IF something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, but in the case of the latest addition to Saab’s range, the reality really does live up to the promise.
The Airflow range of cars, available in the 9-3 and 9-5 models, are tailored exclusively for fleet buyers and offer more car for less money.
Based on the entry-level Linear trim, the Airflow models add colour-coded door handles and sill covers, deeper front and rear bumpers, a rear spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 15s) to make them look more sporty.
Inside, extra standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control and an MP3-compatible CD player.
And, like all 2007 model year 9-3s, the Airflow versions benefit from an upgraded interior which looks and feels far better than the dated look of before.
The simplified dashboard with its chrome trim surround looks and feels much classier, and also houses some welcome technological improvements.
A Bluetooth-ready mobile telephone system replaces the previous integrated phone option, while the satellite navigation system is now a GPS-based unit which includes touch-screen technology and voice control. The stereo system also benefits from an upgrade, with a tailor-made Bose set-up now available.
As well as more equipment, the Airflow models, available in saloon and SportWagon bodystyles, cost £975 less than the Linear versions and have better residual values (33% vs 31% for the 1.9 TiD 120 according to CAP), giving fleet managers lower wholelife costs and drivers lower benefit-in-kind tax bills thanks to the reduced P11d price.
As well as being cheaper to buy and run than the Linear models, the 9-3 Airflow range has been positioned to offer savings against rival models from Audi and BMW.
For a 40% taxpayer, the 9-3 Airflow 1.9 TiD 120 will cost £19 a month less in benefit-in-kind tax than an Audi A4 1.9 TDI SE and £32 less than a BMW 318d.
Four engines are available, a 1.8-litre petrol with 122bhp and a turbo version with 150bhp, plus two 1.9-litre TiD diesels in 120 and 150bhp guises.
Saab GB managing director Jonathan Nash said: ‘We expect fleet managers to find the Airflow models extremely attractive due to their front-end prices and fuel efficient engines, plus the promise of strong residual values which all add up to very competitive wholelife costs.
‘User-chooser drivers will also be delighted with the ultra-competitive benefit-in-kind tax bills which offer considerable savings against the major competition.’
The firm’s brand manager – fleet, Paul Adler, added: ‘Airflow allows fleets to select a full premium car but one that isn’t bog standard in terms of spec.
‘These models have real kerb appeal and will take between 15% and 30% of the fleet sales mix.’
Behind the wheel
THE interior upgrade for all 2007 model year 9-3s is a big step forward and gives the Saab a much more premium look and feel.
Gone are the ungainly air vents and the myriad buttons scattered around the dashboard, replaced by a new fascia design which houses all the stereo and satellite navigation controls in a chrome rimmed area. Below are three circular knobs for the climate systems.
The engine line-up is familiar to any Vauxhall or Saab driver, and we tried the 1.9-litre turbodiesel with 120bhp – the likely best-seller in the Airflow range.
Although a little noisy at start-up, the noise levels are fairly well suppressed on the move. With 206lb-ft of torque available from a low 2,000rpm, there’s ample power in the mid-range.
As an all-round package it makes a strong case for itself, and doesn’t lose out by much performance-wise compared to the 150bhp version of the engine. It’s also more fuel efficient and will be cheaper on benefit-in-kind tax as it sits two bands lower than the TiD 150 in the company car tax system.
The main mechanical change to the Airflow is the adoption of 17-inch alloy wheels, as opposed to 15-inch items on the Linear model on which it is based.
While the ride is harder than in the Linear, it’s not uncomfortable and blends decent handling with long distance comfort.
SELECTING an Airflow model over another 9-3 is almost a no-brainer – it’s cheaper than the Linear trim, looks better and will appeal to both drivers and fleet managers thanks to its lower running costs and benefit-in-kind tax bills. The interior upgrade is a welcome step, too.
|Model:||1.8||1.8t||1.9 TiD 120||1.9 TiD 150|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||122/6,000||150/5,500||120/3,500||150/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||124/3,800||177/2,500||206/2,000||236/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||124||131||124||131|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||36.7||36.3||52.3||48.7|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||183||183||147||157|