It’s only August, but in Michigan we know summer will fade soon. We’re just a few windy weeks away from leafless trees and talk about what went wrong with the Lions this season.
But instead of worrying about the mercury tumbling or the offensive line, I decided to savor a bright summer afternoon from the driver’s seat of the 2008 Saab 9-3 convertible. I love my job.
Drop tops always make feel like Phadeus on some hog meandering along a blue highway. There’s a connection to the world around you when you’re riding in an open-air car — something hardtops can never accomplish. Life is more real with a drop top; you’re part of the scenery instead of looking at it through the frame of a car’s window.
The 9-3 makes that connection. With the wind in my hair, the car’s 2.8-liter V-6 clicked through its six-speed automatic transmission effortlessly. No music on the stereo, no angry acceleration, just 255-horses purring along as I headed south for a look at Lake Erie, the least greatest of all of the lakes due to its proximity to Ohio.
My first impression of the Saab 9-3 convertible was not one of joy. There’s something impersonal about its exterior that I couldn’t put my finger on. This is the kind of car they might design in Sweden. Oh wait, they did.
But after 100 miles, my opinion changed dramatically. I was seduced by its open-aired Swedish sexiness, lulled into liking her by her vulgar appeal to my topless obsession.
When I first jumped into the Saab, I nearly laughed at its goofy silver plastic steering wheel. It looks like a prop from an Ed Wood film. But 25 miles into my trip, I started to like this abuse of resin and paint. The outrageous seemed normal.
Even my impression of the car’s exterior with the top up started to change after the open air, smooth ride. When I first saw it parked in my driveway, I thought the car was downright ugly. Flat topped and black, the roof looked like the designer penned its final lines with a fist-sized Sharpie.
The front end fares worse, with its seriously furrowed brow — the hood ends so much farther back than the bumper that it gives the 9-3 an expression of Forest Gump working on algebra. Concentrate Forest, concentrate!
But when I parked this Saab a few hours later, I looked it over again and thought, “Hey, this ain’t so bad.” It’s kind of cute –the new flared side extensions, the clean lines along the sides, the distinctive Saab appearance.
Looking back, I think the 9-3 duped me into liking her with her deep leather bucket seats. Few convertibles are as comfortable as this car — and that would include the BMW 3 Series and the Volvo S60. There’s tons of room and the bolsters hold you snugly in place. They say, “There, there, enjoy the ride.”
And I did.
The body remains very stiff and stable with the top down. There’s little cowl shake (from a moving windshield) when you hit pot holes. And if you need to talk on your cell phone with the top down, it’s very easy to do.
Some convertibles can feel a little tight inside with the top up — as the ceiling is typically dark and it feels like it’s about to collapse on you. The advent of hardtop convertibles has helped change that, but Saab’s old-school cloth top was downright airy with the top up, and beautiful with it down. It also provided a fairly quiet ride when the top was up, making this a true all-season vehicle. (Though the small trunk gets even smaller with the top down, going from 12.4 cubic feet to 8.3 cubic feet.)
Another reason I may have ended up liking the 9-3 convertible is I never had to ride in the two-passenger back seat, which has only 32 inches of legroom. It’s cramped back there. And with the top down, you can experience hurricane force winds directly in your face.
The beauty of Saab has always been that you can buy a European car, while telling your friends in Detroit how you support an American car company.
But that’s not the reason to get this car. Get it because it looks pretty cool and it reveals a whole new world with the top dropped.
As I pulled up to a favorite spot in Monroe County, where I like the view, I could see Lake Erie stretching out to touch the sky along the horizon. A wind came across the lake with just a hint of a chill in it. Winter will come; that’s inevitable in Michigan.
But that’s OK; this 9-3 includes heated seats.
2008 Saab 9-3 Convertible Price : $40,700
Type : Premium compact sports car, front-wheel drive, four-passenger two-door convertible Key competitors: BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Volvo S60, Volvo V50 Engines :
2-liter turbo charged four-cylinder
2-liter: 210 horsepower @2,500 rpm, 221-pound-feet torque @ 2,500 rpm
2.8-liter: FWD: 255 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 258-pound-feet torque @ 2,000 rpm
EPA Fuel economy: 2-liter: 18 mpg city / 27 mpg highway
2.8-liter FWD: 16 mpg city / 26 mpg highway
Transmission : Five-speed automatic or six-speed manual
Front: MacPherson struts, gas shock absorbers, anti-roll bar, hydroformed sub-frame Rear: Independent, 4-link (including toe-link), coil springs, gas shock absorbers, anti-roll bar, sub-frame, Re-Axs rear-wheel steering system
Steering : Power-assisted rack-and-pinion Turning circle: 39 feet
Front: 11.4-inch ventilated rotars with
Rear: 10.87-inch ventilated rotors with Dimensions (inches):
Width : 63.9
Curb weight : 3,480
Weight distribution : 60 percent front / 40 percent rear
Head room (top up)
Shoulder room :
Trunk space :
Top up: 12.4 cubic feet
Top down: 8.3 cubic feet
Fuel tank : 16.4 gallons