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Car reviews - Saab - 900 - 900i 16 Combi 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Quirky Swedish style and practicality
Room for improvement
Parts and servicing can be costly

25 Jun 2003

IF you want individuality, Saab is your car. The Swedish car- maker has always had a character of its own, a combination of its aerospace origins and the driving challenges of its home environment.

Now that the company is half-owned by General Motors, this individuality may be threatened by the vagaries of corporate rationalisation.

The Saab 900 series dates back to 1979. A lower cost option to the 9000 series, and less luxuriously appointed, the 900 nevertheless offers the same wonderful highway manners and ride comfort.

The range of 900 models is confusing with 900i, 900i 16, 900i 2.1, 900i 2.1 16, 900 EMS 16, 900 EMS 2.1 16, 900 GLE 16, mostly available in sedan and three and five-door hatch (Combi) variations.

A turbo version of the 900 is also available in three-door hatch form, giving true sports car performance designed to compete with the lower priced BMW and Volvo models in the sports sedan market.

The family oriented five-door Combi Coupe with normally aspirated - but still sporty - 16-valve engine is the subject of this review. The Combi Coupe has an immensely practical layout with an enormous amount of luggage space available.

The 900i 16 is powered by a fuel-injected, 2.0-litre, single overhead camshaft engine with four valves per cylinder. Longitudinally mounted, the engine drives the front wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox or a somewhat outdated three-speed automatic.

Suspension is by double wishbones and coil springs at the front, and the rigid rear axle is controlled by coil springs, leading and trailing arms, and a lateral (Panhard) rod. Gas shock absorbers and anti-sway bars are used front and rear.

The steering is power-assisted rack and pinion.

Inside, the Saab 900i 16 has big, comfortable seats with a high driving position and excellent visibility. Round, white on black instruments are easy to read.

The 900 has the rather inconvenient siting of the ignition key on the centre console and requires the transmission to be in park or reverse before the key can be removed. The armrests lack a recess to allow the large doors to be pulled closed.

Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, power steering, central locking, power windows and power adjustment for external mirrors. Rotary heating and ventilation controls are logical and precise to operate.

On the road the car has a wonderfully solid, stable feel coupled with a well controlled ride and predictable handling. Wet weather stability is outstanding.

The steering is very precise, allowing the car to be placed accurately on twisty roads. Performance is reasonable, the smooth spinning 2.0-litre engine held back by the rather bulky kerb weight of around 1250kg and the three-speed auto.

The manual is the better choice for drivers eager to wring out as much performance as possible from the 94kW.

Saabs can be expensive to maintain due to a technically brilliant but less than practical approach to serviceability in some areas of design.

Avoid using your local Falcon repairman - the Saab needs a more delicate approach, except for very routine servicing.

The use of a timing chain eliminates the need for cam belt changes, a useful saving in servicing costs. Drive shaft or clutch problems can be expensive. Any problems should be handled by a Saab specialist as should a pre-purchase check.

The Saab 900i 16 is a car with character, reasonable performance, outstanding road manners and ride comfort, and excellent appointments. It is a good choice for those seeking semi-luxury European motoring with a touch of individuality.

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