by TONIO DARMANIN
Saab is one of those brands that I always enjoy discussing. The Scandinavian way of thinking has always assured that vehicles originally designed and built with the exigencies of a nation with particular climatic and geographic conditions in mind will be different. The emphasis on safety and reliability resulted in a string of models that, although lacking in the aesthetic department, gained a reputation for robustness, dependability and for offering the highest levels of security to those travelling inside. They were also pioneers in the use of turbo technology and applied the knowledge they gained as airplane manufacturers to excel in aerodynamics and performance.
When General Motors took over the brand, they obviously had to rationalise production by matching models across the group to gain the necessary economies of scale, however they were smart enough to retain the basic values that the Saab brand represented. Hence, the new 2008 93 Convertible I test drove does share, for example, its chassis with, amongst others, the Opel Vectra, however it does present a structural and styling independence that is immediately identifiable. Far from the odd shapes of Saabs of old, the new range of models distinguish themselves for their strong, sporty presence, and in the case of the 93 Convertible, both with the roof up or down.
White is possibly the most fashionable colour at this point in time to the extent that it is being referred to as “the new black”. The Saab in this colour looks amazing and the unlikely combination with a beige roof actually matches perfectly. The butch impression you get as you approach the car, with the front drawing a resemblance to the Aero X, is enhanced once you open the door and sit inside it. The driving position is excellent and the seating position is near perfect, whilst the 93 also offers adequate room for three other adults. Ergonomically, instruments are clustered sensibly inside the “cockpit” and within easy reach of the driver. It oozes luxury and uncompromising quality and I felt safely cocooned even with the hood down, a different sensation from any other convertible.
Given the background of the typical market for this car, one might question the validity of offering a convertible in the product line-up, the North-European climate being what it is. What Saab has done is to build a vehicle that, once the roof is up, feels exactly like a fixed-top coupè and the insulation, including that for sound, makes this a car that is enjoyable in any circumstance, and in any season.
On the other hand, the car is aimed at an international market and whether it will be driven to the North Cape in winter or up to Paradise Bay in August, it is versatile enough to offer the limit in driving pleasure in either case. It would likely be a next progression to consider evolving to a retractable hard top but on the other hand, being Saab, they might not bother.
The 93 under test was a Vector model equipped with the 2.0 turbo petrol engine developing 210bhp and generating 300Nm of torque between 2,500 to 4,000 revs. The same block is used for two lower-powered configurations, namely 150bhp and 175bhp, but this particular specification ensures the best balance between sporty performance and contained economy and emissions. The car pulls away beautifully with a respectable 0-60 time of just over 8 seconds for the 6 speed manual version.
Shifting is precise and smooth, although I personally would probably opt for the 5-speed automatic box. Steering is precise but reacts, as expected, to the mix of forces between traction and change of direction, as does any front wheel drive car. Suspension is particularly comfortable, not too soft, but once you get used to driving it, you will realise that you do not need to come to a dead stop in front of the slightest obstacle and even our infamous sleeping policemen do not manage to make the ride unduly uncomfortable.
Additionally, the 93 range has available what Saab refers to as ‘ReAxs’, whereby all four wheels help in the steering, a bit like the effect on a skateboard, making road holding truly exceptional.
The car is loaded with all the refinements to make driving it easy and comfortable. It is a pleasure to drive and it not only looks strong and safe but feels it too, and more importantly, it is truly a reliable and particularly secure car. Saab’s “real life” safety research helps them develop technologies that help them build vehicles that are safer than most, particularly comforting when one is looking at a convertible.
A final consideration is that of perceived value. The vehicle creates an aura of exclusivity, not being a car that is commonly seen on our roads, and with the styling and design of this new model, I was surprised to find that the pricing is much more accessible than I imagined.
This article was first published on Times of Malta on September 1, 2008