2006 Saab 9-3
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Saab is probably the only member of the General Motors car family that can get away with an ignition switch located between the front seats because almost everyone expects this Swedish auto to be a little quirky.
That's not to say that Saab hasn't become much more of a mainstream car than it was years ago. The front-wheel-drive 9-3 is Saab's top-selling auto, but would probably lose some of its appeal if turned into a thoroughly conventional auto.
Saab is an innovative automaker that has long has been an upscale car in Europe, which is one reason why GM bought half of it in 1990 and the rest in 2000.
Sales Veteran Here
The 900 hatchback was the first Saab to begin to approach mainstream status in America when introduced in 1979. And the later 9-3 has been accepted as a near-mainstream model here.
GM has tried to expand Saab volume and make it profitable by introducing models that share Saab components with those from Subaru and midsize GM SUVs such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer. But, for the most part, GM has left Saab alone.
The 9-3 sedan is quite roomy, and the SportCombi wagon is even roomier. Even the 9-3 convertible has a decent-size back seat. So the big news for the latest Saab is the turbo V6.
The non-Aero sedan, wagon and convertible have a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 210 horsepower and less torque than the V6.
The turbo 4-cylinder is the type of engine most associated with Saab, which is an expert at producing small, high-powered engines with no more than four cylinders.
More Americanized Engine
I tested the 9-3 Aero convertible because Saab soft-tops have been popular since their introduction in January, 1986, and the 9-3 is one of the most highly regarded convertibles on the market. However, it doesn't come close to being one of the best sellers, and its resale value doesn't match those of rival European soft-tops.
The 9-3 Aero convertible doesn't have an extravagant price for a stylish, fast European soft-top with room for four tall adults. In contrast, the lowest-priced BMW convertible is its 3-Series model. It starts at $39,600, has a tight rear seat and, as of mid-2006, is based on a 1999 design.
The 9-3 Aero convertible has lots of standard comfort and convenience equipment that ranges from leather upholstery to all the power accessories you would expect.
Putting the top down involves just working a switch. It lowers and disappears from view under a hard cover in 18 seconds and goes up in 22 seconds. The side windows lower or raise in an extra four seconds.
Wind buffeting is average in the front seats for a top-down convertible at normal highway speeds.
This convertible's 12.4 cubic feet of trunk space is among the largest of any soft-top model, although it shrinks to 8.3 cubic feet when the top is lowered.
While rather high, the trunk opening has a plastic lip to prevent scratching luggage, and the trunk lid moves up well out of the way on hydraulic struts to prevent head-banging. The lid's interior is lined, and there is a large inside pull-down handle so hands aren't dirtied on outside sheet metal.
Also standard are anti-lock brakes and an electronic stability control system. Saab's active front head restraints protect against whiplash in rear-end collisions.
The turbocharged dual overhead camshaft V6 propels the 9-3 Aero convertible from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Power delivery is smooth—it almost feels as if the car has a larger non-turbocharged V6.
The engine shoots power through a standard short-throw 6-speed manual transmission that works with a light, long-throw clutch or a $1,350 6-speed automatic with a manual-shift feature.
Decent Fuel Economy
The rigidly built 3,480-pound 9-3 Aero convertible is handsome and entertaining. It provides responsive steering, excellent handling with the standard sport suspension and a smooth ride. Stopping distances are short, and the brake pedal is easily modulated.
The ignition switch between the front seats takes getting used to for those who don't drive a Saab on a regular basis, but it's less likely to cause injury during a collision than if it were on the dashboard.
Visibility to the rear isn't very good through the convertible's heated glass rear window, but large outside mirrors help here.
However, long, heavy doors are inconvenient in tight parking situations, and extra effort is needed to get in or out of the rear seat if occupants aren't slim.
The hood opens smoothly on a hydraulic strut to reveal easily reached fluid filler areas.
Low Front Bodywork
The 9-3 Aero convertible is a good choice for those who don't want just another mainstream soft-top car. And even the lower-horsepower trim levels are very competent and fun to drive.