UK Car Road Test

Saab 9.3 Airflow TD 2002

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Now, here is an interesting car which is a pleasant change from the run-of-the-mill Vectra, Mondeo fare, without having to go down the fat tie BMW/Audi route or the fat pants Mercedes route.

Not only that but the classy Swede finally comes up with diesel power, courtesy of GM Vauxhall's engineering. I guess that is OK as Vauxhall use Saab's V6 unit (which is not known by many people).

This Airflow version is very much a hybrid model, utilising Saab's sturdy and predictable chassis with a GM engine and an Airflow styling kit.

Airflow is the Renault range styling guru. What has influenced Saab to combine so many international companies.? It does very much come together, particularly the unique and distinctive fittings complete with the half leather trim, multi spoke alloys and spoiler package. Airflow have certainly succeeded in making this car distinctive, a lot more so than any Laguna I have seen with the company's influence.

I like Saabs; I don't own one but I know a few people who do and they all swear by them (seems to be a Swedish thing).

You either like the Saab look or you don't.  Pretty much all Saabs look like, well, like Saabs. The look does not always work but on this 9-3 it carries it off pretty well. That long nose and sloping almost coupe type rear  are trademarks of the Saab marque, though I have to say I prefer mine in black, thanks.

Saabs are very functional, not in the sort of function-over-form purism of  Volvo and Ikea, perhaps, but still very functional. There is little in the way of extra little nonsense tweaks like the BMW shark fin but the designers have put enough effort into making the design sleek and smooth - lots of white glass lenses and colour-matching bumpers, skirts and spoilers help.

The front air dam is quite large but broken up with slopes and coach lines whilst the rear picnic table is small and discreet. It all points to a desired image that is rather more Audi  than BMW.  

Inside it's typically Saab too, with its mountainous, flat vertically but slightly curved horizontal dash. Saab claim to make the best drivers seats in the world so who am I to argue? They are comfortable from the off and remain so for the longest journey.

The trim and fit are excellent despite the rather John Major-like grey blandness. Only the liberal scattering of buttons  leads to any sense of confusion. Saab will claim they are ergonomically placed into the best spot for the function but I would prefer them to be lined up nicely in little rows. 

Leather quality is decent if not top line but still way ahead of some of the thin cheap skins which find their way into normal mid range cars. 

Comfort Features
Adjustable Steering Column
Adjustable Steering Column
Centre Arm Rest Rear
Centre Arm Rest Rear
Cup holders
Cup holders
Drivers seat Lumbar Support
Drivers seat Lumbar Support
Front Door Bins
Front Door Bins
Head Rests (front & rear)
Head Rests (front & rear)
Heated Front Seats
Heated Front Seats
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Pollen Filter
Pollen Filter
Remote Boot Release
Remote Boot Release
Split rear seats
Split rear seats
Time Clock
Time Clock
General Features
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Bumpers
Digital Odometer
Digital Odometer
Electric Aerial
Electric Aerial
Exterior Side Mouldings
Exterior Side Mouldings
Headlamp Wash Wipe
Headlamp Wash Wipe
Heated Rear Window
Heated Rear Window
On Board Computer
On Board Computer
Rear Wash Wipe
Rear Wash Wipe
Tinted Windows
Tinted Windows
Luxury Features
Air Conditioning
Air Conditioning
Cigarette Lighter
Cigarette Lighter
Climate Control
Climate Control
Electric Mirrors
Electric Mirrors
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Half Leather Trim
Half Leather Trim
Heated Mirrors
Heated Mirrors
Leather Steering Wheel
Leather Steering Wheel
Radio CD Player
Radio CD Player

 

 

 

As the table above shows, it's a well equipped car too, as befits its image as a higher level executive motor. Highlights are the powerful climate control system, the effective cruise control and a decent ICE system with remote controls which makes you feel happily at home ensconced within the cockpit. For those of you who like to drive, the well equipped dash layout has warning lights splattered about with gay abandon. The motorway sleep function of the dash which cuts the lights down to a bear minimum for nighttime driving is a really useful  function which helps tired eyes on those long, wearying bleary-eyed motorway grinds.

Grey plastic is the new plastic wood

 

 

 

 

Big old lump -
just check out that battery!
Don't fancy bump starting this thing.

It took so long for a diesel lump to arrive you would have thought the Swedish were allergic to them. For a company that pushed the two  strokes for so long and then pioneered and pushed the Turbo for road car use, you would have thought the step to diesel cars would be a small one. Perhaps they thought the image would be hit too much by an oil burner but as Mercedes and BMW have long used them and, perhaps more pertinently, Audi make heavy use of them, the Saab factory did seem rather slow on the uptake.

