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New Car Review

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SEE ALSO: Saab Buyer's Guide


by Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,695
     Price As Tested                                    $ 30,190
     Engine Type                             2.0 liter I4 w/PFI*
     Engine Size                                 121 cid/1985 cc
     Horsepower                                   185 @ 5500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               195 @ 2100 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   102.4"/67.4"/182.6
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     3100 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     205/50ZR16
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                  1 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.30


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/28/24
     0-60 MPH                                        6.9 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       16.0 seconds @ 91 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    142 mph
     * Port fuel injection

For many years, Saab had been involved in professional rally racing, and was very successful with drivers such as the legendary Erik Carlsson behind the wheel. The company ceased participating in international rallying in 1980 but has re-emerged this year with a specially-prepared, 300-horsepower 900-series Turbo.

The Swedish company's roots are significant in terms of automotive development: it mass-produced vehicles with transverse-mounted engines and front-wheel-drive decades before the layout became popular. Our test car for the week, the 900 Turbo sedan is built this way, and despite its strong financial ties with General Motors, (GM owns half of Saab) it still retains a strong Swedish flavor.

OUTSIDE - The 900 SE Turbo is available as a coupe, sedan or convertible, and all three possess that unmistakable Saab profile. Our test sedan is the newest Saab Turbo, and we feel its practicality is nearly immeasurable. Four doors allow easy entry and exit, while its hatchback design gives nearly 50 cubic feet of usable cargo space with the rear seats folded flat. SE Turbo models come with such standard exterior features as unique three-spoke alloy wheels, body-colored bumpers and a sporty rear spoiler. Saab has always placed safety at the top of its priority list, and since 1972, Saab engineers have critically analyzed many accidents involving Saab automobiles on the highways of Sweden. This way, crucial information about how Saabs respond to crashes help the company build safer cars. Extensive side-impact protection, along with front and rear crumple zone and "safety cage" construction are but a few of Saab's safety features.

INSIDE - The front seats are very upright, but with the standard eight-way power adjustments, almost anyone can find a comfortable position. The dashboard is also vertical, with an abundance of buttons and large, legible gauges and a twist knob for the headlights. There is ample room inside, even in back, where three adults can travel in comfort. Leather upholstery is standard on all SE models, as is a hide-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and shifter boot. A tasteful amount of walnut trim enhances the dash. A high-powered stereo is standard, along with a power glass sunroof, automatic climate control, and a three-position memory for the driver's seat.

ON THE ROAD - The 900 SE Turbo is powered by a turbocharged 2.0 liter twin-cam inline four cylinder engine which uses special counter- rotating balance shafts to keep vibrations to a minimum. Saab was among the leaders in modern turbocharging, and the latest 900 Turbo is its best to date. Power lags somewhat off the line, but when the turbo "spools" up, the car leaps forward explosively and sends those inside back into their seats. Its fuel economy is excellent if the driver exorcises restraint, as the intercooled turbo barely works unless the throttle is pushed to the floor. Saab's own Trionic engine management system works well to keep turbo boost in balance with fuel economy, atmospheric conditions and driver responses.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Saab Turbo sacrifices some ride quality for handling control. The 900 uses unit-body construction with MacPherson strut front suspension and a simple twist-beam rear axle. The chassis is derived from the Calibra, a car General Motors builds for the European market, and is stiff and well-engineered. Compared to the more mundane Saab 900 models, the Turbo rides on stiffer anti-roll bars front and rear, tauter gas-pressurized shocks, and beefier 205/50ZR-16 tires. This is noticeable on the road, as the car clomps over broken pavement and potholes more noticeably than its sister car. Its power rack-and-pinion steering system provides responsive turn-in and good road feel, while four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) are standard.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact protection are standard. Such items as a console-mounted ignition key, seat belt pre-tensioners and daytime running headlamps are also considered safety features.