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New Vehicle/Review

Saab 900SE Aero

by John Heilig


ENGINE: 2.0-liter 16-valve turbocharged four cylinder
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 185hp@5500 rpm/194 ft.lbs. @2100 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 23.1 mpg test
WHEELBASE: 102.4 in.
FULL CAPACITY: 18.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 29.8 cu. ft. (rear seat folded)
TIRES: 205/50ZR16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, wafer temperature,
             turbo boost, analog clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control,
           air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette,
           anti-lock braking, dual air bags. 

I guess I'm not a full Saab mentality person, with a "Find Your Own Road" attitude. Sure, I like Saabs and I think that they're wonderful machines in general, but I'm afraid that their quirkiness and the desire to be different at all cost may eventually hurt the company.

For example, this week's tester is the 900SE, with a turbocharged version of Saab's 2.0-liter inline four. This engine drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Nothing odd yet. But in order to remove the key from its location an the transmission hump between the front seats, the gearbox must be in reverse. In order to start the car, it must also be in reverse. That's a good news/bad news affair, because the car was in reverse when you took the key out, so it's no biggie to keep it there to start it. But remembering to do it is the problem.

And that key location is starting to wear thin. C'mon Saab, you're part of GM now. Put the key near the steering wheel like everyone else does (except Porsche, who chooses to put it on the LEFT side of the wheel). Putting the key in the ignition is always a two-step procedure. Aim it to where it should go, then say, "Oh yeah," and put it where it belongs.

The only other complaint I had about the car was the choice of gear ratios. I'll admit I'm no Speed Racer when it comes to shifting, but I always felt as if I was in one gear too high. I'd go around a corner, for example, and the car would lug for a second or two before the turbo kicked in or I downshifted. And when I did downshift in preparation, I didn't downshift enough.

Otherwise, the Saab 900 in the new aero package is a nice car. We had the twodoor, which isn't the most practical car when you're carrying passengers, but for one or two people it's ideal. We did carry other passengers in the back a couple of times, though, and they commented about the comfort back there. It's nice, too, that there are multiple release handles to unlock the front seats to make it easier for the rear passengers to exit.

Saabs are roomy, too, We had comfort up front to match that in back. And the trunk is enormous by small car standards. Our biggest load was golf clubs, but there was room for four sets if we had a foursome, along with a couple of pull carts and show bags. Then, if we needed more room, we could have folded down the back of the rear seat (assuming we weren't carrying passengers back there) and we'd have more room.

A confusing feature was the daytime running lights as well as the automatic "twilight sentinel" feature. The lights are always on, a good feature. .And they go on automatically when it's getting dark out, another good feature. But for some reason, we couldn't switch on the high beam when the headlights were on "automatic. " If I then switched them on manually, we could use high beam.

Saabs are safe, too. We had air bags and ABS as well as excellent handling to avoid any incidents. Saab also uses a Safeseat with an anti-submarining feature. With these, if you're involved in a front-end collision, you won't have the tendency to go under the dash. It's a good idea.

I really wanted to like this Saab, because it had excellent features and good performance potential. But I guess the fiddling with the key and stick shift took away some of the glow.

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