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating
9000 11 N/A
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
Turbo Diesel 4 Cylinder 16 Valve 125 2171 No
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
4 Double 4 Turbo Charger
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
124mph 10.1seconds 97
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
34mpg 56.5mpg 45.6mpg Diesel
Kerb Weight Tow Weight Length Width Height
1305kg 1600kg 462cm 196cm 142cm
Boot Seats/up Boot Seats/Down Seats
493 Litres 1311 Litres 5

With the benefit of General Motors' backing, sourcing a lump was never going to be a problem and thankfully the old 1.7 Vectra unit was given a miss and a rendition of the newer generation Vauxhall/Opel lump found its way in. It has been Saab-ised in that this one bears a capacity hike too - 2.2 litres and bears a TID legend.

Peak power is conservative at 125bhp (though still impressive enough), the unit majors on smoothness and flat power delivery. It's enough to push the biggish car along at a decent rate of knots and feels much faster than its figures suggest. The motor tractable seamless delivery give a really excellent, accomplished executive feel with still enough grunt to surprise a few. 

The gearbox is sweet (if not feather light), being aided and abetted by an easily  modulated clutch it encourages use beyond the required necessity of engine torque curve. So you can rumble about short shifting and being lazy or you can rev it and try to swipe through the gears as fast as possible and just off the limiter. Either way, the car responds in a more than respectable manner.

Quoted fuel economy is good, if not startling, nowadays though the figures are achievable and at least it can better its urban figure in real day-to-day driving.  

 

Steer/Susp/Tech Features
Alloy Wheels
Alloy Wheels
Catalytic Converter
Catalytic Converter
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Front Fog lamps fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Halogen Head Lights
Halogen Head Lights
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Independent Suspension
Independent Suspension
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Power Assisted Steering
Power Assisted Steering
Rev Counter
Rev Counter

If there is one area that Saabs are always criticized on, it's the performance of its front driver chassis. Granted, it's no BMW in its driving delights but it gives a solid, reassured feel that is rarely matched by other cars yet it also displays an agility that feels at odds with its stability.

The chassis is not overly stretched by this lazy 125 bhp diesel and retains  an 80bhp margin of error over the hottest petrol turbo version.

The power steering is light at a crawl yet weightily positive at speed. For every day driving in its natural habitat it gives the feel of a bigger car with its solid planted feel. 

Ride comfort is good with  the front and rear spring rates nicely matched despite the imbalance of the front biased chassis. It's also very quiet with little road noise finding its way into to the well sealed cabin.

 

 

 

Big Chunky Wheel

 Gearbox and Gearbox Lock

All the anally retentive Swedish safety touches remain in place with the pretensioned belts, anti submarine safety, proactive head restraint seats set within the strong safety cage.

Central locking, alarm, immobiliser, locking fuel cap and VIN add to its security but the best bit, as always, is the oddly positioned ignition key which locks the gearbox down rather than an easily broken steering lock. 

 

Safety/Security Features
Alarm
Alarm
Antilock Braking System
Antilock Braking System
Central Locking
Central Locking
Child Locks
Child Locks
Engine Immobiliser
Engine Immobiliser
Front Side Air Bags
Front Side Air Bags
Front Twin Airbags
Front Twin Airbags
High level brake Light
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap
Locking Fuel Cap
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Side Impact Protection
Side Impact Protection
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Visible Identification Number
Visible Identification Number

 

Saab have never seen the hatch as a down market fixture (unlike the Germans) and from a practicality point of view they are perfectly right. The flexibility it imbues upon your car is immense. In many cases this is the Saabs outstanding feature. Badge cachet to rival the Germans, hatchback to rival the French and the pan Euro-Americans. If a Pug, Citroen, Vauxhall, Ford, etc really does not float your boat but a hatch is a must, then the Saab is your car.

 

As we said before, owners tend to get very attached to Saabs and owning another (somewhat less stylish) Swede, I know why.

They are built like tanks and last an age. Servicing and spares range from reasonable to cheap (though not quite in the Ford/Vauxhall league).

 

Saabs attract drivers who are image conscious without being quite so snobby as to be BMW fixated and after driving this one I am reminded why. The are damned fine to drive.

Now with smoker power taking a big lump off the day-to-day running costs, they deserve to be even more common on our roads.

All in all, a lovely car with a decent lump and well worth searching out and one which I'm sure will attract a premium at resale time, just like the diesel BMWs do now.


 

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UK Car Road Test Saab 9.3 Airflow TD 2002

UK Car Road Test Keywords: Diesel hatchback9.3 Airflow TD