top-nav-left top-nav-right

Article Search


Saab 9-3 Anniversary Convertible


Light hits the barely-rippled water of the Waitemata Harbour, then seems to dance from wavelet to wavelet, winking beneath the warm mid-summer sun.

We cruise along Westhaven Drive, the car grumbling almost as much as I do about the speed humps that are scattered every few metres along the road.

The bumps discomfort most cars, but they discomfort convertibles even more.

The Saab 9-3 Anniversary's chassis seems to come alive every time we cross 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.

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 on one of those glorious, blue-sky cloudless summer's days that Auckland can turn on. Days that, though too few, make the city's trademark rain bearable.

The summer of 2001/2002 looked like it would never come, but its arrival at the same time as the latest version of Saab's stylish droptop gave us the perfect opportunity to drive the four-seater in its intended element.

Though we think the steel-roofed 9-3 hatchback is a very nice car, we accept that it looks a little bland.

But 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.

Its restrained body kit enhances the already good looks. It includes body-coloured body and side skirts and a nicely-designed bootlid-mounted spoiler, also body-coloured.

The 9-3 Anniversary convertible uses the light pressure turbo version of the 2.0-litre DOHC in-line four cylinder, driving the front wheels.

It delivers 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 are 205km/h and 210km/h.

The motor produces 110kW at 5500rpm and a useful 240Nm of peak torque between 1800 and 3500rpm.

The torque ensures smooth progress and good mid-range acceleration.

The automatic gearbox shifts smoothly and offers instant kickdown if you need extra urge for open-road passing. It can be shifted manually, but the lever is not as user-friendly for manual gearchanging as, say, those found in Holden Commodores or Ford Falcons.

Handling is biased towards understeer and you're aware of the weight of the motor over the front wheels in brisk driving on winding roads.

It can be driven hard in demanding going, but that isn't really its forte.

We'd be interested to discover how the more powerful - 151kW/280Nm - Aero convertible with its stiffer sports suspension copes on such roads.

The Anniversary isn't difficult to drive hard on winding roads, but the nose-heavy feel does add to the driver's work rate.

There's also a fair amount of scuttle shake when the hood is and the occasional bang/crash from the suspension, along with a general feeling of chassis liveliness.

Though it's not a sports set-up, the Anniversary's suspension is firm. And it feels so when you're pushing hard on a bumpy winding road.

Ride quality on smooth roads, like the motorway, is excellent.

But though the 9-3 convertible is a lively ride when you're pushing hard, the chassis' grip and roadholding are impressive.

It felt completely secure and never once got out of line.

But the Saab is more 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.

You can have the windows wound right down into the bodywork or you can leave them up and keep most of the windblast away.

The hood raises and lowers automatically, though in typically safety-conscious Saab style you have to keep your finger on the switch throughout the operation. A central, manually-operated, latch has to be undone before the hood is lowered.

The Saab's interior is tastefully finished and has a high-quality feel.

The heated front seats are well-shaped and supportive, and all four seats are upholstered in attractive, non-slip leather (there are also leather accent panels in the doors).

All occupants sit relatively low to keep them out of the slipstream during fast open-road running.

There's a good array of standard equipment.

The four-speaker sound system includes a dashboard-mounted single disc Compact Disc player. Frankly we prefer the single disc set-up to a boot-mounted CD multi-disc changer. We find it more convenient and more flexible.

Sound quality itself was good, though with the hood down you need to crank up the volume to counter the greater out-of-car noise levels.

Remote controls for the sound system are mounted on the steering wheel.

The air-conditioning system is efficient and unobtrusive. We used to find the notion of air-conditioning in a convertible amusing, but it make a lot of sense.

Driving the Saab with the top down on blisteringly-hot days we welcomed the cooling breeze from electrostatically filtered air-conditioning.

It's especially welcome when you have the hood up on hot days, and in wet weather ensures the windscreen and side and rear windows (the rear-view window is glass) are kept free of fogging.

All windows are electrically-operated and the car has remote-control central door-locking.

Outside of the exemplary job done by Jaguar, we're not great fans of woodgrain trim on car dashboards, but the small amount used in the Saab looked great and added to the car's atmosphere.

Security gear includes an engine immobiliser and deadlocks, an alarm and a security-protected sound system. The latter - designed by Saab - is larger and differently-shaped than a conventional aftermarket unit, meaning it will only fit a Saab. The unit has also been electronically coded to work only in its original car. It won't work even in another Saab 9-3.

The anti-theft system has three parts.

The first is a fully-encapsulated lock cylinder that Saab says can't be hammered in or pulled out. If an intruder tries to force the lock it will spin without engaging.

Part two is designed to guard against theft of contents. If a window is smashed the deadlock makes it almost impossible to unlock the car from inside.

The third part is designed to stop car thieves. Saab says an electronic starter inhibitor makes it virtually impossible to start the engine without the correct key. The ignition locks is in the floor between the front seats. The key can't be withdrawn without putting the gear shifter in Park, locking the front wheels securely.

A nice touch is what Saab calls the "follow-me-home function." When you park the car at night, you can press the headlight flasher stalk when you get out.

The headlights then come on for 30 seconds to light your way.

With the hood raised, the boot capacity is good - 378 litres.

With the hood down and stowed in the boot, luggage capacity drops to 295 litres and the shape of the stowage space changes. There's full-depth stowage towards the rear of the car and stowage underneath the "shelf" formed by the folded hood.

Saab is big on safety, and the passive safety package is comprehensive and impressive.

The driver and front seat passenger both get dual stage front and side airbags.

All seats get three-point seatbelts, and the front seatbelts have pre-tensioners.

Headrests are fitted to all four passenger positions, and the front-seat headrests use active technology to move forward in an accident and help prevent whiplash injuries.

All the seats have built-in anti-submarining to prevent passengers sliding under the seatbelt in a crash.

The body structure has extensive front and rear crumple zones and the passenger cabin is inside a safety cage. The windscreen frame is strengthened to act as a roll-over bar.

The Saab 9-3 Anniversary sells for a touch under $82,000. For that money you get a thoughtfully-designed, well-assembled, high-quality luxury droptop with a large amount of active and passive safety built in.

It's not a sports car, and wasn't intended to be.

Instead it's a refined, chic cruiser. It's the 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 and basking in the warmth of the sun.

Driving an open-topped car on a summer's day is one of life's great joys.

And Saab's elegant convertible is a great way to get in touch with that joy.

AutoPoint road test team.

Auto Trader New Zealand