Saab 9-3 93 Sport Saloon Cabriolet Convertible

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So another day, another car. Not as glamorous as the Audi RS6 by any means but still a story to tell.

I know I must be a mug but yet again, a car I purchased shiny and new direct from the dealers forecourt. I just can't bring myself round to the idea of someone else being there first!

Now for a bit of background on my Saab loving habits. This one was far from my first (oh, double standards) but due to the demise of Saab, will almost definitely be my last.

Many years ago, my first job in the motor trade was as a (very crap) parts person at a Saab main agent quite close to where I lived in West London. It was here that I first got bitten by the turbo bug and after passing my driving test, got the chance to sample what have now become known as 'classic' Saabs but back in the day were just Saabs. The 900 tempted me with a T16S; a 16 valve turbocharged lump of metal that despite its weight, used to launch like the proverbial off a shovel.

I never could afford one at that time (low wages, youth and high insurance) so had to admire from behind the counter and look forward to the occasional use of a loan car over night (usually a base model 900 8v with manual windows)

My particular soft spot lay with the much scorned by purists 9000CSE 2.3 turbo - a veritable boat of a car.

So fast forward a few years, a few grey hairs and 5 Saabs of varying quality including a couple of 2.3 Turbos that both dropped their water and blew up and we arrive at 2002 - shortly before my business enabled me to buy the aforementioned Audi super estate. A friend of mine that I had worked with at Saab was still working in the dealer network but now as a turncoat salesman. He called me up and asked if I fancied a blat in the new Saab; the 9-3 Sport Saloon. I loved it - it felt like it was on rails and I was hooked. So much so that we spec'd up a top of the range Aero with fancy sat nav and 13 speaker stereo (unlike the early ones, these did at least come with a stereo)

A year or so later whilst waiting for my new Audi S4 V8 to be built I bought a runaround which happened to be a 9-3 convertible. Now this is where the story starts to get relevant. If you are in the market for a 9-3 Sport Saloon convertible and have only ever driven the previous 9-3 one please do not let your experience put you off ever having another Saab convertible.

Now I hope you can tell from the above that I am no Saab newbie but let me tell you, I certainly felt like one when on the way home from collecting it I had to call my friend at the Saab garage to ask him to query a technician about what major repair was required to the suspension of my latest Saab due to the unbelievably bad (and I mean Ford Galaxy with two shot lower arms bad) driving experience. After he'd finally stopped laughing, all I could hear was a strained voice telling me it's a 9-3 convertible - they all do that and had I never heard of scuttle shake.

Now those of you familiar with it may well laugh but for the rest of us let me explain what he was referring to. Basically, a car with a roof is quite a rigid structure but once you cut the top off and replace it with a bit of cloth the whole structure can twist and this makes it hard for the chassis to keep all four wheels in perfect contact with the road thus making it feel like the floor/wheels etc are about to shake loose. As the Saabs have no cross bar (or bloody window frames) they like to make matters even harder for themselves. Add in a few years wear in the various joints and mounts and it makes for a not pleasant ride.

Once my new Audi arrived the rattler became surplus to requirements but even with its awful characteristics my wife had become quite taken with the soft top (she'd never liked the Aero despite the Abbot Racing tune up as she said it was an old man's car) so when my bastard friend called and said that due to the new release of the 9-3 Sport Saloon Convertible they were having a ride and drive day (or something like that) and would I like to have a go in one, I said yes.

A revelation would be an understatement. The chassis was now some kind of double chassis and as tight as a porn star's buttocks (male or female - you choose) In fact, it even went round corners with nary a shiver. That's how I ended up with my first 9-3 SS Convertible - I part exchanged the old 93 and the Aero plus a couple of quid and picked up a shiny new automatic Convertible. Abbott Racing fettled again and a great time was had by all. I am now on my third one so I suppose it is only right to compare the three so that you can perhaps decide whether one may suit you better.

