EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view

The Saab 9-3 remains one of our favorite convertibles for a variety of reasons: performance, comfort, safety and — surprise — sexiness.

So we leapt at the chance to get back into a 9-3 soft-top equipped with a special $1,995 20th anniversary package.

Our test car, a 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible, had only one other option, a $1,350 automatic transmission, and a bottom line of $45,965.

HE: I know you think this Saab may be too “girlie” for some tastes, with that stunning electric blue metallic paint job and blue color scheme that extends into the cabin. I don’t know — maybe after all these years I’ve finally discovered my feminine side, but, hey, I like it. Any car with blue trim on the seats and doors that also packs a 250-horsepower, turbocharged V-6 is OK in my book.

SHE: Yeah, you can go on about your “feminine side,” and then you ruin it with all that guy stuff about nuts and bolts. I just want to talk about the anniversary package, which bundles the metallic paint with a color-coordinated tonneau cover and a truly gorgeous cabin. The parchment leather upholstery with the blue accents really works for me. You also get a touring package as part of the deal; that includes a few nice extras like rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers and a remote opener for the windows and top. Speaking of that top, it’s so simple and quick, you can open it a stoplight in about 19 seconds.

HE: The 9-3 is one of the few convertibles that doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic. It has ample head and leg room, at least in front, although I wouldn’t want to put anything larger than a shopping bag and a shitsu in the rear. And it looks great with the top up or down. The Aero version comes pretty loaded, too, with everything from dual-zone, automatic climate controls to a leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel with a tilt/telescope column.

SHE: I was disappointed the Saab doesn’t seem to provide much protection for rear-seat occupants, although side air bags for the front seat are standard, as are antilock brakes, stability and traction control, anti-whiplash seats and automatic rollover protection. I really like the built-in safety belts in the sides of the front seats, which are easier to reach than in other convertibles.

HE: We haven’t talked much about the driving dynamics, but that’s another plus with the 9-3. This particular model has a sport suspension that seems just firm enough, yet able to soak up all the bumps and surface irregularities on our local roads with no evidence of impact harshness. Saab uses 17-inch wheels and all-season tires, which provide a comfortable ride and good grip when the rain comes.

SHE: I checked the window sticker to see where the 9-3 was built and was surprised to find out what a truly international car this is. Saab, of course, is owned by General Motors. But the 9-3 convertible has a significant number of parts from Germany and Sweden, an engine from Australia and a transmission from Japan.

HE: For about the same money, you can buy a BMW 330Ci convertible, but I think the Saab is a better deal. There’s more room in the 9-3. The engine is more powerful, too. The turbocharged, 2.8-liter V-6 in the Saab delivers 250 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque and should easily outrun the BMW. I also liked the optional six-speed automatic, a Tiptronic-style gearbox with manual shift capability.

SHE: There’s just not a lot to complain about. The 9-3 Convertible is one of my favorites, too — easy to park and easy to drive. And now, with that sexy blue paint scheme and interior accents, it’s even easier to love.

2006 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, four-passenger convertible.
Price: Base, $42,620 (includes $720 shipping charge); as tested, $45,965.
Engine: 2.8-liter V-6; 250-hp; 258 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
Where built: Austria
Estimated 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,835

Anita’s rating: 5
Likes: Gorgeous electric blue metallic exterior. Color scheme extends into cabin, with blue trim on doors and seats. Clean exterior styling, with top down — no “baby buggy” handle. Power top takes only 19 seconds to deploy. Pretty good standard safety features, with seat belts built into front seats. Easy to drive, easy to park.
Dislikes: Visibility problems with the top up. Limited storage space in cabin. No side-curtain protection for rear-seat occupants.

Paul’s rating: 5
Likes: One of my favorite all-seasons convertibles. Terrific turbo V-6 with lots more muscle than BMW 330Ci. Smooth six-speed automatic with manual shift capability. Saab still makes the best “joystick” controls for vents. Decent highway mileage.
Dislikes: Front seats feel just a bit snug. Rear seat is cramped, with few amenities.

Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.

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