At present rain is hammering down against the office window and the temperature is low enough to think about buying a can of de-icer.
So no-one in their right mind would order a soft-top car now, would they?
Well, yes they would, for a number of reasons. Firstly, these vehicles are very popular and waiting lists are fairly lengthy, so ordering one now would mean it arrives on your drive in time for spring – always a time when you can get the roof down and the heater on full to enjoy the experience.
Secondly, soft-tops these days are true all-weather cars and in the case of the four mentioned here, their roofs are so well-built and insulated that even a British winter won't have them leaking and dampening the spirits of the occupants.
The subject of this road test is one of the newest premium badge four-seater convertibles on the market.
Based on the 9-3 Sport Saloon, the soft-top Saab takes the good looks and engaging drive from its saloon stablemate, does away with the rear doors and tin lid and offers a two-door with a neat electric folding roof.
It follows a simple formula laid down by the king of this sector, BMW's 3-series convertible: take a good-looking base model, add in an electric roof which stows away neatly out of sight at the touch of a button, add a couple of grand to the list price and, hey presto, you've got a car which will appeal to UK drivers who, remember, are the biggest buyers of convertible cars in Europe. The Saab has certainly got all these bases covered and offers more too.
Although the 1.8t model is the lowest powered version, offered with 150bhp, it doesn't feel overwhelmed with the extra weight it has to carry around. And despite being the least expensive of our four cars, it certainly isn't under-equipped. In Linear spec, the 9-3 comes with alloy wheels (although the standard items don't fill out the wheelarches enough), air conditioning and remote central locking as standard.
The interior is pure 9-3, which means one of the neatest dashboards around, despite the usual Saab idiosyncrasies such as the over-sized steering wheel and ignition barrel between the front seats.
But the exterior is the most important thing for buyers in this sector as this type of vehicle is all about the pose factor.
The Saab badge is a slightly leftfield choice but it still passes muster when compared to Audi and BMW and, on first impressions, the 9-3 is a match for the 3-series convertible and A4 Cabriolet.
The 9-3 shares the same smart front end with the saloon version but the rear end is all-new and, unfortunately, all bad.
The rear is dominated by a pair of huge, bulbous light clusters which fold over the top of the bootlid and the rest of the tailgate is an over-fussy mess of badges, numberplate, lights and styling creases.
It's a real shame because the rest of the car is spot-on. Styling is a subjective opinion but I conducted my own vox pop and the majority verdict backed my view. Still, perhaps I'm being too critical. After all, you can't see the rear end of the car from behind the wheel anyway.
Saab 9-3 Convertible 1.8t Linear
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £23,710
CO2 emissions (g/km): 206
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 25%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 32.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £10,150/43%
Depreciation (21.82 pence per mile x 60,000): £13,092
Maintenance (2.54 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,524
Fuel (11.64 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,984
Wholelife cost (36.00 pence per mile x 60,000): £21,600
Typical contract hire rate: £466 per month
Three rivals to consider
WE are comparing entry-level convertibles and despite a few discrepancies with engine sizes and power, it is the Saab which is the cheapest entry to open-top motoring in this contest. The 9-3 is the only car to fall below the £24,000 P11d threshold, costing £23,710. The Audi is the second cheapest but costs £600 more than the Saab, with the Volvo in third place on £24,680. The BMW is by far the most expensive, costing £25,670 – nearly £2,000 more than the Saab.
A clear win for the Saab in servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR) costs. Over a typical three-year/60,000 mile lease contract, the 9-3 will cost £1,524 in SMR costs, compared to £1,920 for the Audi, £2,148 for the Volvo and £2,598 for the BMW. Although the gap between top and bottom of this table may only by about two pence per mile, when the figures are worked out it reveals the BMW will cost £1,074 more than the Saab.
WITH its clever Valvetronic system ensuring the engine runs at its most efficient all of the time, it is no surprise the BMW wins the fuel costs sector. With a combined economy figure of 36.7mpg, the 318 Ci is streets ahead of its rivals here and over three years/60,000 miles it will cost £6,240 in fuel, assuming the driver meets the car's claimed economy figure. The Audi will cost £6,900 and the Saab is fractionally behind at £6,984. The Volvo is clearly last, costing £7,872 in fuel over the same period.
A CLEAR win for the Saab in running cost terms. With the lowest front-end price and the best performance in the all-important depreciation sector, it seals a close victory over the Audi. The A4 Cabriolet is close behind, being the runner-up in every sector. The BMW is third – a high front-end price cancelling out its top spot in fuel cost terms. The ageing Volvo brings up the rear, costing nearly six pence per mile more than the Saab. A poor residual value performance seals its fate.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
LOW fuel consumption means low carbon dioxide emissions, so the BMW's efficient Valvetronic engine comes up trumps. It emits 187g/km of CO2, placing it in the 21% benefit-in-kind tax band. This equates to a bill of £180 a month for a 40% tax-payer. The Saab is four tax bands higher but its lower P11d price helps to soften the blow – it will cost the same tax-payer £198 a month. The Audi will cost £195 a month but the Volvo is well adrift and will cost £247 a month.
THE person choosing this type of vehicle will be concerned with image above all else, so wholelife costs are not the be-all and end-all. The Saab, BMW and Audi are evenly matched in running cost terms so in the end it comes down to pose factor and driving enjoyment. For me the Audi wins – it's not as good to drive as the BMW but its sleek looks more than make up for that.