Saab Central - Features
Saab 9000 Turbo 16 - Motor Magazine Review  2
Turn the ignition key of the Saab 9000 Turbo 16 one click and, instantly, there’s a familiar sound. From somewhere behind the flat black dashboard comes a subdued series of clicks and hums as the air-conditioning sleepwalks into action. Then there’s a whirring. That’s it. It’s uncanny: it’s exactly like the low-key errrrrrr of a Boeing 737 lowering its main undercarriage, the replication of the moment when a planeload of executives start to close their briefcases and minutely plan how to trim seconds from a sprint which goes ‘grab coat-shove along aisle-down steps-immigration-car park-office cup of coffee please, Mandy’.
Saab would like you to believe that its plane-making and car-building operations are as one. You know the theory: from the same cool Swedish collective intellect which gave you the Draken and the Viggen fighters —with tongue-twisting names like those its easy to see why Saab distinguish their car models by type-numbers alone — come world-beating hyper-tech cars. Cars rippling with cute aerodynamics, advanced structural thinking and power plants.
So why was it when I asked the hardened crew that is the Motor road test team about this tuned Saab 9000 Turbo 16 that their answers were all so, well, iffy? One small voice, hiding behind a calculator that was confirming the boot volume of a Hyundai Pony, suddenly grew strong. “The Saab?” he growled. “The tuned one? In that car you get wheelspin in the first three gears.” The inference was that, perhaps, in the standard car wheelspin was only available in gears one and two. The inference was, above all else, not positive.
I can confirm that this Saab 9000 Turbo 16 will spin its wheels quite merrily in the first three gears in the dry, and in ratios one to four if you should he so bold in the wet. I can also confirm that a BMW 325i goes a touch tail-happy after an April shower. The comparison is apt: a Saab 9000 Turbo 16 is as well-developed a front-wheel drive executive saloon as the BMW 325i is a finely honed rear driver. To directly compare the dynamics of one with the other is pointless. Both are equally good — and each is very different.
So what if a heavy foot can light up the Saab’s front tyres? As mutant car behavior such scurrying ranks pretty low among nasties like power-off oversteer, woolly turn-in and excessive rear-end brake bias. Especially when everything else about the driving characteristics of the Saab 9000 Turbo 16 is, at the very worst, pleasant without being bland.
I had never driven a turbocharged Saab before this tricked-up machine arrived. I had it mentally penciled in alongside a roster of preconceptions: front-wheel drive cars don’t work with more than 150bhp, turbocharging and front-wheel drive should remain mutually exclusive, even the notion that Saabs are a sensible-shoe sort of car, packed with a cloying Swedish do-goodness, a horrible hanging-on-to-mummy’s-apron-strings safety-conscious attitude for those who think that tooling down to the corner shop is about as dangerous as trying to take tea with a bunch of Afghan rebels.
This particular Saab 9000 Turbo 16 was easy to dislike from a first glance, for someone with a laughable sense for aesthetics had slobbered a body kit all over it. Body kits serve one purpose — to make you forget that the Yugo 45 was designed by a myopic draughtsman in Dubrovnik who dreamed that, one day, he might own a Fiat 121. One of the inviolate rules of automobilism is that you don’t put a body kit on a Giugiaro design. The 9000 is one of Giorgio’s finest renderings, from the same Late Seventies Straightforward phase that brought you the Fiat Uno. Indeed, if you pay close attention to the proportions of the 9000, the way the doors curl flush into the roof, the accent lines running along the car, even the typically meaty Ital Design stance of the thing, then the 9000 could be mistaken for the Uno’s big brother. It is elegant, discreet, well-proportioned and doesn't shout ‘Taxi' as a Mercedes-Benz does, or ‘Loadsamoney’ as a BMW is reputed to. No, the 9000 doesn’t yell anything at all except a certain well-to-do understatement.
But the body kit kills all that subtlety stone dead. It’s Margaret Thatcher wearing Jean-Paul Gaultier, or Kenny Daigleish discussing metaphysics: it simply doesn’t happen. The boy-racer front spoiler is a touch lewd, and the add-on wheel arch lips, thanks to the skeins of black rubber piping which stop them from caressing chunky Swedish steel too tightly, break up the shape of the car. And what Saab call a ‘decor panel’ —which in reality is a bloody huge red reflector nestling between the tail-lamps — is something a 17-year-old would think twice about tacking on to his Talbot Sunbeam.
The irony of the body kit is, of course, that you don’t need it. Those crosshatched l6in diameter Rial wheels and the 205/50 16 Pirelli P7s will fit under the standard wheel arches to add a touch of menace to the unadorned shape. This car also had what Saab term a ‘roadholding-kit’. A suspension rethink along conventional lines: the same old handling cliché of stiffer springs and —what seem to be Bilstein — shocks, plus a front anti-roll bar.
A tuning package, which includes a sports exhaust, pushes the maximum power up from 175bhp to 192bhp thanks to a dash more boost offered through a reprogram of the sophisticated Saab Automatic Performance Control-cum-engine management system. The result is that this Saab begins to sidle into Ford Sierra RS Cosworth territory: the engine, suspension and body modifications, plus the new wheel and tyre combination, integral spoiler driving lights — yes, they used to be called spotlamps — the red reflector, a good Saab-branded Momo leather-rim steering wheel, rear wash-wipe and the rather grandly-titled Driver/Co-driver computer adds £3169.88 excluding VAT and a minimum £1000 fitting costs to the basic£ 20,695 price of a 9000 Turbo 16. So this Saab will set you back around £26,000 which, aptly enough, is the sort of money being charged for an Alpina-ised BMW 325i.
Inside, all is calm and beautifully straightforward. There’s nothing wrong with the velour trim on the seats and half driver to up his self-importance, nor the when-in-doubt-slap-on-some-varnished-wood muddle of a Mercedes. The Saab is underplayed to the point of maximum efficiency — and when you have fiddled with the height-adjustable seat, and the pull-out steering column, you would have to be built like a Sumo wrestler not to be extremely comfortable indeed. This is all very good no-nonsense stuff.
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