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SAAB 900 2.3 SE CONVERTIBLE

Saab... Scandinavian, safe, sporty, solid, sleek, classic sporting saloons... but convertibles?

Well, the convertibles are certainly a bit less well known. Saab claim that their 900 droptop is a practical car that can be driven and enjoyed all year round and I've little doubt of the truth of that for I previously drove one in December and enjoyed the experience but more recently I actually drove one during a scorching hot week and can confirm that Saab can safely stand by their claim for while it's a perfectly viable Winter car the 900 it, like any cabrio, really comes into it's own when the sun shines, the 900 is a remarkably civilised ragtop that would seem just as at home on the ski slopes as at the beach.

The earlier classic 900 shape was replaced in late 1993 by an even better 900 and the convertible arrived nearly a year later although, critically, it was designed at the same time so that the necessary structural stiffening could be built in so that there was no flexing when the roof was removed even the screen surround is reinforced to act as a rollover bar in an emergency. This foresight has produced one of the stiffest of all 4 seat convertibles.

There really aren't that many 4 seat ragtops around, being obviously structurally less rigid than 2 seaters yet designing this one from the ground up has produced a remarkably stiff - and thereby safe - convertible. I sought out some of the bumpiest roads that I could find - not difficult these days - to test for the usual convertible "scuttle shake" and found almost none.

The 900 continues to be a car for the individualist – and there's none more so than the all year round convertible driver - built by a car maker unswayed by automotive fashion trends. Saab have yet again produced a car that is different in every way from the rest, seemingly revelling in the financial security that it's involvement with General Motors has brought - and with access to it's massive parts bin - while retaining it's fierce independence.

A prettily sculpted design, the new 900 is evolutionary but much better looking and more spacious than the old 900 while physically little bigger and, up or down, the ragtop 900 is surely one of the best looking of the small band of 4 seat convertibles most of which are much dearer.

Eminently practical then for year round use, the 900 convertible boasts great space in a marvellously well trimmed cabin boasting ample leg and head room with 4/5 very comfortable leather clad seats and a substantial boot into which folds the all electric roof. While I may have referred to it as a ragtop the sophisticated electric roof is a multi layered affair that is so well insulated and fitted that there is barely no noise inside yet, in Summer, with all 4 windows powered down it is as open as one could want.

The cossetted pilot enjoys a very comfortable driving position facing a reach adjustable leather wheel and a curving, wraparound, dash with clear instruments and very sensibly placed switchgear. A notable standard feature across the range is the revolutionary " black dash " which, with one button, cuts out all but the most essential instruments for night driving minimising distractions and optical clutter.

A very full specification is evident, with the power roof, power windows and mirrors, ABS, driver's side airbag, pre-tensioned belts, side impact bars, superbly weighted power steering, alloy wheels, an alarm/immobiliser, front foglights and a good quality, built-in, stereo all standard.

The 2.3 litre, 16 valve, engine is very refined, power smoothly and predictably delivered and very quiet thanks to the twin balancer shafts. A supremely flexible, smooth and quiet piece of machinery which, when roused by a sharp prod of the right foot spins up instantly with masses of torque and a substantial punch of acceleration produced with the merest growl as 155 bhp comes on stream to take the car up to a prodigious top speed. Yet, on it's spiritual home turf, the motorways of Europe, pootling along quietly sipping unleaded at a very reasonable rate, even a hard driving session gave me well over 28 mpg.

For spirited driving the 900 Convertible is truly responsive, precise, well weighted power steering, generally good handling with near flat cornering, tremendous grip, a very tight turn-in and little understeer even when pushed hard and with solid braking from the vented front discs with ABS.

The 900s have long been real cult cars with many devotees and the new 900 Convertible, with a style, feel and soul all of it's own and genuine year round practicality, will rapidly expand that cult following. It feels like a handcrafted car which would be very easy to live with over very long ownership.

FACT FILE
  • PRICE as tested £23995
  • TOP SPEED 131 MPH
  • O-6O MPH 9.5 SECONDS
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION 24  MPG [ URBAN CYCLE ] 43  MPG [ CONSTANT 56 MPH ]

First Published 1996 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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