Earlier this week, we brought you the second instalment of our new Readers’ Rides feature. In it, CT reader Kyle told us about his NG900 and classic 900 Cabriolet, both turbos and both truly fantastic. He also let slip that he’s a massive Saab enthusiast – no surprise, really when you consider that his old man worked for Saab for 20 years, and brought home every Saab model under the sun.
And you know what? We can totally see why. The Swedish car maker has produced some deeply cool models in its long history. From tail-happy two-strokes to awesome Aeros and invigorating Viggens, Saab has always trodden its own path, building family cars and executive saloons that did performance in a particularly Swedish way. So we’ve put together our 10 favourites; the cars that made Saab what it is (before it all went horribly wrong).
10. 9-3 Viggen
Saab would have wanted you to believe that the 9-3 Viggen was a rival for the BMW 330i. And while it didn’t quite offer the same precision and driver appeal as the BMW – there was too much torque steer and body roll for that – it was certainly an exciting thing to drive. 230bhp enabled it to hit 60mph in just 6.5 seconds, and the power was delivered in a huge, blistering mid-range slug of turbocharged torque. It also happened to look pretty good too, with a bodykit that finally brought a welcome dose of aggression to the slightly neutered NG900 shape.
9. 900 Convertible (classic)
Kyle fell in love with his 'FrankenSaab', and who can blame him? There are few soft-tops out there that are quite as cool as the classic 900. Don’t believe us? Well, Jay-Z seemed happy enough to roll in one in his “Song Cry” video:
Mr Carter was lucky enough to be behind the wheel of a Turbo, but any drop-top classic 900 just oozes late ’80s chic. Classy yet classless, the 900 Convertible offered an al fresco motoring experience unlike any other. It wasn’t about going fast; rather, it was about savouring the journey – roof down, cruising down to the coast for the weekend, taking in the sunshine and enjoying the solidity and comfort that only a Saab could bring. Plus it made you look sophisticated and tasteful in a way that no brash BMW or Merc could.
Equal 7th. 9000 Aero/9000 Carlsson
It’s hard to pick a favourite between these two, so we'll give both equal standing at seventh spot in our league table. The original pre-facelift Carlsson was a tad down on power, with 204bhp, but with the name of Saab’s most famous rally driver on its rump and a deeply retro bodykit bolted on, it’s probably the most desirable 9000 today.
That said, the later Aero runs it a close second – with a 225bhp shove from its 2.3-litre turbo, it was good for 0-60mph in just 6.7 seconds, an astonishing figure for such a big, boxy car. And as with all 9000s, an insanely spacious interior swathed in leather and equipped with all sorts of toys made both models extremely enjoyable to cover big distances in. If ever a Saab was built to cross a continent fast, this was it.
6. Sonett III
The Sonett is not on this list for its performance. Let’s just be clear about that from the get-go. For the first two years, it ran a 1.5-litre Ford-sourced V4 engine, which was later replaced with a 1.7-litre version – both, however, put out just 65bhp, giving the Sonett a 0-60 time of somewhere around 13 seconds. But...well, just look at it. How cool does it look? The low nose, pop-up headlights (raised manually using a lever inside the cabin!), curvy waistline and truncated tail meant the Sonett looked like nothing else on the road, and the same applies today. It’s also light and nimble, and as a result, enormous fun to drive. Like the original Mini, the Sonett is a car that doesn’t need power to be an absolute hoot – and into the bargain, it looks great too.
5. Saab 92
'Hold up,' you’ll be thinking right now if you’ve never heard of the 92 before. 'Why is this poor relation of a VW Beetle in this list?' Well, if that’s the way you’re thinking, read on and educate yourself. The 92 was Saab’s first ever production model, and was designed using all of Saab’s aeronautical nous. That teardrop shape gave it a remarkable drag coefficient of just 0.35 – about the same as the first-gen Honda Insight – and it featured a transverse-mounted, water-cooled two-stroke engine that was tough and dependable. The combination of both meant that the 92 was economical, cheap to repair, and surprisingly nippy, and as a result, extremely popular in its home market. It set a trend for left-field thinking and innovation - two traits that Saab came to be synonymous with its life.
4. 9-5 Aero
The 9-5 Aero really was something of a high point for Saab. Like the 9-3 Viggen, it wasn’t as dynamically proficient as the BMWs and Audis it had in its sights, but the 9-5 Aero was renowned for providing a very Saab-esque interpretation of the modern performance saloon. Later variants provided a whopping 260bhp – all delivered through the front wheels – which was more than enough to propel the Aero along at a huge rate of knots, but the serenity, comfort and quality of the interior all made the 9-5 a more agreeable, less imposing place to be than its German rivals. The Aero, in other words, was a performance saloon with a friendly, soothing face. It wasn’t going to get kinky with you on a country lane, but in the dead of night, when it was pouring with rain and you had many motorway miles to cover in very little time, there was little else you’d rather be in.
3. 99 Turbo
A legend among legends, the 99 Turbo was one of the most important cars in the company’s history. Why? Well, it was the first production turbocharged Saab, and as such it created an institution which would go on to become such an integral part of Saab’s heritage that, by the time of the company’s tumble into administration in 2011, almost the entirety of its range would have a turbo. In 1979, when the 99 Turbo was released, it could boast 145bhp – a pretty significant figure back then – and despite a vast amount of turbo lag, it was an absolute blast to drive. Oh, and it had seats that looked a bit like orange velveteen briefs. Just shut up and take our money...
2. Saab 96
Yup, it’s another odd-shaped classic Saab – but what’s this one doing so high up in this list? Well, quite simple really – this was the first Saab that officially came to the UK. What’s more, it was the car with which Saab achieved enormous success in rallying, thanks to the simplicity and reliability of its engine, not to mention the extra traction it gained from its front-engined, front-wheel-drive layout. Some of Scandinavia’s best rally drivers, including Erik Carlsson, Stig Blomqvist and Per Eklund, made their names in 96s, winning the RAC Rally three years on the trot and the Monte Carlo rally twice. Suddenly, Saabs were becoming known for their toughness and agility, and it was the springboard the company needed to achieve international success. The 96 was the car that enabled all that to happen.
1. 900 Turbo (classic)
This is it then: the car everyone thinks of when they hear the words ‘Saab’ and ‘Turbo’ strung together. While the 99 Turbo was Saab’s first, it was the 900 Turbo that really popularised the concept of the turbocharged Saab, and as a performance model it lit the fires of road testers and the buying public alike. Essentially a heavily facelifted 99, it smoothed off many of that model’s rough edges, reducing lag and increasing power – the 175bhp 16-valve model, in particular, was a real barnstormer. And where its chief rival, the BMW 325i, was tail-happy and loved to rev, the 900 Turbo gave its biggest hit in the mid range and cornered delightfully neutrally. This was Saab’s left-field thinking at its best – and today the 900 Turbo is deservedly becoming a sought-after classic.
And if you don’t believe us, here’s Quentin Willson to tell you why you should have bought a 900 Turbo back in the late ’90s – and, let’s face it, why you should still want one today.
So, we’ve given you our favourite Saab of all now – question is, which is yours?