Saab 9-3 BioPower Convertible 2008 Review

Saab 93 biopower fq 2

It’s a dark and brooding sky that I wake to on my first morning with the Saab 9-3 BioPower Convertible. It rained heavily throughout the night and water is still cascading down the streets like an urban river.

As I warm up with a coffee and look outside to where beads of water sit on the cloth roof of the Saab, I wonder if I should just stay inside for the day, rather than go touring around the countryside in a convertible.

Upon weighing the options, the prospect of taking a turbocharged coupe out for a blast finally wins out, and I find myself in the comfortable leather seat turning the centre console-located ignition.

The engine comes to life (not all that quickly) and I ponder the eternal question that convertible owners the world over must struggle with everyday. Top up or down?

Despite the outside temperature being represented on the green-lit display as a single digit and the presence of clouds and scattered showers, I decide to down the cloth roof, crank the heater to maximum, and cruise off down the road.

Even though I look like a complete goose driving with the top down in freezing winter weather, I am enjoying myself. At city speeds the seat warmer and heater do their jobs well, but out on the open I question whether it really is a good idea having the top open.

I pull over and put it back up while on the highway and enjoy the warmth. Easing off the highway onto on country roads, I open the top and enjoy the turbo whistle and the odd rain sprinkling.

The 9-3 BioPower is not the quickest car in the world, but thanks to 147kw of power and 300Nm of torque produced by the 2.0 litre turbocharged engine (when running on E85), it gets along quicker than the hushed driving atmosphere inside the car would have you believe.

The BioPower aspect is something that I’m very interested in, both as someone concerned about the future of fossil-fueled cars and as a home-brewer.

I love making beer and spirits at home and after some investigating, I discovered it is possible to distill, at home, ethanol decent enough to use as a blend like E85 in a car that is ‘flexi-fuel’ capable. Who wouldn’t mind sharing a bottle of vodka with their car?

Aside from being a cheaper way to fuel a car (it’s probably illegal anyway), Saab’s ‘Flexi-Fuel’ ethanol technology is a possibility for the future.

New Zealand doesn’t have E85 retailers yet but the U.K has quite a few petrol stations where E85 is available and it may be just a matter of time before we see them here.

It would make sense that Saab NZ wouldn’t release an E85 capable car if there wasn’t going to be E85 fuel available.

Fuel consumption in the Saab was a combined 12.1 l/100km on our test route which included a mix of highway/city and country driving.

On some tight and twisty roads the Saab’s damping feels good with a minimum of body-roll and very little scuttle-shake. Even on bumpy corners it feels composed.

Old-school torque-steer of the variety pioneered by Saab isn’t evident, even when deliberately provoked the 9-3 stays neutral. Like any front wheel-drive car understeer is a possibility, but in the Saab it is not a prevalent unless man-handled.

The steering wheel-mounted gear change buttons are a little clumsy to use when shifting manually but change quite quickly compared to other semi-automatics on the market and make for a more sporting drive.

The dash architecture does let the car down a little as the dials and the green-lit displays on the dash and radio look very dated. The displays are also very glare sensitive becoming impossible to read when the sun shines directly on them. The main controls for the trip computer, stereo and heater are all very easy to use and understand.

The interior really is a nice place to be and has a quality feel which at this price it really should do.

The cloth roof doesn’t do a brilliant job of keeping things quiet at motorway speeds when the rain is coming down but everywhere else it is fine and opens and closes quite quickly, although I did get caught out by a rain shower once.

Hustling the Saab along at seven-tenths is a pleasant experience as it is comfortable and reasonably quick, kind of like a turbocharged lounge chair.

At lower speeds it is a little difficult to judge proximity to other cars and the kerb when parking. The Saab ‘parking assist’ works well but only in reverse, leaving you unsure of how close the sloping nose is to the car in front.

The 9-3 is a good-looking car at the front but the clear lens rear lights don’t suit the mature image of the rest of the car.

Overall the Saab is a handsome, comfortable, reasonably quick car which would please most people looking for a decently luxurious convertible. The Saab is in an interesting position being much cheaper than convertibles from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, but more luxurious than the Holden Astra TwinTop, the Peugeot 307CC and the Renault Megane Coupe/Cabriolet.

Price: from $74,900

What we like

  • Comfortable interior and pleasant ride
  • Front end treatment

What we don’t like

  • Glare-affected displays
  • Dated dash display

SAAB 9-3 2.0t BioPower

  • E85/Petrol engine Four-cylinder in-line, aluminium cylinder head and block.
  • Turbocharger, intercooled. DOHC, 16-valve. Balancer shafts.
  • Ignition/Fuel injection  Saab Trionic 8 engine management. Direct ignition. Multi-point fuel injection.
  • Displacement: 1,998cc
  • Bore/Stroke (mm) 86 / 86
  • 0-100 km/h M6 8.2; A5 9.3
  • Fuel consumption (l/100 km) City/H.way/Comb. M6 11.8/6.6/8.5; A5 13.1/7.7/9.7
  • CO2 emissions combined (g/km)  M6 203; A5 232
  • Luggage compartment    Max trailer load   : 1600 kg
  • Seating Capacity:   4
  • Drive train   : Front wheel drive
    • Manual, 5-speed  Transverse drive unit, full synchromesh, manual gearbox
    • Manual, 6-speed:  Transverse drive unit, full synchromesh, manual gearbox
    • Sentronic five-speed automatic: Electronically controlled automatic transmission with manual shift possibility. Direct mechanical lock-up in third, fourth and fifth gears.
    • Sentronic six-speed automatic 6 speed automatic transmission with Saab Sentronic manual selection, steering wheel buttons standard

Words Ben Dillon, photographs Darren Cottingham

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