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Saab convertible provides a solid ride

February 14, 2004|by KEN CHESTER, JR./Motor News Media Corporation

Designed to reaffirm Saab as a market leader in the art of building open cars with rugged, four-season, four-seater capability, the all-new 9-3 convertible is loaded with an array of innovative features.

Directly benefiting from the deep pockets and vast engineering resources of parent General Motors, the 9-3 convertible was developed concurrently with the widely-acclaimed 9-3 sports sedan. Strong, smooth and quiet with seamlessly fluid performance, the 9-3 convertible represents an intellectual approach to the development of an open-air vehicle that is indeed worthy in all seasons.

Built in Graz, Austria, the 9-3 convertible is based on GM's Epsilon global architecture and is available in Arc and Aero trim levels. Power is generated by a 2-liter 16-valve high-output turbocharged four-cylinder engine and mated to the five-speed manual in the Arc model. A six-speed manual is standard on the Aero. A five-speed Sentronic automatic transmission is optional.

On the road, the 9-3 convertible shows its mettle at speed - certifiable as a true back-road tourer, with handling and performance that is on par with the 9-3 sports sedan.

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Starting with the dynamics of the 9-3 sedan, Saab engineers included a supplementary "ring of steel" reinforcement linking the front, rear and side structures. It helps compensate for the loss of structural rigidity due to the absence of a roof. The supplementary ring of steel also improves ride refinement, handling and crash-impact resistance - the latter benefiting from a series of new structural and occupant protection measures.

The Saab 9-3 convertible features a four-wheel independent suspension with a front hydroformed subframe, MacPherson struts and anti-roll bar. The rear four-link suspension is configured with a subframe and anti-roll bar. Gas-filled shock absorbers hold down the four corners.

It also features ReAxs, a rear suspension setup that allows the rear wheels to steer slightly while the car is turning. This design helps the car respond better to provide more control.

Inside the cabin is elegantly stylish, unique and intelligent in design execution. Displays are easy to read. Controls and switches are within the driver's reach. Audio controls are mounted on the steering wheel for easy operation. Switches for power windows and door locks are located on the door, as opposed to the center console. Dual zone HVAC controls allow the driver and front passenger to be comfortable in almost any climate.

The soft top operates electronically - no muss, no fuss, no latches, no problem. With the top up at speed, the 9-3 convertible is almost as quiet as the hardtop sedan.

Seating is what is expected in a Saab - very comfortable and supportive. Front seats feature a handle activated mechanical assist that moves the seats forward to facilitate back seat access.

QUICK VEHICLE STATS

Wheelbase: 105.3; overall length: 182.5; width: 69.4; height: 56.5 - measurements in inches

Engine: 2-liter high-output turbocharged four-cylinder - 210 hp at 5,500 rpm and 221 lbs/ft of torque at 2,500 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual, six-speed manual, or five-speed automatic with Sentronic

EPA fuel economy: 21 city/29 hwy., (five-speed manual); 21 city/30 hwy., (six-speed manual); 19 city/28 hwy., (five-speed automatic).

Cargo capacity: 12.4 cubic feet, (soft top up); 8.3 cubic feet, (soft top down and stowed)

SAFETY FEATURES

Dual front air bags, side-impact front air bags, active head restraints, DynaCage active rollover emergency brake assist, traction control, electronic stability program, cornering brake control, front fog lights, rear fog light, anti-theft alarm, engine immobilizer and remote keyless entry with central locking. Aero adds OnStar communications system.

Optional safety features include integrated garage door opener, Xenon headlamps, rear park assist and rain sensor for windshield wipers.

WARRANTY

Basic: 4-year/50,000 mile, limited (includes no-charge scheduled maintenance, 3-year/36,000 miles)

Corrosion: 10-year/unlimited

Roadside assistance: 4-year/50,000 mile, 24-hour

PRICING

The base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price for the 2004 Saab 9-3 convertible starts from $39,995 for the Arc model and $42,500 for the Aero model. Destination charge adds $675.

As tested:

2004 Saab 9-3 Arc convertible

Exterior color: Steel Gray Metallic

Interior color: gray

Tires: Pirelli PZero P225/45R17

Base price: $39,995

Destination charge: $675

Steel gray metallic paint: $500

Color matched tonneau cover: $300

Sentronic five-speed automatic: $1,250

Touring package: $1,195

Sport wheel package: $1,000

Xenon headlamps: $500

Cold weather package: $500

OnStar communications service: $699

Total as tested: $46,614

Copyright 2004, Motor News Media Coporation

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