What caught my eye was the page devoted to the old Saab 99 Turbo – the one that suffered from abominable turbo-lag measured in whole seconds. Plant the right pedal deep into the carpet and wait – then BOOM as a full-on power assault ensued under the long clamshell bonnet as the unruly Viking stirred from its slumber.
The typical Saab driver of the time was, according to the author, called Robert. He was a youngish middle management executive, married with a two-year old son. He took his driving seriously, and had probably owned an MGB before being forced to buy something ‘more sensible’.
I wonder what Robert would think of the latest recruit to the FN test fleet – the Saab 9-3 1.9 TiD Vector.
Power for this newcomer to the 9-3 range comes courtesy of a new Euro 4-compliant 1,910cc GM-Fiat common-rail diesel engine. Intercooled and turbocharged, ours is the ‘full-fat’ 150bhp/236lb-ft version and, together with a 120 bhp variant, replaces the existing 125 bhp 2.2 litre turbodiesel in the 9-3 line-up.
Vehicle registrations in the premium upper-medium sector (Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Saab 9-3 etc) have now tipped in favour of diesels (53.9%, Nov 2004).
Saab has made no secret that this new engine was overdue, and plugs a gap in their engine line-up putting them in firm contention with the competition.
As supplied by Saab, our 9-3 1.9 TiD Vector comes competitively priced at £21,845 (OTR) – or £23,045 with optional metallic paint and full leather upholstery in place of standard part-leather trim.
Awarded a five star NCAP rating, the Swede augments this with generous safety kit. Front, side and curtain airbags, ‘active’ front head-restraints, traction control, Cornering Brake Control, electronic brake-force distribution and ABS are all present.
Other toys include five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speed gearbox, a CD player, automatic climate control, cruise-control, a refreshingly easy-to-use six-function car computer/information display and Saab’s cool Night Panel feature – all instrument illumination/function is extinguished, except for the speedometer which is illuminated up to the 90mph marking. But floor the throttle and watch the dashboard light up like Regent Street at Christmas – the rev counter might suddenly be needed to ensure the optimum change-up points, for example.
Cabin ergonomics are good. It’s functional, sensible, sturdy and so Swedish. My only gripe: the column stalks feel a tad flimsy.
Front wheel drive the 9-3 may be, but hustled through any series of bends and tight corners vividly demonstrates the Saab’s near-telepathic steering responses. And, as with Peugeot’s 407, it proves that a well-engineered FWD car can be as rewarding to drive as any with rear drive.
One month and 1,800 miles on, the 9-3 has averaged 40.6mpg. But a recent trip north to Edinburgh returned an average of 49.1mpg over 660 miles. I could see Robert driving a 9-3 TiD 150.
Model: Saab 9-3 Vector 1.9TiD 150
Price (OTR): £21,845
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159
Company car tax bill (2004/5): 40% tax-payer £130 per month
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 47.9
Test mpg: 40.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,925/37%
HSBC contract hire rate: £418
Expenditure to date: Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
OPTIONS (as fitted to test car):
WHAT WE EXPECT
AS one of the better looking saloons in its sector, the Saab 9-3 manages to combine premium-car presence without the perception that people are choosing it ‘because that’s what Jones in marketing drives’.
Having said that, during its time here it will have to prove it can hack it as a serious alternative to the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar. With a smooth and potent 150bhp common-rail diesel and excellent driving dynamics, it has made a promising start.
THE MANUFACTURER’S VIEW
SAAB has been honest enough to admit to having lagged behind in what they call the ‘premium diesel boom’. But as Saab brand manager (fleet) Paul Adler said: ‘Things are rapidly changing now that the new 1.9 TiD engine is here’. And initial sales figures seem to bear this out, Adler continues, with ‘the 9-3 diesel mix running at about 70%-plus since the launch of the new engine’.