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Car reviews - Saab - 9-3 - Linear 1.8t convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Hefty $6000 price reduction, safety features, roof operation, performance, ride quality, refinement, interior space for four
Room for improvement
Loss of stability control and fog lights, dash materials, light and lifeless steering

21 Feb 2005

SAAB’S 9-3 Convertible is a BMW 3 Series/Audi A4 Cabrio style of ragtop, right?

If that’s your thinking, then you’re a luxury segment sort, expecting power, pace and plenty of playthings to go with your expensive European luxury car.

And Saab will oblige, with the $89,990 Aero Convertible, complete with a 155kW high-output turbo, and a standard equipment list that’s virtually as long as you like.

But say you’re wanting a four-seat convertible and don’t quite have that much money to spend.

Naturally you’d check out the $50,000 options – namely Holden’s Astra Convertible, or the two French tin-top drop-tops by Peugeot (307 CC) and, more recently, Renault (Megane CC).

If you’re satisfied, fine. Each has strengths.

But if their $25K hatchback siblings – complete with the same badges on the boot-lid – bother you as they carve you up about town, then Saab now has its luxury-segment 9-3 convertible for, well, not a whole lot more.

That’s the theory anyway, and Saab is banking on a 16 per cent 9-3 Convertible sales spike to see if it’s a fact.

For your $66,900 (or a hefty $2500 more for the auto), you get the Linear that fools your neighbours into thinking you’ve lashed out on something truly luxurious, since the only visual giveaways are the inaccurate ‘1.8t’ badge (it’s still a 2.0-litre) and no front fog lights.

And all essentials remain inside too – like the nifty 20-second remote controlled electric roof erection that will work to 30km/h, an assortment of airbags, anti-lock brakes, heated front seats, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, power windows and air-conditioning.

The latter is of the non-climate controlled variety, there’s a surprisingly large expanse of low-fi plastic about the (otherwise smartly applied) dashboard, and stability control is AWOL.

But the latter is unlikely to matter much since there’s now a lower-pressure turbo pumping out the 110kW of power and 260Nm of torque from the same sized engine in the more salubrious 9-3s.

It’s a sweet little revver, this four-cylinder engine.

Most of its smooth pulling power occurs between 2000 and 3500rpm, and so it isn’t quite as sluggish picking up speed (although the official 0-100km/h speed of 11.5 seconds won’t ruffle too many toupees), and it will cruise happily with plenty of poke to spare at highway speeds.

Over a 200km course the 9.3L/100km average wasn’t too shabby either. Saab says the Linear auto as tested returns a 9.7.

There aren’t many road surfaces that will upset its handling composure either, although with its light and slightly lifeless steering this isn’t a driver’s car either. But then nor is the Peugeot or the Audi.

Ride and refinement qualities are also commendable, with little in the way of body shimmering, while conversation is easy even with the roof and all four windows retracted.

My favourite 9-3 configuration is the pillarless roof-up/windows-down look, with the resulting unobstructed side view adding an airy and breezy element that suits the Saab’s lazy driving style.

You’re left with a largish, roomy four-seater sedan with all of the ergonomic and comfort features you’d expect from a Saab combined in a ragtop that’s easy, accessible and refined with the roof up and lots of fun with it down.

The Linear is way more relaxed and preferable to ride in and drive than the smaller chop-top cheapies. For buyers moving up, it is a convincing stepping stone to quality luxury ragtop motoring.

Thrilled with their new station in life, they’re unlikely to miss the other more expensive models’ extra power and gadget glory. Unless, of course, they’ve already been corrupted by it.

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