The buzz among auto writers these past few months is that Saab has done a remarkable job with the new 900. But like Nick Carraway, the solemn, introspective narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I, too, am inclined ''to reserve all judgments.'' I'll reserve them, that is, until I've had a chance to put the gas pedal to the metal and do some serious driving. I piled on 734 miles in six days in the new 900. Saab has done a fabulous job reworking the 900, which aside from the name, is almost completely new. Except for the base model's four-cylinder engine, few if any parts are carried over from the first-generation 900, which ended production last year. If you are in the market for a sporty, high-powered import, you might want to consider taking a very serious look at the new 900, especially the V-6 powered model. The 900 five-door, with its fold-down rear seats, offers a level of interior space and utility that no four-door sports sedan can match. It delivers performance that is best in its class - or close to it - and the 900 sports a unique appearance. Oh, and that $26,000 price tag makes the 900 nothing less than one of the best bargains of the 1994 model year. You get your money's worth - and more. PERFORMANCE Base model Saab 900s are powered by a peppy 2.3-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine that generates 150 horses. But our test car featured Saab's first-ever V-6, a 2.5-liter unit with four cams, 24 valves and 170 horsepower. This is a special engine. For one thing, it is built in Great Britain for Saab by General Motors. Several years ago, GM bought half of Saab, and the new 900's engine is the first product of that linkup. And what a dandy engine it is. Our test car, equipped with a computer-controlled, four-speed automatic, was lightning fast. With the transmission programmed to shift gears in the sport mode, the engine delivers a smooth surge of power that rockets the car to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. The driver can set the transmission for either sport, normal or winter driving. The difference for each setting is the timing of the shifts. However, in winter mode, the car starts in second gear to reduce chances of the wheels losing traction. The new 900 is most enjoyable to drive with the transmission in the sport mode. Acceleration is crisp and powerful, making the car a blast. Few sedan or five-door cars are this much fun to drive. HANDLING The new 900 performed beautifully each time I punished it with my usual array of road-going gymnastic maneuvers. As I drove the car hard, the 900 reminded me very much of a BMW sports sedan. Through each high-speed turn and sharp curve, I experienced the same tenacious road-holding, and I felt the same Teutonic, rock-solid construction as I did in BMW's 535i. Saab has outfitted the 900 with all the high-performance and safety hardware you would expect in mid-priced imported sports sedan. There's a crisp power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system; powerful, aircraft-strength, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes; and a firm suspension system that keeps the car straight and true during aggressive driving. The ride is very quiet, and the suspension system does a nice job absorbing the impact of imperfections in the road. FIT AND FINISH The 900's dash is a nicely sculpted piece of automotive architecture. The center of the dash is angled slightly toward the driver, making it easy to adjust the air conditioner or tune the radio. Other switches - for headlights, fog lights and interior lights - are on the left side of the steering wheel. They are easy to reach and use. Dual air bags are standard. Our test car came with firm leather seats, which were fitted with heaters. The seats were excellent, offering plenty of support and enough room for nearly any size body. The back seats fold forward, b t not completely flat. However, I still was able to store plenty of cargo in the rear area. Whatstruck me most about the 900's interior was the amount of attention Saab engineers paid to the details. For instance, the window switches are lighted, and they are on the center console. The shifter for the automatic transmission curves forward slightly so that it fits neatly into the palm of your hand, and the switch that engages the sport mode is a flick of the finger away. The new 900 also is available as a three-door hatchback. It can also be ordered with a turbocharged version of the four- cylinder engine. A 900 convertible is set to reach dealers this spring. Because the new 900 hit the road late last year, sales have been strong, and it looks as if Saab has scored a major hit. The new 900 ranks as one of the best cars I've tested this model year. Truett's tip: The V-6-powered Saab 900 S five-door is a remarkable car. It delivers sports-car performance as well as family-car room and comfort. Clearly, the new 900 is the best car Saab has ever built.
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