The first, as just mentioned, was an automatic and a mid range Vector specification. The second I leased and was a manual but also the Vector specification. The third, and possibly last, was in lowly Linear trim and only a 1.8 which is still a 2.0 but has a light pressure turbo instead of the full monty job. The difference, however, was that the last one cost me a third less than the first one as the prices for new (or the discounts available) had dropped significantly. Consider that when looking at prices. Also consider this: the last one was crap compared to the previous two in build quality and reliability. The first two only saw a garage at service time but the last one has had a couple of faults, one of which was a rather significant and happened just before Saab packed up shop thus leaving me with no recourse through the dealer network which was rapidly folding at the time.

You just don't expect to suffer from steering failure on a sub 3 year old car but that's what we got. It seems that something in the power steering pump, no doubt a Vauxhall make do bit, failed eventually causing pump and rack damage and eventually failure. Oh how lucky was I that I paid the £500 deposit on my credit card and after much arguing they coughed up the repair costs.

I am now at just under 60,000 miles and the old bus rattles from the interior. The roof lining developed a strange staining on the inside early on and was cleaned by the dealer. The outside looks like a pair of my kids trainers - stained and scuffed. It still drives ok but lacks the oomph it originally had. Brakes have been a pain as it wears out the rears before the front (made that way!) and the buggers rattled after fitting despite being original equipment (Saab parts still exist and supply all your needs)

The good things? Only one set of pads and discs at each end in 60k. No exhausts falling off. It passed its first MOT needing a wiper and a bulb. The headlight bulbs are knuckle scratching painful to change. The standard radio is a bit pants and not easy to see the display. Again, looks like a GM reject as the first two had quite decent stereos. On this last model Saab (or GM) decided it would be a good idea to put a chrome surround on the dash fascia. It wasn't. It reflects in the screen and is bloody annoying day or night.

Fuel economy is hard to judge as costs have jumped since the earlier ones and I was always more of a 'how much do I put in a week' type of estimator than an MPG freak so I can't really compare. My only comparison now is a 2.0 diesel Audi A6 and the Saab uses more for the same commute. Best I can offer.

I'm not sure if it is just my wife but the interior elements such as console and dash seem terrible to keep clean with lots of dust harbours. Oh the front ashtray fell apart as did the dash mounted fancy cup holder.

Paintwork on all three has been fine and the alloys are as easy as any to scuff. The seats are still some of the most comfortable on the market and despite by bad back I always get out without stiffness at the end of a long journey.

I have never had a problem with the speedy electric roof (he says touching wood) and those that remember the first 'classic' Saab Convertibles may remember the troubles they had to the extent that Saab commissioned a 'sorry we are shit' plate for all affected customers. One strangeness that they justified on some kind of American health and safety/don't sue us stance is that the electric roof and windows have total opening (holding the unlock button on the remote drops roof and windows) but not total closure. Great for when you leave the pub and want to lower the roof before you get in on the one sunny day of the UK year. Not so great if you leave the car with the roof down on your driveway in the middle of Summer and it starts to rain. Instead of smugly pressing a button from the dryness of your front room you have to run to the car, key in ignition and put the roof up.

Staying with the roof I must say that motorway driving has got noisier as time passes. One distinct memory from my Saab main agent days was the particularity that our super technicians would apply silicone paste to the door rubbers. No doubt this conditioned them and led to longer life but I wonder if it also led to a quieter motorway drive. Needless to say I have never had this done on any of the recent dealer and now non dealer services.

If you intend to do much roof down driving you will want to invest in a wind deflector. These clip in behind the front seats and make top down driving less buffeting. Ebay is your friend.

So, should you buy one? With prices at the lowest ever due to the closure of Saab and parts availability still good, it seems that now is the time for your first cheap, stylish Saab convertible. Just remember; it's not an Audi or BMW and you'll be fine. So it rattles a bit. Who cares. 
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