Saab’s convertible has been one of the world’s favourite convertibles for years, a blend of elegance, quality and sheer that is hard to resist. The convertible, nowadays wearing the 9-3 nameplate, is a style icon, extremely popular with women, and the most visible Saab on New Zealand roads. Its styling is based on the steel-roofed 9-3 hatchback which is a very nice car, but bland. Slice the roof off and complement that with a restrained body kit and some very tasteful detailing and you have a handsome car indeed. The convertible's styling is integrated and very clean, the wedge shape rising in a seamless line from the sleek nose to the high bootlid. It even looks good with the hood raised: with it lowered and the windows wound down completely, the 9-3 convertible looks sensational.
All Saab 9-3s or 900s (the old designation) are good to drive, even the oldest ones, but all bar the most recent have a fair degree of scuttle shake. On the oldest 900s – the ones before the current bodyshape – that can be disconcerting at first. Each end of the car seems to be going in a different direction as you cross speed humps. Writing about an Anniversary model 9-3 cabriolet early this decade, we wrote that the chassis seemed to come “alive” every time we crossed a speed hump. “There's some rattle and shake from the scuttle (the part of the car housing the dashboard), some suspension noise that you wouldn't hear in a closed-roof car,” we wrote. “Things would seem a little less busy if the hood were up. But why would anyone drive a convertible with the hood up in summer? “A little bit of scuttle shake and a little more noise are small prices to pay for the sheer joy of open-air motoring.” Current model and cars launched after a mid-decade upgrade to the 9-3 range have considerably less scuttle shake and also have tidier handling, with less understeer. The 9-3 Anniversary convertible we tested used the light pressure turbo version of the 2.0-litre DOHC in-line four cylinder, driving the front wheels. It delivered brisk if unexceptional performance, 100km/h coming up in 10.1 seconds in the automatic gearbox version (8.6 seconds in the five-speed manual). Top speeds for the two versions were 205km/h and 210km/h.
The motor produced 110kW at 5500rpm and a useful 240Nm of peak torque between 1800 and 3500rpm. Handling was biased towards understeer and you were aware of the weight of the motor over the front wheels in brisk driving on winding roads. Though regular model Saab 9-3s/900s don’t run sports suspension set-ups (you get them on the high-performance Aero version), their suspension is quite firm, and feels so when you're pushing hard on a bumpy winding road. And though the 9-3 convertible is a lively ride when you're pushing hard, the chassis' grip and roadholding are impressive. But the Saab is most at home blasting down the motorway with the hood down and the sound system playing loud, cruising in the warmth of a summer's day.
Saab convertible interiors are roomy and tastefully finished. The front seats are well-shaped and supportive, and the cars are genuine four-seaters. The convertibles have good levels of luxury gear as standard. Saab is big on safety, and passive safety packages are comprehensive. On the mechanical front, the Saab’s biggest bugbear as it gets older can be wear in the hydraulic mechanism that raise and lowers the electrically-operated hood. The system can leak and repairing that can be expensive – on the oldest cars or super-cheap bargains probably not worth doing unless you plan to own the car for a very long time. The telltale sign is wet carpeting in the rear cabin which should set your alarm bells ringing. Saab engines and gearboxes generally are said to be robust and reliable, but get an independent mechanical check, especially on high mileage or turbocharged cars. A thorough mechanical check is good sense anyway. These are complex cars and can be expensive to repair. If possible check the service records. A meticulously serviced car will be the better bet. Saab build quality is generally good and the quality and durability of materials in the cabin is first rate. If you’re contemplating buying a Saab convertible – or any other ragtop – follow Auto Adviser’s advice and check it for signs of water leaks through the hood and around side windows.
Saab convertibles are relatively rare, which adds to their appeal, but we found a reasonable selection on autotrader.co.nz. Prices ranged from around $17,000 to low $20K for late 1990s convertibles; early new millennium cars could be had for high 20K to low 30K. Top dollar was being asked for a rare 60th anniversary model – said to be the only one in New Zealand and a competitively-priced collector’s car at $77,900. Saab convertibles aren’t sports cars but are refined, chic cruisers, perfect car for driving a waterfront road on a hot summer's day, hood down, stereo playing and you kept comfortable by the air-conditioning while you bask in the warmth of the sun.