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'Motor' Road Test September 1984 - Saab 900 Turbo 16S

FORGET THAT this car was going to be called the Aero : it's not. For copyright reasons - GM own the name -it is now simply called the 16S. More important is that it is the fastest Saab Turbo ever, and that it is now available for the princely sum of 14,090.Faced with the constraint that a new, bigger engine would be inordinately expensive to produce, the first Saab Turbo was a brilliant, cost-effective solution to the need for more power to take the 99 upmarket So successful was it, that it precipitated a trend and to date, Saab has sold 100,000 Turbos.

The Turbo 16 represents the third evolutionary phase of Saab's H-type Turbo engine development, but with a new double overhead camshaft, 16-valve cylinder head, together with an intercooler and existing APC system, the result is a quantum increase in power, to take the 900 into BMW 528i and Rover Vitesse territory.

With such an overtly sporting power-pack, the three-door S model's distinctively bespoilered bodywork and smart three-spoke alloy wheels are a perfect complement -contributing to an appearance which belies the 99/900 series' long history. But the drag coefficient of 0 38 has to give best to some of the Saab's more recently conceived rivals, such as the Audi 200 (0.33) and Renault 25 V6 (0.33) for example, even though it does usefully improve on the 0.41 Cd of the ordinary 900.

For those who want a wolf in sheep's clothing, the 16-valve turbo engine is also available in normal three- and four-door body styles. Both priced at 13,490. These have an identical specification to the 16S. except for the deletion of anti-roll bars and metallic paint. Superficially all the 16-valve cars are a good deal more expensive than ordinary Saab turbos (which cost around 1,800 less), but they do include an electric sunroof, a stereo radio cassette player and a cruise control as standard in addition to the more powerful engine.

The new cylinder head features dome-shaped combustion chambers, with a centrally-positioned spark plug for efficient combustion It has hydraulic tappets rather than solid shims. The Saab APC system which monitors and controls boost pressure, permits an unusually high compression ratio (9:0:1 for a turbo engine, despite a turbocharger boost pressure of 0.85 bar (12. 3 psi). One of the reasons why this engine produces 20 per cent more power than previous Saab Turbos is its use of an intercooler to lower the air intake charge. cooling it from 120C to 60C at maximum output. Thus, the new 16-valve engine produces 175bhp at 5300 rpm (the eight-valve unit produces 145bhp at 5000 rpm), with torque increased by 15 per cent to 201 lb ft at 3000 rpm the same level where the ordinary Turbo produces its maximum torque.

At £14,090 rivals to the 16S include the Audi 200 Turbo (17,013) and typical larger-engined normally aspirated rivals such as the BMW 528i (13,895). Opel Monza GSE (13,801) or Rover Vitesse (15,249) However, at 24.8 cwt, the Saab, surprisingly. is a good deal lighter than any of these rivals, so on paper, its power to weight ratio certainly promises a respectable performance in this high class company.

The Turbo 16 drives through a five-speed manual gearbox mounted beneath the sump of the steeply canted engine. Reflecting the car's sporty nature, automatic transmission is not available. Overall gearing remains very similar to the normal Saab Turbo, at 22.8 mph/ 1000rpm with the final drive remaining at 3.67:1

Engine and bodywork changes aside, the 1S follows established Saab 900 practice. The front suspension is by double wishbones and coil springs, while at the rear, the beam axle is solidly located by four longitudinal links and a Panhard rod. Gas-filled dampers are fitted and as already mentioned, this is the only model in the 900 range to be fitted with anti-roll bars.

So how does this super-Swede perform? Flat Out around the test track, it exceeded our expectations and Saab's too (it claims a 130mph maximum), by recording a mean maximum speed of 133.6 mph.This makes it faster than nearly all of its normally aspirated rivals, including the 190bhp 3.5-litre Rover Vitesse and outrun only by the more powerful, more slippery (and a good deal more expensive) Audi 200 Turbo - whose 139. 5 mph maximum speed is easily the best in this particular class. At this speed, the Saab's engine is pulling 5860 rpm. just within the 6000 rpm rev limit, in fifth gear -showing that this ratio has been chosen to enhance performance and match the turbocharger characteristics, rather than merely act as an overdrive ratio. Our testers all considered the gearing to be well judged.

T16s engine
Saab's new dohc 16-valve powerhouse Installed in-line and back to front completely filling the 900's engine bay. It is equipped with a Garrett T3 turbocharger and Bosch LH fuel injection
Saab proudly refers to the 16S's engine as being its "third-generation turbo engine", but its power characteristics not ultimate power output remain inferior to those of a larger naturally aspirated engine. Though maximum torque is produced at only 3000 rpm, the 16-valve engine has no more torque to offer below 2000 rpm than the eight-valve version. So the performance feels uninspiring in cut-and-thrust motoring, unless the gearbox is used vigorously, with the usual delayed throttle response symptomatic of turbo-lag. In contrast, given an open stretch of clear road and an eager, aware driver at the helm, the 16S can be breathtakingly quick, particularly in the higher speed ranges: its 0 to 100 mph time (22.9 sec) is a considerable improvement on the 'ordinary" Saab Turbo's 30.2 sec and betters the 3.0-litre Opel Monza, for instance. But despite the need for a "low" first gear with a turbo engine - it will do no more than 30 mph in this ratio -the 0 to 60 mph yardstick is covered in a relatively tardy 8.6 sec. poor for a car boasting 175 bhp and it is slower than all of our selected rivals.

