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9-3 vert review

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Sven meets the Huns
By: Mario Lupini; Images: Ciaran Nunan

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Almost everyone knows that the horse-drawn carriage was the progenitor of the convertible automobile. In fact all cars at the turn of the 20th century were convertibles, but the death-knell of the convertible was dealt by the Dodge Brothers Victory 6 with its revolutionary all-steel monocoque body affixed to a normal ladder type chassis.

The convertible has since become the playground for designers who have taken the shape to ever-exciting heights. In fact the convertible became the powder-puff segment of the car market.

However with its inherent weakness due to the lack of its tin-top it has lagged in suitable stiffness without its structural support and stiffness.

So any arch-car-enthusiast schooled in the ways of top road holding will discern the variances between the tin-top sibling and the open-top version as soon as corrugations are traversed on the road surface. But after all is said and done, wind-in-your-hair enthusiasts will still mumble: "To hell with all that technical jargon… I want a convertible."

And they're right. Perhaps the wind-in-your-hair and starry skies above are far more important, not to mention the knock-you-over effect convertibles have on the beholder.

Scuttle-shake eliminated

Cars now suffer minimally with the 'scuttle-shake' syndrome due to the amount of R&D that has been put into them. The recently arrived Saab 9-3 2.0 TS Aero seems to have almost eliminated 'scuttle shake' with only slightest amount discernible and this only by checking the offending minute vibration on the inside rear-view mirror on the windscreen.

To better evaluate the Saab 9-3 Convertible we managed to rustle up two of its most natural rivals, the BMW 330Ci Convertible and Audi A4 3.0 Cabriolet. To the observer there is little to choose between these beautiful, sun-seeking machines with the choice coming down to whether you fancy the now-ageing Bee-Emm over the classic, understated form of the Audi or the sleek, swooping lines of the Saab.

Due to the Saab's high waistline its standout feature is the treatment of the comparatively high rear deck with those two, neat 'streamline bulges' behind the rear seat headrests that are suitably hidden from view. They assist in hiding the protruding headrests so obvious on the Audi A4 and even more unsightly on the 330Ci.

Superb cockpits

The cockpits of the three are superb. And even though the Bee-Emm is the earliest in design terms it still stands out with the fine flowing shapes that ring the interior. The Saab is almost as delectable but the dash lacks flair and the overall interior feel has less flow in it. The Audi A4 is refined but oh-so Audi conservative.

Naturally sun-seekers will mostly be driving with the hood down and to them it should be of interest to know that the Saab soft-top can be raised and latched in 20 seconds, the Bee-Emm's in 25 and the Audi's in a more leisurely 30.

Road-holding is of a high quality on all three with the Bee-Emm having the edge with the Saab not far behind with its great improvement over its stodgy predecessors in this area. Whatever is said to the contrary, a finely balanced rear-wheel-driven car such as the BMW 330i is better disposed to road holding tuning.

The Audi instead is roped with the extra weight of the front-wheel-drive portion of its all-wheel-drive leading to it being less responsive than both rivals.

The Saab has overcome the negative idiosyncrasies of its front-wheel-drive set-up with a suspension layout that has been extensively upgraded, in particular the addition of ReAxs self-steering rear end on its advanced multi-link suspension.

The Saab is somewhat lighter than its two rivals as both house bigger and heavier 3-litre 6-cylinder mills while the Saab uses a much lighter 4-cylinder 2-litre 16V DOHC motor… with a turbo. And that offers a wonderful power-to-weight ratio, which in turn assists in attaining better dynamic results. As a matter of interest the Aero is some 30kg lighter than the Bee-Emm with 14kW more power.

Comparing fuel consumption

One need only check out the fuel consumption figures to see the results. At 9.7 litres per 100km it gains a huge amount over the BMW's 11.5 and 11.3 of the Audi. It should be remembered that a turbocharger effectively adds the equivalent 50 percent of cubic capacity and power to an engine while being so much lighter. And when you consider the gains in test performance terms they are particularly pleasing. The Saab 9-3 Aero comes out tops. And as neither the Bee-Emm nor the Audi open-tops has the latest-generation engines under their bonnets they will continue to play second fiddle to the quick Swede.

The best way to compare performance is over the standing quarter mile where the Aero's elapsed time of 16.1 seconds and top speed of 147km/h make it a sure challenge to the evergreen 330i's 16.3 and same exit speed.

But where the Saab scores well over its rivals here is its EuroNCAP 5-star safety certification gained in June 2004. Its DynaCage rollover system with heavily reinforced windscreen and active pop-up bars that assist interaction with airbags, belts and other features is a big plus factor.

Plenty of extra features

The three have a host of features to long to mention here. Some of the more interesting on the Aero are the CargoSet Self Expanding Trunk, SAHR (Saab Head Restraints) that assist in reducing serious neck injuries by 75 percent, AVR (Advanced Voice Recognition) and foldable exterior mirrors. To take care of its top performance a Sports Chassis Kit is in also in place with a 10mm lowered suspension and stiffer shocks.

At R459 000, the Saab Aero 2.0T Convertible 6-speed competes well in price terms when compared to the R476 000 of the BMW 330i Convertible AT or the R483 000 of the Audi A4 3.0 Cabriolet AT. And with the Saab Convertible you have something else that wind-in-your-hair buyer seeks. The two Germans are old-hat in terms of the market and with the sort of individualism open-top exhibit the rarity value of the Saab Aero is another factor they will find to their liking.

And perhaps there has been some turmoil in the Saab market of late, but with the muscle of GM behind this fine marque these minor problems are now a thing of the past.

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