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First drive: 9-3 Convertible for $6000 less

Spec chop: new entry-level 9-3 Linear Convertible loses 129kW turbo engine, climate control and fog lights.

Saab cuts $6000 and equipment from its entry-level 9-3 Linear Convertible

21 Feb 2005

SAAB has made a dramatic move to drag drop-top buyers up from the premium class and into the luxury segment with its re-specified 9-3 Convertible range.

Aiming at the Holden Astra, Peugeot 307 CC and Renault Megane CC convertibles, the baseline Linear model is now priced from $66,900 – $6000 less than before.

This puts the Linear within reach for some premium convertible buyers, who are paying upwards of $56,990 for the up-spec 307 CC Sport, for example.

"It’s now not such a stretch for them to consider the 9-3," said Saab Australia and New Zealand director Ralph Stevenson.

Worth noting also is that the Saab is based on the premium segment 9-3 sedan, while the topless premium players are small-car derived, albeit with significant re-engineering and bespoke bodywork.

The new lower price point for the luxury convertible segment leader also puts more white space between it and the number two seller, BMW’s 3 Series, as well as Audi’s A4 Cabriolet.

About $4200 of the base 9-3 convertible’s $6000 drop is due to the deletion of the 129kW/265Nm 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine for the 110kW/240Nm 2.0 turbo found in the 9-3 Linear sedan, along with ESP stability control, automatic air-conditioning for a simpler manual version and front fog lights.

However, the latest Linear retains the previous model’s remote-opening electric roof, leather trim seats and 16-inch alloy wheels, so it will take a keen eye to spot the (albeit misleading) 1.8t badge.

It also has the same five-star Euro NCAP rating and class-exclusive 30km/h-limit roof operation of its more salubrious siblings.

Despite the use of a lower-pressure turbo 2.0-litre engine, the new Linear produces 15Nm more torque than the Audi A4 1.8T (but 10kW less power). But BMW’s six-cylinder 325Ci is significantly more powerful and slightly ahead in torque.

38 center imageJanuary’s five per cent import tariff fall is also said to contribute around $1800 to the lower price point. Interestingly, Audi slashed $3700 (4.4 per cent) off the base A4 while BMW’s 325Ci reflects a $2900 (or 3.1 per cent) saving.

Meanwhile, the 129kW 2.0-litre engine is the basis for the new $73,900 Vector Convertible, which replaces the old $72,900 Linear in the 2005 range.

Above the new Linear it adds ESP, 17-inch wheels, more leather and chrome trim, climate control air-conditioning, fog lights, an adjustable driver’s armrest and floor mats.

The range-topping 9-3 Aero Convertible, with 155kW of power and 300Nm of torque, continues at its old price of $89,900.

Saab Australia hopes the lower-priced Linear will help boost 9-3 Convertible sales by 16 per cent this year, from 724 units in 2004 to 839. Of those, 577 should be Linear models, followed by 160 Vector and 102 Aero variations.

Currently almost 90 per cent of all convertible sales are for the automatic, with a 50/50-male/female split overall The premium convertible segment Saab hopes the Linear will poach some buyers from has been the driving force behind a 40 per cent rise in the overall convertible segment over the past two years.

A boom in novated leasing in recent times should also help the ragtop’s chances. Saab’s partial integration within Holden Limited – Mr Stevenson is a 20-year veteran with Holden – sees the Australian arm with new opportunities to communicate directly with fleet managers who were hitherto unavailable to it.

Nevertheless, Saab Australia is retaining sales, after-sales and marketing department autonomy from Holden.

It will leverage Holden’s infrastructure in areas of purchasing and cost savings and systems and logistics efficiencies.

And, for the moment, only around one in four Saab dealers will be co-franchised with a Holden dealer.

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