12 APRIL 2010

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Article from BTNews 12 APRIL 2010

MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

SAAB 9-3 Saloon 1.9 TTiD Aero

 

Plenty of Punch with a Soft Touch

Without doubt and with a good degree of justification Saab has been making strong inroads into the UK premium market sector, relying on a proven policy of maintaining a generic character and image across its product range.

Of course, the association with Sweden’s aircraft industry may no longer be evident in the cars produced under General Motors’ direction and the acquisition by the Dutch super car maker Spyker is early days though I am convinced that the intention will be to further strengthen the image of an individualistic motor brand.

If this is the case then it is good news for the many enthusiastic Saab owners (and there is a goodly number of them) and for those buyers shopping in a hotly contended premium brand market sector.

Since my last appraisal of Saab’s smallest model, the 9-3 saloon (also available in Sport Wagon form) some three years ago, a lot of water has flowed under that bridge.

My recent drive of a 1.9-litre turbo diesel version was clear evidence of one of the most important developments, the upgrading of the power unit from 149 bhp to 178 bhp while maintaining excellent flexibility and reasonable carbon foot print.

Importantly this has not been a simple quest for raw power, rather a serious advance in overall efficiency with a marked gain in fuel economy – I suggested a consumption of around 38 mpg with that previous car, I don’t think anyone should be hard pushed to see 45 mpg with this one.  Where legal the top speed is10 mph faster at 140 mph and it is a second quicker 0 to 60 mph.

As before, the engine is a smooth power provider but certainly lets you know when it is working hard by higher than average noise levels both in the cabin and through the twin sports exhausts.

One can mitigate this situation to a good degree by diligent use of the much improved 6-speed manual gearbox that provides positive acting/light changing and well is ratioed to permit the driver to optimise the inherent flexibility of the power unit at relatively low revs.

Driven in this sympathetic manner I found the performance impressively satisfying and worthy of the claimed power output.

So there’s a degree of driver enjoyment that can be achieved in a sure-footed well controlled and safe manner – ventilated disc brakes are standard front and rear and are supported by ‘full house’ handling/braking aides.

It is evident to me, that this particular Saab model is not intended to challenge the serious driver products from Germany and Italy, certainly not with this front wheel drive product despite being equipped with sports suspension, and its real appeal is for those seeking a good all rounder offering respectable outright performance, satisfying economy and very easy driving characteristics.

An all wheel driver version of the 9-3 should prove a more serious attraction
for driving enthusiasts.

This car has a soft touch, nice and light on the controls, is easy to park with good visibility (pity the rear window can’t have a wiper to clear the morning dew), excellent driver comfort provided by well contoured leather trimmed seats and plenty of seat/steering wheel adjustment potential to achieve very acceptable ergonomics for variable driver physiques.

Perhaps the well organised but conventional fascia has no suggestion of that earlier aircraft heritage but it is yet one of the factors that made me feel immediately at home in the car.

For interior space and luggage capacity the Saab 9-3 is in the junior executive class with a cabin that is most comfortable with four adults on board, a fifth occupant likely to get his business suit crumpled while luggage capacity is more generous than appearances suggest.  I would say a practical car for the intended purpose.   If not consider the Sport Wagon version.

The build quality and finish is to a sufficiently high standard to relate well with other premium grade products.  The standard equipment package t includes alloy wheels, heated front seats, leather steering wheel, BiXenon headlights with pressure washers, dual stage airbags front and rear and performance braking system is what is at least expected in this price range.

Logical options on the test car included a £1,938 Business Pack (DVD satellite navigation with touch screen, TMC voice control and Blue Tooth) and a £1,175 Convenience Pack (dual electric seats with memory, electric folding mirrors, auto dimming interior/exterior mirrors and rain sensor wipers).

This latest re-acquaintance with one of Saab’s mainstream models convinces me that it has the credentials and qualities to attract sufficient customers looking for an alternative to the more dominant makes in this market sector.  A strong basis on which its new owners can build on!

Rivals include: BMW 3118D SE £24,970, Audi A4 2.0 TDI 170 SE £24,330, Alfa Romeo 159 1.9 JTD 16V TI £23,146, Volvo 2.0 D R-Design Sport £21,255.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 8
Handling 8
Transmission 9
Noise 8
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 8
Styling 9
Brakes 9
Finish 9
TOTAL: 85

Price from: £29,595 on the road.

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON‘S MOTORING DIARY

ALFA ROMEO: A celebration of the 100th anniversary of the classic Italian car make will be held at the Goodwood Festival of speed 2-4 July where a vast number of historic road and racing Alfa Romeo cars will be on view – some of them in action.

LAND ROVER reports the best ever month of sales in March 2010.  Sales were up 67% on the same month last year selling over 11,300 vehicles and recording the highest sales for any month in the company's 62 year history.  Global retail sales also rose in March by more than 43%, and 36.6% in the first quarter versus 2009. Land Rover has delivered an improvement in the majority of markets with a particularly strong performance in Europe and emerging markets. China has risen by 168% month on month with the best quarter ever up 192% on first quarter of 2009; whilst sales in Korea have risen by 149% and in Brazil sales are up by 101%.

MAZDA: Following the end of the Scrappage scheme Mazda has announced a sales incentive giving up to £2,000 discount with no trade-in required.

TOYOTA: Over half of the 90,000 cars recalled by Toyota for checks to the accelerator pedal have been seen.  The recall has been running for just over a month.

VAUXHALL: The Luton-based car maker has been voted Fleet Manufacturer of the year.  The award was achieved as a result of good customer response and the strong fleet car range that includes the EcoFLEX green models.

 

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