OVER the past six weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have commented on how tanned I look and asked if I’ve been on holiday.
Unfortunately, I haven’t and have been sitting in the office helping to ensure that you get your fix of roadtests, while outside the sun has blazed away unremittingly, day after day.
And yet, here I am with my ‘George Hamilton in Palm Springs’ look, which is entirely due to my new transport to and from work, a sun-trapping Saab 9-3 Convertible.
The Convertible has been Saab’s most popular and highly-visible car for years, and does some very good corporate business, with up to half going to fleets these days.
But this particular model is something entirely new. It’s the diesel version, launched earlier in the year and using the 1.9-litre 150bhp TiD turbodiesel unit which does sterling service across many of Saab and Vauxhall’s key fleet cars.
In an ideal world, so Saab hopes, user-chooser company car drivers would flock to its heady combination of good looks, soft top, frugal diesel engine and low company car tax bills.
But diesels and convertibles, despite the advances in engine technology that have softened the noise of a diesel, are still unlikely bedfellows.
Many of the improvements in noise, vibration and harshness have come from insulation as well, and, of course, with the top down all that goes out of the window – literally.
And it’s not easy to predict which convertible will suit a diesel: the BMW 320Cd Convertible makes a horribly harsh racket and is, quite frankly, embarrassing to attempt posing in.
So I have to admit to a certain amount of trepidation when the 9-3 turned up. Would the soundtrack to my summer be a rattly roar?
Fortunately, though, the soft harmonies of Jack Johnson have been the summer sonics because the diesel is actually pretty quiet.
It is a bit metallic when cold, there’s a little vibration through the steering wheel at idle and, if you’re pulling away with walls nearby, some harshness bounces back off them, but in 99% of situations with the roof down the engine is smooth and refined.
In fact, because of its naturally low-revving nature, in cruise mode the 9-3 is very quiet and relaxing – possibly more so even than a petrol – and even with only 2,000 miles on the clock it’s not unusual for it to manage more than 40mpg on a long journey.
Our car has some of life’s little comforts, with extras such as satellite navigation and parking sensors, and some very chic light leather seats which seem to be holding up well to a life exposed to the elements. The seats are also fantastically comfortable, as Saab seats always seem to be.
There are, of course, some compromises to be made when you live with a convertible. The boot space, especially with the roof stowed in it, is hopeless. A potholer would feel claustrophobic in the dark slot that is left.
And if you have anything larger than a carrier bag in the boot when powering the roof back, paranoid sensors will intervene and stop your progress, so you have to take everything out and restow when the action is completed.
But if such little discomforts are likely to drive you through the roof, then owning a convertible is not for you.
Personally, I can’t think of a better way of covering miles this summer in such a frugal yet stylish manner. The only thing is, it’s worth you, unlike me, wearing a cap because my increasingly substantial forehead is resembling a very large Malteser. Now, where’s the aftersun?
Equipment and options
Total options: £2,130
Price (OTR): £27,919
Price as tested: £30,049
Price: £27,919 (£30,049 as tested) )
CO2 emissions (g/km): 169)
Company car tax bill (2006) 40% tax-payer: £213 per month)
Insurance group: 13)
Combined mpg: 44.8)
Test mpg: 40.8)
CAP Monitor RV: £9,800/35%)
Contract hire rate: £551)
Expenditure to date: Nil)
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
The manufacturer’s view
‘THE new diesel-engined 9-3 Convertible has done even better than we expected it to. It is running at about 25% of our fleet mix orders for the 9-3 Convertible, and order volumes are running about 10% ahead of where we anticipated, which suggests it has been accepted quickly by fleets. The 9-3 is a key part of our portfolio and is the iconic Saab. It will be popular with user-chooser fleets.’ Paul Adler, brand manager – fleet, Saab