The automotive equivalent of Last Of The Summer Wine it may be, but Saab’s long-running ‘family’ cabriolet can rightly lay claim to being the daddy of the modern compact exec-based convertible genre. Saab’s shifted 300,000 cabrios since the 900 convertible appeared in 1986, but is its aging 9-3 cabrio still a valid player in the face of newer, more advanced German opposition?
Can we start with the thing that potential buyers are most interested in – the ragtop?
Unlike, for example, the BMW 3-series, Saab still opts for a fabric roof on the 9-3 Convertible. It’s uncomplicated and straightforward, just one button to operate and takes a shade over 20 seconds to go from roof to roofless. With the roof in place, there’s a modicum of wind noise at urban speeds; naturally, you’ll find it gets a load more blustery when engaged in roof-down mode. It certainly looks more handsome when divested off its top, especially those sweeping lines of the rear third towards the boot.
Does the average 9-3 Convertible owner care much for dynamics? Surely it’d spoil their hairdo…
The model we tested – the 9-3 Convertible Aero 2.0-Litre Turbo, to give it its Sunday name – is reaching the end of its shelf life (for more, see below). It’s fitted with an old school-style five-speed auto ‘box (no paddle shifts) and frankly, unless your aim is merely to cruise, we’d opt for the six-speed manual, such is the automatic’s rather lumpen performance. That said, a 0-62mph time of nine seconds garnered from the 2.0-litre turbo isn’t embarrassing (unless you compare it with the 7.7sec manual); in fact, the BMW 320i SE Auto does the run to 62mph in 9.8 seconds. The seats are comfortable, but the interior finish falls well short of the 3-Series, A5 cabriolet and even the dark horse of the group, VW’s EOS.
Despite this, Saab cabrio ownership isn’t cheap. The model tested starts at £35,294.35 (that 35p is obviously crucial). Add in leather interior (£1174.47), a convenience pack (£403 and nothing to do with the bathroom but electric folding mirrors, rain sensor wipers and the like) and TX design pack (£607 for fancy anthracite and titanium spread throughout) and you are £500 shy of £40k.
£40k! I’d want something a bit newer for that kind of money
And you can have it soon, sort of. No Saab isn’t releasing an all-new 9-3, but there’s a MY12 (model year 2012) update just around the corner. The headlines are new front bumpers and ‘ice block’ headlamps (as seen on CAR’s 9-5 long-termer), as well as a new instrument panel, cabin and upholstery. Two new 2.0-litre engines (163bhp and 220bhp) benefit from direct injection, VVT and twin scroll turbocharging. It means, says Saab, a 4% CO2 reduction across the range.
There’s also a limited edition Independence Edition of the MY11 model now in showrooms. There are 366 being manufactured (one for every day of the year (in a leap year, obviously), 80 of which will make it to the UK. You can have any colour as long as it’s Amber Orange metallic and all are individually numbered; other attractions include satin-chrome and black 18-inch alloys, carbon fibre-look leather finish across the interior and orange-stitched steering wheel. You have an option – well, no option – of one engine, the 180bhp 1.9-litre twin-turbo diesel with a six-speed auto ‘box. Oh Ambassador, you are spoiling us!
It’s a shame that a company that once defined the cabrio sector now lags behind its rivals. Saab, of course, has had other things on its mind in recent times, but anyone who has driven the 9-5 will know that it’s starting to get things right. A less than stellar interior and only mediocre performance and dynamic prowess means that the 9-3 convertible is something of a leftfield choice these days, but it’s still handsome enough to solider on until a much-needed truly new car arrives. Perhaps then it can give the Germans something to worry about again.