2004 Saab 9-3

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2004 Saab 9-3

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Saab finally comes up with a really good convertible.
Pros:
  • Much sturdier
  • Fast
  • Good roadability
Cons:
  • Small radio and climate controls
  • Poor rear visibility
  • Questionable resale value

Now that Saab's fairly new 9-3 sports sedan has taken off, this Swedish automaker follows with a redone 9-3 convertible that far outshines its previous soft top model.

Saab is owned by General Motors, so the 2004 Saab 9-3 convertible shares a new platform with other GM cars and the 9-3 sports sedan's drivetrain.

Sharing GM components saves small Saab millions of dollars and should help remove it from its often-faltering status. GM plans more Saab models with parts from automakers in which it has equity.

Rugged Reputation
Rugged Saab hardtop models long have been popular in New England states, with their Swedish-style winter driving conditions. Saab convertibles have been considered chic in specific areas of the country, such as San Francisco, and have been bought by people who want a different type of European convertible.

If nothing else, Saab long has been different, with such items as a console-mounted ignition switch between the seats. The 9-3 sports sedan is pretty mainstream, as is the new convertible. Their resale value is questionable because of Saab's quirky old reputation.

Saab would like its new convertible to also be popular in trend-setting areas such as Los Angeles, where its lack of a prestigious nameplate has led people to bypass it and opt, for example, a BMW or Mercedes-Benz convertible.

"Our Saab 9-3 sports sedan is dong much better in Los Angeles, so we hope for a good reception there for our convertible," said Saab Cars USA spokesman Colin Price.

Two Versions
The 9-3 convertible comes as the well-equipped $39,995 Arc and as the higher-line $42,500 Aero, which adds such features as a sport suspension and larger wheels and tires.

Both versions are powered by a smooth turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine with four cylinders. It provides 210 horsepower and has only slight turbo lag. The engine is small for a car that weighs 3,480 to 3,550 pounds, but Saab is a whiz with small turbocharged motors. The new convertible thus has fast acceleration in town and on highways.

Saab said it is considering a V6 engine for the 9-3 convertible, although it might not arrive for several years.

Estimated fuel economy is 19-21 mpg in the city and 28-30 on highways, with the higher numbers obtained with a manual transmission.

The Arc is offered with a 5-speed manual gearbox or 5-speed automatic, while the Aero can be had with the automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission. The automatic costs $1,250 for the Arc and $1,350 for the Aero, which has steering wheel controls for manual shifting.

More Solid
The new convertible has a rigid body structure that is three times stiffer than that of its aged predecessor, which suffered from cowl shake and twisted and flexed a lot on poor roads. The 2004 model is rock-solid.

The convertible arrives too early for convertible season in the northern part of the country, but it's better designed for year-round use. It has a snugger, more thickly padded top that goes down or up at the touch of a button in 20 seconds, with no unlatching needed.

The top is nicely hidden by a hard body colored tonneau cover when lowered and even has rain gutters to prevent water from dripping onto the seats when doors are opened.

An option package has a feature that lets the top and windows be lowered when an owner holds down a key fob unlock button. (For safety's sake, the top must be raised with the interior control.)

An automatic climate control system adjusts to heat levels in top-down mode, and you can talk to occupants without shouting with the top down at reasonable highway speeds.

Sleek Design
The new convertible has a steeply raked windshield and sleeker styling than its predecessor. The body has the same dimensions and front end sheet metal of the 9-3 sport sedan, but differs otherwise.

Saab has been big on safety since it began selling cars here in the mid-1950s, so the convertible has rear-seat roll hoops, which deploy in milliseconds if there is a chance of a rollover. There also are standard head and thorax front-seat side airbags.

Traction and stability control systems help keep the car steady in dicey situations, and a brake assist feature provides surer emergency stops.

The convertible's front-wheel-drive design puts it at a handling disadvantage, compared to rear-wheel-drive rivals with better weight distribution, although front-wheel drive is no handicap with this car during normal driving.

Good Roadability
Steering is quick and linear, and the car handles adroitly, while delivering a smooth ride. "Passive" rear-wheel steering enhances roadability&151;as do the traction and stability control systems. Stopping power is impressive, and the brake pedal has a reassuring feel.

There is good room up front in the nicely shaped bucket seats, and the comfortably shaped rear seat can accommodate two medium-sized adults, although there's little room to spare back there.

Aircraft-Style Cockpit
The cockpit has a functional, aircraft-style design, although controls for the sound and climate systems are too small for easy operation when driving. The wood-and-leather trimmed steering wheel looks good, but the wooden part of the wheel is slippery when you're cranking it for a turn.

Visibility is good to the front and sides, but the raised rear top hinders rear visibility.

The nicely shaped trunk is fairly large for a convertible.

Unlike its predecessor, the new 9-3 convertible is more than a pleasant top-down beach cruiser. Rather, it's a stout all-season car that promises to increase Saab's popularity in all parts of the country.

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BB04 - 9/21/2014 7:27:04 PM