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Classic Saab 900 - Press Reviews

'The Slippery Swede' 900 T16S, Saab's new sporting flagship described and driven

T16sUNTIL the introduction of the all new upmarket Saab which is due for announcement soon, the 16S, with its add-on aerodynamics and punchy 16 valve turbo engine, will be the new flagship for the Swedish car maker.

First shown at the Brussels Show this year, the 16S is based on the three-door 900 hatchback made more shapely and more slippery by the addition of sill skirts and integrated front spoiler which improves the Cd from 0.41 to 0.38. The additions, made from Reaction Injection Moulded polyurethane with 15 percent glass fibre reinforcement, were designed by Saab chief designer Bjorn Envall and have created a distinctive and sporting look.

The sporting pretension is backed by the installation of the new 16-valve, 2-litre turbo engine, with intercooler, now producing 175 bhp, endowing the car with a 130 mph top speed potential. At the same time Saab claim significant improvements to low speed torque, benefiting overtaking performance. Saab decided not to spend the whole advantage of the 16-valve on increased power output but settled for a 20 per cent power boost and 10 per cent cut in fuel consumption.

Chassis improvements Include the fitment of anti-roll bars front and rear on the 16v model. This modification is not available on the other 16-valve Saab, the Turbo 16. Offered in three, four or five door form without the skirts and spoilers.

For the UK market the cars go on sale at the end of May, the 16S will sell at 14,490, the Turbo 16 at 13,490 and initially available only in three or four door form. The striking pearl paint finish on the 16S we tried will not be available until Autumn. High specification on both cars includes electric sunroof and cruise control.

Advantage over the previous air flap L Jetronic Is that the system automatically compensates for air temperature differences.

Although the injection is electronic, the engine runs a normal breakerless ignition system. Saab say that the combustion is so efficient that there is no advantage to be gained by having a pre-mapped system.

The engine runs a "static" setting of only l6 deg. (crankshaft) which is altered by a simple pressure retard and vacuum advance to a maximum of eight deg. at maximum torque and 25 crank degrees on light throttle. At full power there is seven deg. less crank advance than on the eight-valve.

It also has the latest air jacketed injectors and a dashpot controlled partial fuel cut-off system.

The Engine

16 valve engine
Above: Third generation Saab turbo engine - 16 valves, double overhead camshaft and intercooler helps to produce 175 bhp
THE 16-valve Saab engine was first revealed at the Geneva Show last year. Saab see it as the third generation of their turbo engines and compared with the latest eight-valve turbo it produces more power (175 bhp from 145 bhp), and more torque (201 lb.ft. from 173 lb.ft.).

It will be produced in parallel with the eight-valve turbo unit and like that engine, is fitted with the Automatic Performance Control (APC) system which allows the engine to run on fuels with a wide range of octane ratings. The addition of an intercooler has allowed turbocharger boost pressure to be raised from the 9.95 psi of the eight-valve car to 12.08 on the 16-valve, despite raising the compression ratio to 9.0-to-1. The intercooler almost halves the temperature of intake air at maximum output. This has helped retain more performance on cars fitted with emission control equipment to US standards - the eight-valve engine lost 20 bhp, whereas the 16 drops only 15bhp.

While Saab have run 16-valve engines in their rally cars, the cylinder head of the 168 has little in common with the competitions engine. Bottom end is the same as the eight-valve engine, which itself is based on the established H-type unit developed towards the end of the 1970s. Combustion chamber is a semi-pent roof design with the included valve angle of 44 deg.

Fuel injection is Bosch LH electronic and airflow measurement is carried out through monitoring the temperature change in a wire placed in the airstream and acting through a Wheatstone Bridge-type strain gauge.

The Chassis

bodykit
Besides the side skirts and special wheels, the 16S features a deep front spoiler intergrated with the side panels
On the face of it the only difference between the 16S and the other 16-valve cars are the anti roll bars, the add-on aerodynamics and the new design light alloy wheels which carry the usual 195160 Pirelli P6 tyres. But there is slightly more to it than that. Although all cars have the same front spring and damper rates, the 16S has softer rear dampers. This is because, say Saab, the addition of an anti roll bar on the rear means that less roll resistance is required from the damper.

On The Road

FROM the inside there is really nothing to tell you that this is a rather special Saab. Instrumentation is the same and so is the seating, although I would have preferred the velour seat cover to the leather which, although it looks and smells good, provides inferior lateral location.

Clutch operation is light and sweet and the gearshift straightforward. Gentle applications of throttle reveal little about the true character of the car, but when you crack down and the car gets into its stride, the difference between it and the eight-valve car is obvious.

That said, the response low in the rev range is not much better than the eight-valve when switching from light throttle to full power below 3,000 rpm. But it comes on beautifully strong thereafter. Turbo lag to full boost from 2,500 rpm was timed at around two seconds and coasting at 2,000 rpm, the time goes out to five seconds, but there is nothing like the delayed action response on the eight-valve.

It revs sweetly to 5,500 rpm but in terms of mechanical refinement, the four-cylinder has to give way to the equivalent BMW six or (only just) the Audi.

Overtaking performance is dramatically better it goes to the rev limiter at 6,000 rpm but is happiest when the upward changes are made 500 rpm lower down. On the strength of some high speed charges down the autobahn from Frankfurt to the Dutch border, we have no reason to doubt Saab's claim for a maximum speed of 130 mph.

While the comparatively low gearing does nothing to aid the impression of mechanical refinement, it is ideally chosen in relation to peak power to achieve maximum speed. There is also no evidence of the slight engine knock that goes before the APC system adjusts to optimum boost, that affected the eight-valve car.

The additional aerodynamics on the 16S may do a lot for the Cd showing but they do nothing to hold down the disappointingly high level of wind noise which begins to build strongly after 80 mph.

This, combined with the road noise one might expect from the P6 tyres plus mechanical noise intrusion, means that voice volumes have to be raised for conversation at 100 mph. After that wind roar takes over as the dominant force.

In handling, the 16S impresses as a much more sharply responsive car than its eight-valve sister. The improvement has to be down to rather more than just the addition of anti-roll bars (see technical panel) but for all normal road driving its behaviour is neutral with very little cornering roll. We took a detour on to some metalled farm roads to try the car in extremes and found that you would have to be very silly indeed to get into trouble. Handling in mid speed corners is excellent with crisp response, good grip and traction that rates with any other powerful front-wheel drive car. When wheelspin does intervene in mid corner when cornering hard, steering weight and feel are unchanged.

Ride is firm, with some jiggly movement over ridges and ripples taken at low and medium speeds - a typical reaction from a car in which anti-roll bars add the extra roll stiffness - but as before, the larger inputs are absorbed without any uneasy float.

We had occasion to bless the brakes on more than one occasion, once when we encountered what seemed to be the whole of the US Army Tank Corps taking to the autobahn and later, when the driver of a large lorry misjudged the approach speed of the swift Swede and moved out to overtake. In each case, retardation was swift and progressive - the only excitement coming from the smoking pads.

A rough fuel consumption check over the 403 miles of the appraisal run produced an overall return of 21.13 mpg which includes sustained bursts up to indicated maximum speed and the off road session. Under UK conditions and driven more circumspectly, the figure should rise comfortably to 25 mpg or more. By the same token, UK owners - and perhaps buyers on other markets too will enjoy the plus points of the 16S which, wind noise aside, are considerable.

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