The Saab is penalised through the poor traction and much violent shuddering when subjected to the necessarily abusive techniques used to record standing start acceleration times. Despite several attempts actually culminating in a broken transmission in the test car - we could not better the 0 to 30mph and 0 to 40 mph times recorded for a normal eight-valve Saab Turbo.

A more useful evaluation of this car's performance can be gleaned from the fourth and fifth gear times The 30 to 50 mph fifth gear time (12.2 sec) - actually worse than the time we recorded for the eight-valve Turbo - clearly illustrates the lethargic off-boost response that many turbocharged cars display In fourth gear, the same increment is covered in a much more sprightly 8.0 sec (though again slower than the eight-valve car) which is competitive with the BMW 528i (8.6 sec), Opel Monza GSE (8.4 sec). and Ford Sierra XR4i (7.8 sec), though the Rover Vitesse (7.6 sec) and Audi 200 Turbo (7.2 sec) do have a useful edge. It's not until the 50 to 70 mph increment (covered in 5.8 sec) in fourth gear, or 60 to 80mph increment (8.0 sec) in fifth gear that the Turbo 16S really gets into its stride. These times are much better than the equivalent ones for the ordinary Turbo, which can manage no better than 6.8 sec and 9.8 sec respectively.

More than ever, this Saab Turbo therefore needs good anticipation and frequent intelligent use of its five-speed gearbox to get the best from it. Although it is no paragon of virtue, the gearshift is sufficiently positive and baulk-free to allow smooth, swift changes, aided by a soft clutch action. The ratios are well judged, if on the lowish side, allowing intermediate gear maxima of 30. 53, 79 and 110 mph respectively at the 6000 rpm governed limit. A lift-up collar prevents accidental selection of reverse gear.

Starting and cold running are as untemperamental, as we have come to expect of cars fitted with Bosch electronic fuel injection. Apart from the undesirably peaky power characteristics, the only complaint we could level at the Garrett T3 turbocharged engine was a tendency to stutter occasionally on throttling off from full boost. Motorway cruising is fairly relaxed - with the strong, boosted upper power band useful for overtaking.

According to the Government fuel tests, the 16S is the most parsimonious Saab Turbo yet. This is borne out by our own experience - the test car returning 20.2 mpg, as opposed to the eight-valve Turbo's 19.7 mpg However it is really no better than other cars with comparable performance - all the selected rivals returning mpg figures in the very low twenties The cruise control should aid economical motorway cruising. as well as helping to curb unintentional speeding.

The diagonally split braking system is both powerful and reassuring, despite retaining the same size (11.0/10.6 in) non-ventilated, but all-disc braking system fitted to lesser Saabs.

Reassuring also sums up the car's handling. It has fairly high-geared. responsive power-assisted steering - which, though rather feel-less, is completely free of the tugging and torque-steer effects which mar many powerful front-wheel-drive cars. Grip is excellent, understeer moderate. and cutting the power in mid-bend results in only mild tuck-in. In particular, the 16S is much more composed and lurch-free when, say, negotiating an S-bend, than other Saabs. But the low-speed ride suffers a little as a result. the Saab making hard work of small surface imperfections. Refinement isn't a strong suit either The engine is never especially quiet and though it is very smooth for a four, it cannot compare with rival six- and eight-cylinder engines Wind noise is also very noticeable at speed too.

Like the rest of the 900 range, the 16S has a short wheelbase (99 in) in relation to its overall 187 in length, so it is not as commodious as some of the saloon car rivals listed. However because it is marketed essentially as a high performance sports-hatchback - an alternative to cars like the Opel Monza and Alfa Romeo GTV6 and because it has the added versatility of a fold-down rear seat to extend the already huge boot, its saloon car dimensions must be seen as a bonus.

The Saab 900's ergonomically sound facia and controls and comfortable seats are retained, though the test car was equipped with plush 600 extra leather-trimmed upholstery --- the only option available for this car besides - air conditioning. All the expected items of equipment are fitted - electric windows, mirrors sunroof, headlamp wash/wipe, central locking and so on plus, of course, the heated front seats.

The Turbo 16S provides real autobahn-blasting performance with an engine which has the image of sophistication with both 16-valves and turbocharging. But its fuel efficiency a not measurably better than larger engined normally-aspirated rivals nor does it have particularly good driveability characteristics considering Saab's lengthy turbo-charging experience And it laces formidable competition from more modern rivals which mostly provide similar performance and economy capabilities. Make no mistake though the 16S a good, fast and safe car that's more appealing once you get to know it well. If you like Saab Turbos you'll love this one.

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