2008 SAAB 9-3 Aero Convertible Review

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2008 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible 2.8TS Review & Road Test

Model tested: Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible 2.8TS

Recommended Retail Price: $93,300.

Options fitted: None fitted.

Engine, style.

Price, scuttle shake.

CarAdvice rating: (3.75)

“SAAB is responsible for more automotive World First’s than almost any other car company on the planet, but it’s best known for its iconic SAAB Convertible”

- Written & photographed by Anthony Crawford

Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebloaget or SAAB as we know it, was founded back in 1937 to build military aircraft. But you knew that right? We have all seen the ads, which regularly feature Saab jet fighters.

What you probably didn’t know, is that this Swedish car company, was the first to fit head rests as a standard safety feature, in the Saab GT 750 way back in 1958, which I am happy to say, was before I was born.

But innovation didn’t stop there. In 1962, the company fitted seat belts as standard kit, and in 1963, they offered dual brake circuits.

Other world firsts for Saab include; headlamp washers and wipers in 1967, heated seats in 1971, deformable bumpers which could take an impact of up to 8km/h, turbocharged engines for passenger cars in the guise of the Saab 99 Turbo in 1976, and the list goes on.

But this isn’t a history tutorial on SAAB, the car company. It’s a review of the most powerful car Saab currently builds. And better still, this one’s a soft top.

Most carmakers like to build “hot” versions of their cars. Saab is no different. Hot Saabs get an “Aero” badge and a few other goodies.

Up at the business end of the car, you’ll find a smallish 2.8-litre turbocharged V6, which I’m pleased to report, gets on with the job. And so it should. With 188kW at 5500rpm and 350Nm from 1800 all the way through to 4500rpm, the Saab Aero Convertible is no slouch. Off the line getaways feel rapid, despite the spec sheet indicating 8.1 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprints and top speed is 240km/h.

Power delivery is smooth and linear, allowing for no fuss overtaking, while the engine note is decidedly of a sports growl nature.

Working in prefect harmony with this small bore V6, is one very smooth 6-speed automatic box. If left in auto mode, shifts are quick and smooth as are the kick downs when you need to punch it.

Just don’t use the sequential mode or the steering wheel shift paddles, as they are woefully slow to react, unless you recalibrate your shifts to a second or two ahead of when you want them to actually occur.

While the Saab has significantly more power than its main competitor, Volvo’s C70 (that’s 188kW Vs 162kW) it’s a much heavier car conceding over 100kg to the other Swede.

That’s surprising, as there is more flex or scuttle shake in the body of the 1759kg Saab. You might put that down to the Saab wearing a classic soft-top roof, whilst the Volvo uses a folding hard top set up.

And that brings me to another point. Do I prefer a soft top or the hard top? I’m afraid the jury is still out of that one. While both systems have their benefits, I’d probably go for the more traditional fabric roof, due to looks and the obvious weight saving advantages.

The Aero comes standard with the Sports Chassis Package so while the suspension is a little firmer, you would still call the overall ride comfortable.

Whilst you can certainly feel the weight of the car come into play on turn in, especially if you happen to be punting the car along, the tuned suspension successfully dials out all but minimal body roll, which makes this convertible even more enjoyable to drive with a little enthusiasm.

But let’s get back to why Saab has sold more than 250,000 convertibles throughout the world and over 10,000 in Australia. Looks and style. You buy a Saab Convertible because you like how it looks. It’s a hansom if not pretty motorcar, with a fair dose of prestige cachet.

And with the additional Aero body kit, large dual exhaust pipes and a set of very nice sports alloys shod with those superb Continental SportContact 2 tyres, it really does look the business.

The car looks good enough with the fabric roof up, but with the roof down, it’s probably the best looking convertible on the road for less than $95,000. No question.

The roof mechanism is very rapid, I clocked it at around sixteen seconds and you can lower or raise it on the fly at up to 30km/h although, I didn’t actually test this feature this time round.

Inside the car, is just as nice as the exterior. I rate the sports leather seats up there against anything from Europe. They offer excellent bolster and support but at the same time, are ridiculously comfortable on long distance trips.

I did have an issue with the lever mechanism on both front seats which when lifted, enables the seat backs to fold forward, which allows rear seat access. They were temperamental and often didn’t fold, particularly annoying when you are double-parked at a restaurant, trying to let the kids out in good time. I finally worked out that its best to lift and fold forward very quickly and all in one motion. That seemed to do the trick.

It's roomy too. Plenty of space for four adults and kids will find it more than comfortable even on holiday drives.

The fascia and instrument layout is typically Scandinavian. That’s minimalist, but then I like that. No clutter. The switchgear is easy to read and operate which is a big plus for those of us over 40 years.

The top half of the centre dash is devoted solely to audio controls (yes, you can plug in your iPod too) and the bottom area accommodates the HVAC dials. Nice and simple.

This is how you do a car interior, at least from a practical sense. But while the plastics are generally of a high quality and soft touch, I’m not a fan of the GM inspired handbrake lever, it’s not comfortable and should be replaced with an electric hand brake, with this spec car.

While the steering wheel is of the sports variety with decent thumb rests etc, it’s just not thick enough to provide that performance feel, that the Aero deserves.

Another thing you need to get used to when driving a Saab, is where to insert the key Fob. No amount of faith or perseverance will assist you in starting the car on the right side of the steering column. Saab gave that practice up back in 1967, when they moved the ignition to in between the front seats.

They studied actual crashes and found that a key in the steering column could cause a serious knee injury. Makes sense, although these days with collapsible steering columns, it may not be as much as an issue.

If you’re into water sports, you can lock the car and leave the remote part of the fob in the car, and lock it with the non-electronic half of the key, which separates from the main body. It’s both clever, and highly convenient, if you happen to ride a board or scuba dive.

At close to $93,000 the 93 Saab Aero Convertible is fully loaded with a stack of luxury kit that should make life easier behind the wheel of this car.

The audio system is particularly impressive. It’s a 300W, 7 speaker 6 CD in dash changer that puts out some high clarity without bias to any music genre. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t played a CD in years, so it’s about time that all car companies install a USB port so that MP3 users can control playlists through the steering wheel audio controls.

Other standard features worth a mention (far too large an inventory to itemise) include; Bi-Xenon headlamps with auto levelling, Halo “Lead-me-to-the-car” remote lighting, Auto dimming interior inside/exterior mirrors, Bluetooth Phone Integration System (TEL4), Heated door mirrors, Glovebox with “cool” feature – down to 8 degrees, Remote opening roof and windows, Rain sensing wipers, Saab Parking Assistance and much, much more.

With some many world first safety features adapted to the car by Saab, you naturally expect a safe car, regardless of whether the roof is up or down.

A full compliment of active safety features is on board; ABS brakes, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Mechanical Brake Assist (as distinct from Electronic Brake Assist (EBA), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Traction Control System (TCS) with brake and throttle intervention and Electronic Stability Program (ESP).

As fas as occupant protection goes, there is Active Rollover Protection along with six airbags but no rear curtain airbags which is a surprise.

“The Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible is an exciting car, no argument there. But I can’t help think that its hefty sticker price of $93,300 might be limiting overall sales potential of this variant”