Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Born from jets or just plain different?

Saab is probably the most misunderstood red-headed stepchild automaker in the business today. Maybe it's the whole "key in the center console" bit or possibly the fact that the car has to be in reverse to remove said key from its awkward location. Maybe it's because the decision to put an engine in a car backward with the belts facing the firewall, a la the original 900. Maybe it's the way they look like a pregnant rollerskate cruising down the highway. It could be because there are few qualified shops to repair them, even if you live in a metro area. The dealership support isn't much better. Heck, they don't even know who owns the company from one week to the next. Spyker has promised to change things with their takeover and having looked at the new 9-5 recently, I see they are at least making an effort to push out some product.

For whatever the reasons, the 9-3 is a quirky little "hot hatch" that has some weird endearing charm. As I slide in  to the comfy cabin, I switch on the massaging and air conditioned seats and set my destination in the navigation. I set the suspension setting to sport and then plug in my Ipod.........WAIT. What the heck. None of these things are here. What kind of car is this. Where's the amenities at? Where's my massaging seats dangit? After the shock of sitting in a normal car, I realize that this is a pretty decently equipped car for the time that it was produced. A hatchback with power windows, auto climate control, and heated seats is all one really needs. These are the "bare necessities" nowadays.

So at this point you are asking me, "why the heck are you driving an old Saab?" It's simple really. I work with all sorts of cars from a wide range of years. I try to chose cars that are interesting and newer but sometimes, there aren't many cars to chose from and the blog goes on. I chose this car because it doesn't fit in. It's not normal. One of these things is not like the other.....

The reality is this, the car is fun to drive. It brings back memories of the inexpensive fun cars of times passed. It makes me think of GTI's, Mazda 3's, CRX's, and all the other fun pocket rockets that I have loved over the years. Think about this, a hatchback is useful, a 4 door is super useful, a turbo engine is a "fun-time" requirement, and nimble handling is paramount. These are the characteristics that make up the 9-3 2.0T and its older and more neurotic brother, the Viggen. They are what take all plain-jane commuters to the edge of coolness. Not quite the super cool AWD cars from Japan or the rear drive horsepower monsters from Germany but a great package. A complete package. A fun package.

With Saab, there is a weird, nerdy Nordic brotherhood. I was driving home and 10 miles away from home, I pass another 9-3 2.0T on the freeway. It's as clean as a whistle with a retiree behind the wheel. He get's it. He knows the secret the Saab possesses. As I pass, I give him the universal head-nod of approval to let him know that I think he's got a clean Saab and I approve. He responds with a 100mph fly-by. I end up catching up once his pace slows and we drive in tandem for the last leg of my commute. As I leave the freeway, he opens up the throttle and takes off. That's one thing a Saab turbo can do. It can move. Not big V8 fast. Not by a long shot, but definitely faster than most of the turbo 4's out there, even to this day.

Saabs are weird, their owners weirder, and the shops that work on them, well, don't go there. Saab has a loyal following, and I get it. I get why. They just fit that niche of a fun and economical car that has utility at the same time. That's the classic "hot hatch" definition if I've ever heard one.

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