Saab 9-3 Convertible Vector Sport 2.0t BioPower

June 2007

picture of car from the front

Revisions to the front end are effective

Ratings

Overall Rating 8Overall rating

Value for money Rating 6Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 6Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 6Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 9Controls and display

Comfort Rating 8Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 7Car safety


Likes

  • Sharper looks add considerably to appeal
  • Soft top aids handling and acceleration
  • BioPower adds a green tint to the convertible market
  • Ownership sets you apart from the masses

Gripes

  • Not as secure as folding hardtop
  • Bioethanol infrastructure not yet widespread
  • Cockpit design maybe too retro for younger buyers
  • Lighter steering takes edge off handling

Saab has had a credible four-season convertible in its range for more than 20 years, and the latest in the line is this the revised 9-3. As well as continuing with the traditional brand values, the latest 9-3 adds a new ingredient in the form of a 2.0-litre BioPower engine capable of running on environmentally friendly E85 bioethanol fuel.

Bioethanol infrastructure remains limited in the UK, but is growing all the time and even if you don't have a convenient pump close to home, it's not necessarily a problem as BioPower engines will run on conventional petrol as well. But the really important fact is that if you do run the car on cleaner, greener bioethanol, performance is significantly enhanced, not reduced.

A fresh front end and new rear lights enhance the 9-3 Convertible's visual appeal and actually give it a stronger resemblance to models from the past such as the 900. It doesn't possess the concentrated sportiness of a BMW or the luxury leanings of a Mercedes but adopts a visual language somewhere between the two that manages to be classy and purposeful at the same time. Buyers who want a full-strength sportscar or a posing wagon are likely to look elsewhere as the Saab's appeal remains more thoughtful and mature.

When many manufacturers are now adopting folding hardtop systems for convertible models, Saab sticks with a soft-top, available in three different colours. Having a soft-top may soon be something of a novelty in the premium convertible sector.

While the soft top helps to reduce weight and reinforces the classical look, it does make the 9-3 less secure than its rivals. In any other make it would also make it less weatherproof, but given Saab's reputation as a builder of four-season convertibles, this would be unfair.

Our verdict on the Saab 9-3 Convertible Vector Sport 2.0t BioPower

Though not an entirely new car, the latest 9-3 Convertible is another step forward for Saab. Buyers who place environmental considerations high on their list of priorities will consider the BioPower engined model, but the more conventional petrol and diesel powerplants remain the safest bets for UK buyers and are themselves relatively green.

Costs
Costs rating 6

Value for money can be rated as no better than reasonable, since the asking price of the 9-3 is not cheap by any means. BioPower cars cost even more, and buyers will not recoup the cost in fuel bills as fuel economy remains comparable with conventionally-powered models. However, residual values will remain strong, helped by the relatively small numbers of 9-3 Convertibles that appear on the roads.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 6

Front seat passengers can have no complaints at all. The seats slide back and forward huge distances. Bootspace isn't outstanding, but nor is it particularly disappointing, though you do have to make sure that taller items are laid flat if you want to operate the roof. Rear seats are better than in most direct rivals.

picture of car from the rear

Rear deck is short enough to enable parking without problems

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 9

Saab's interior layouts have always been distinctive and potential buyers will either love or hate the way they do things. The cabin retains a definite cockpit feel when some rivals are moving towards more open plan approach. As a result, the driver is partially enclosed and is presented with neat rows of switches, but the transition to the passenger side of the cabin can seem abrupt and rather empty.

Comfort
Comfort Rating 8

The soft top means that the 9-3 Convertible is noisier than its hard-topped competitors in the rain and there is also more wind noise at speeds. Speaking of which, the optional wind deflector is a must is you intend to exceed suburban speeds with the top down without receiving a buffeting. Seats are among the best in class, nicely compromising between support and ease of access and exit.

Car security
Security Rating 7

Soft-tops are inferior to hard-tops on safety, for obvious reasons, making ownership impractical or at least considerably more expensive, for anyone without their own garage. An alarm is included but it's better to prevent a break-in in the first place than to inform you when one has taken place.

Car safety
Safety Rating 7

Volvo may take most of the safety plaudits, but Saab takes safety every bit as seriously and can legitimately claim to be on a par with its compatriot in the field. Like Volvo, it makes extensive use of 'real life' crash data as well as laboratory experiments. The results are important and result in the 9-3's impressive credentials with rollover protection, seatbelt pre-tensioners, active head restraints and two-stage airbags all standard items.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 7

Though not a hardcore sporting tool, there is plenty of fun to be had on a sunny day. The 9-3 possesses a sort of rangy, effortless grace that makes driving a pleasure at real-world speeds. Steering doesn't seem to be quite as sharp as it was previously - perhaps to fall in line with American tastes - which robs the 9-3 of some fun, but the ride remains supple and the extra power of the BioPower version does make a noticeable difference.

picture of car from the side

There's fun to be had on an open road in Saab's 9-3 Convertible

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 4

Children and adults will both find room in the back to be transported considerable distances in some comfort, but luxury convertibles like the 9-3 aren't really suitable as everyday family cars. The boot is simply too small and space too limited for the regular transport of kids and clutter.

First car appeal
First car Rating 3

Saab buyers tend to be more mature and better educated than the average motorist, so despite the 9-3 Convertible's charms, few first time drivers are likely to crave one. That's just as well, as the more muscular versions transmit a considerable amount of power through the front wheels that a novice might find difficult to control.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 7

Until recently, Saab was one of those virtually indefinable companies that seemed to combine high quality with reasonable costs and an everyman ethic. That's changed somewhat so that today it is definitely a premium product with process to match, though some will still judge the Swedish companies to be less desirable than their German rivals.

Accessibility
Accessibility Rating

Wide opening doors and sliding front seats make access to the rear seats fairly easy, a fact that is helped by the relatively low waistline. Front seat passengers fare even better, with lots of loom to place their legs in wide footwells. For a convertible, it is roomy, with the central area containing the handbrake and ignition the only real cramp point.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

A substantial Bose surround sound system, tailored to the car's internal architecture, is available as a costly upgrade, but most buyers will find the standard system perfectly adequate.

picture of car from the interior

Interior continues long-running Saab themes

Colours and trim

Leather-laden Aero trim is certainly the interior to have if you can afford it, awakening memories of the outstanding 9000 of a decade ago. To its credit, Saab seems to spend just as much time sorting out the less expensive models so that they showcase some interesting fabrics and materials.

Parking

The 9-3's rear deck is modestly proportioned, especially when compared to some current folding hardtops, so reversing isn't too problematic. Shorter drivers, or those adopting Saab's preferred low-slung driving position may have some problems with the roof up, though.

Spare wheel

Space saver spare wheel fitted as standard.

 

Range information

Conventional engines: 2.8-litre V6 Turbo (255bhp) petrol; 2.0-litre Turbo (150bhp) petrol badged as 1.8t; 2.0-litre Turbo (175bhp) badged as 2.0t; 2.0-litre Turbo (210bhp) badged as 2.0T; 1.9-litre TTiD twin turbodiesel (180bhp); 1.9-litre single turbodiesel (150bhp). BioFuel engines: 1.8t BioPower (175bhp) and 2.0t BioPower (200bhp). Trim levels are Linear SE, Vector Sport and Aero.

 

Alternative cars

Volvo C70 Hard-topped archrival feels exceptionally solid

Audi A4 Cabriolet Like Saab, still retains a soft-top and elegance

BMW 3 Series Convertible Heavy but compensated for by powerful engine choice

Ford Focus Coupe Cabriolet Cheap alternative represents decent value for money



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June 2007