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2004 Saab 9 3 Convertible

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San Francisco: After years of losing money, General Motors, Saab’s owner, has put the pressure on its Swedish division to increase market share. This resulted in completely redesigned 2003 Saab 9 3 sport sedan and Saab’s best sales year in its history in North America.

Despite its origin in cool Sweden, Saab also builds excellent, and good selling, convertibles. For 2004, Saab has revamped the 9 3 drop top models, which are actually built in Austria. Next, Saab will offer a 9 3 Sport Hatchback, which should please longtime Saab aficionados.

Like all Saabs, the new convertible is instantly recognized as a Saab, though you will have look a bit more carefully to distinguish it from the Saab 9 3 convertible it replaces. The new convertible is available in Arc and Aero models. Saab 9 3s are now based on GM’s new Epsilon platform also used on the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac Grand Am. The 9 3 uses mostly uniquely Saab mechanical components and Saab engineers helped design the Epsilon platform so it is definitely not a badge engineered Chevrolet or Pontiac.

For starters, Saab uses its own engines – all with four-cylinders, turbocharged and driving the front wheels. Saab is GM’s "center of excellence" when it comes to turbocharged gasoline engines.  Four cylinders might seen to be too few in this near luxury market where six-cylinders are the norm. However, I have driven 9 3s and 9 5s, including my own 9 3, and never found them lacking in power. The all-aluminum, high-pressure turbocharged, dual-overhead-camshaft (DOHC), 16-valve, 2-liter engine makes 210-horsepower at 5500 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. The low-pressure turbocharged, 175-horsepower version is not offered in the convertibles. A five-speed manual is standard on the Arc while the Aero gets a six speed. A five-speed shift able Sensomatic automatic is an option on both.

The plus of turbocharged engines is excellent fuel economy. Saab engineers have taken another big step in reducing two of characteristics of high-performance, turbocharged, front-drive power plants – torque steer and turbo - with only a hint remaining.

Saab, noted for its emphasis on safety, has included many standard safety-oriented items including "smart" airbags in front, two-stage head/torso side airbags, and Saab’s Active Head Restraint (SAHR) system that can prevent whiplash. The "DynaCage" rollover protection system combines seatbelt pre-tensioning with pop-up rear roll bars that deploy if an imminent rollover is sensed and strengthened A-pillars. Front seatbelts are fully integrated into the front seats. Electronic stability program (ESP) and electronic traction control (TCS) are standard. The anti-lock braking system (ABS) with four-wheel disc brakes work with electronic brake force distribution for panic stops and skid prevention.

Operation of the top is slick and can be done while waiting at a traffic light without leaving your seat by merely pressing the button the dash. It takes about 20 seconds to disappear under the hard tone cover. The new Saab convertible has a large trunk, though like most cars today, the opening is somewhat small. With the top up, it holds 8.3 cubic feet, 12.4 cubic feet with the top erected.

An innovative, yet simple"CargoSET" automatically increases the capacity when the top is raised. With the top up, the soft headliner makes you feel like you are in coupe rather than a cabriolet, but the smallish rear window brings back the reality. While a four-seater, as with most convertibles, only the two up front ride in comfort, mainly because of lack of legroom in the rear.

Sliding behind the wheel you immediately know you are in a Saab, and not only because the ignition switch is still located in the console between the seats. The window controls have been moved to the doors. The familiar aircraft cockpit-like instrument panel is still there as is Saab’s Night Panel that can illuminate only primary instruments at night. There are now three displays for the Saab Car Computer, entertainment system and climate control. The Saab Information Display (SID) is now located on the top of the dash where it is a bit easier to view. Another display window is located in the dash’s center stack. The third display is for the climate control.

Besides the three displays, there is a large number of buttons and knobs that take some time to learn. Personally, while the previous version presented less information, it was more user friendly. Fortunately, controls for radio/CD and cruise control are on the handsome wood-trimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel. On the Aero touch control for the Sentronic transmission are also on the steering wheel. I rarely comment about cup holders, but the one on the dashboard is so flimsy that I was afraid to use in fear that it would break very easily.

Saab claims the 2004 model is three times as stiff as the previous convertible. I believe it. Steering feel and precision is excellent. The convertible was as solid and tight as any comparable sedan, including the 2003 9 3 that I have driven recently. The Arc version starts at $40,670 and $43,175 for the Aero.  By Bill Siuru and Andrea Stewart AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Saab has its best sales year in North America
Topic:  2004 Saab 9 3 Convertible
Word Count:   922
Photo Caption:  2004 saab 9 3 Convertible
Photo Credits:  Saab Internet Media
Series #:   2004 - 04

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2004 Saab 9 3 Convertible

Download the original image file here:  2004 Saab 9 3 Convertible 29k

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