EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit News's view

Saab 9-3 convertible is striking, inside and out

Whenever we go down to Hilton Head Island, S.C., in the spring to celebrate our anniversary, we try to coordinate our visit with an interesting test-drive. This year, we chose the redesigned 2004 Saab 9-3 convertible, one of the standout luxury offerings in its class.

Everywhere we went, people commented on the car’s striking $500 “lime yellow” metallic paint job. We couldn’t stop raving about the car, either. It’s one of those rare vehicles that managed to get a top, five-star rating from both of us.

Our test vehicle was a top-of-the-line Aero model fully loaded with options, including a $1,195 touring package with rear-park assist; $1,350 tiptronic-style automatic transmission; $550 xenon headlamps; and $350 color-matched tonneau. Bottom line: $47,640.

SHE: What a pleasure it was not to argue about a vehicle for a change! My memory of our trip is the wonderful flexibility we had with the 9-3 convertible. If we suddenly had the urge to drop the top, we didn’t even have to pull off to the side of the road. We just waited for a stop light, hit the button and enjoyed the fresh air. The top was down before the light changed. And there were few of the negatives usually associated with convertibles, like a lack of trunk space. We fit five pieces of luggage back there with no problem at all. All in all, a mellow convertible in a mellow setting.

HE: And my memory of our trip is vegging out on the beach under a big umbrella, with my eyes glazed over and a big book lying open and unread on my lap.

SHE: Not much different from home except for the beach.

HE: Unlike Michigan spring, where the weather is dicey from day to day, the conditions in South Carolina in early May were just about ideal for convertible driving, especially in early evening with the sun sinking below the treetops. There is no finer feeling than driving a nice convertible with the top down on a perfect spring evening. What made our experience even more pleasant was the general excellence of the 9-3 itself. Most consumers would never guess that the Saab shares its basic chassis design with the Chevrolet Malibu. Our 9-3 Aero test vehicle, however, was fitted with 17-inch wheels and tires, gas-pressure shocks, stabilizer bars and such electronic traction-enhancing systems as stability control. The result is a nimble, yet exceptionally comfortable ride with outstanding control.

SHE: There were only a handful of gripes about the Saab. We couldn’t figure out how to fix the moveable armrest in place and there didn’t seem to be an explanation about it in the owner’s manual. The lime-yellow paint cast an unusual and disconcerting glare on the rear window in direct sunlight. Like most convertibles, it had rearward visibility problems with the top up. And rear-seat passengers will notice a shortage of legroom. But our list of likes far surpassed those few warts.

HE: Even without the fancy paint, the 9-3 is probably the most distinctive convertible on the market — more distinctive, too, than the 9-3 sedan, which I find far too generic-looking to wear a Saab label. About that “lime yellow” color: It’s really more like a fluorescent green, and it literally drew appreciative gasps and whistles from dozens of people. If you’re an introvert, better order the car in steel gray, the only other choice.

SHE: One of the things that makes a Saab a Saab is the turbo engine. Our test car was equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivered 210 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque. But it felt much more powerful and responsive than the numbers suggest. We had the optional “sensotronic” transmission, which is Saab’s name for an automatic with manual shift capability. The 9-3 also had fingertip controls on the steering column, which made upshifts and downshifts quick and easy. The fuel economy was decent, too, for car with this kind of power. The EPA says the 9-3 gets 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway.

HE: Another fringe benefit that’s a Saab hallmark is world-class safety. So you get a premium sports car with such standard features as antilock brakes and traction control, head and shoulder side-curtain air bags, plus automatic rollover bars. But all that equipment and performance come with a stiff price — nearly $50,000 in the case of our lavishly equipped model.

SHE: I look at the list of competitors, and I can’t think of a single one I’d want more than the Saab. It’s not a toy, it’s a real car that should serve you well, even when you’re not in vacation paradise.

Anita’s rating:

Likes: Plenty of comments from passers-by on striking lime-yellow exterior. Looks great with top down. Could fit five pieces of luggage in trunk. Park assist handy in tight spaces. Quick and easy power soft-top — can put it down at stoplights. World-class safety features include antilock brakes, head and torso side air bags, automatic rollover bars. Surprisingly quiet with top up. Quick, responsive steering.

Dislikes: Couldn’t keep moveable armrest anchored in one place.

Paul’s rating:

Likes: Most distinctive convertible on the market. Powerful and entertaining turbo engine. Neat fingertip shift controls with Tiptronic transmission. Extremely comfortable ride. Really easy to operate. Good-looking two-tone cabin. Very cool vent controls. Lots of headroom. Outstanding four-year/50,000-mile warranty.

Dislikes: Stiff price tag with all the bells and whistles. Not very good rearward visibility. Not much rear-seat legroom.

Latest news

toyota-sequoia-2023-teaser-001-badge-exterior-red
All-New 2023 Toyota Sequoia On Its Way: Here’s What We Want
what-is-new-with-diesel
What’s New With Diesel Trucks and SUVs in 2022?
ford-bronco-2022-05-angle--blue--exterior--front
Ford Bronco: Which Should You Buy, 2021 or 2022?