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Car reviews - Saab - 9000 - CD 4-dr sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Roomy, practical body, efficient and economical engine, highway performance
Room for improvement
A little clunky by modern standards can be expensive to service

Saab logo25 Jun 2003

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE

SAAB's long running front-wheel drive 9000 series was in its twilight years by the time the 'Ecopower' low pollution, low pressure, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine became standard across the range in early 1996.

The original 9000 hatchback was launched 10 years earlier and was Saab's version of the Type 4 joint-venture with Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia.

We saw the Alfa (164) for a few years, the Fiat (Croma) for a few months but not the Lancia Thema. The 9000CD four-door sedan followed in 1988.

More conventional than the quirkier original 900, the flagship 9000 was Saab's challenge to BMW, Mercedes and Volvo.

A thoroughly overhauled 9000 appeared in 1992, easily picked by its lower front and higher placed tail-lights.

There were mechanical, suspension and structural changes, freshened-up interiors and a revised model range.

In Saab-speak, the "CS" name referred to all 9000 hatches except for the luxury Aero.

The first 125kW, 2.3-litre, four-cylinder Ecopower-engined Saabs arrived in September, 1993, positioned above the base model, non-turbo, 108kW, 2.3-litre 9000 CS.

By early 1996, Ecopower became standard across the range, signalling the end of the no-blow four- cylinder 9000.

Efficiency is the Ecopower's calling card. Saab demonstrated this by driving an Eco-powered 9000 through London. The results showed the air going out of the exhaust was cleaner than the air going in.

Compared to the rather sluggish non-turbo, the 9000 CS Ecopower has a steady, smooth surge of mid-range power that masks the relatively small engine capacity.

Acceleration is not neck-snapping but it is brisk enough on the open road for effortless overtaking and quiet long-distance cruising.

Fuel consumption improves - by up to 15 per cent - over the naturally-aspirated 9000 CS.

Along with the driveability improvements the standardisation of Ecopower brought, 1996 also saw a range of subtle enhancements designed to keep the model competitive until its 9-5 replacement arrived in November, 1997.

Dual front airbags and cruise control became standard across the range - although the passenger's airbag moved into where the glovebox once resided - while new colours, new wheel designs and more user-friendly door handles were added.

Inside, new velour trim, extra storage compartments to compensate for the demise of the glovebox and the obligatory cupholders all made appearances.

The traditional 9000 hatchback strengths remain. All 9000 CS features a spacious and versatile wagon-like body, comfortable, supportive seating for five, high quality materials that add to the luxury ambience, a solid, ergonomic dashboard design and careful attention to safety.

Prospective buyers should have the ZF-sourced four-speed automatic transmission checked thoroughly. This gearbox is known to need very expensive repairs at less than 100,000km. It is probably the 9000's biggest problem to date. Pre-1992 Saab 9000 models have their share of problems, with turbo failure at 150,000km not unusual.

Saab - which has sold turbocharged cars here since the 1978 99-series - claims the latest turbos are now as reliable as alternators.

Abused examples suffer from worn engine mounts and electrical failures are not uncommon. But the Ecopower is still relatively new so its record is good. Regular servicing is vital so only examples with a maintenance record should be considered.

The 9000 CS is still the slick handling, smooth riding big car that helped establish Saab as a worthwhile prestige marque.

The last models do not feel as dated as one might expect.

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