still must compete in a field dominated by all wheel and rear wheel drive vehicles that offer better handling. Despite this we highly recommend the Saab convertible as a must drive and the SportCombi as a great value if you can get the price point down a bit. We truly enjoyed these vehicles and only wish that more people could take the time to drive them. For a list of all vehicle websites go the and click on business.