2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible

Ottawa, Ontario – Regular readers of my car reviews are probably familiar with my contempt for Ottawa’s crummy roads. Maybe it sounds like complaining, or maybe it’s justified – you know, because the roads actually are crummy.

So while late May is a lovely time of year here, as the trees go green and the lovely clematis in my backyard goes nuts, the recently melted snow tends to reveal the damage it’s wrought on our city’s thoroughfares. Great – so the roads are clear, but you almost don’t want to drive on them for fear of losing a filling (which I can only imagine are a real pain to fish out from between the seat and centre console).

But there’s a bright side to the sorry state of the paved surfaces around here in the spring, as it creates the perfect environment for seeing how well a car is bolted together. If a car doesn’t shake and rattle as it rolls down these roads, then it’s a pretty nicely-built vehicle.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible. Click image to enlarge

The build quality issue is of particular importance in convertibles, where the lack of a fixed, rigid roof can play havoc with a car’s structural integrity. As luck would have it, the arrival of warm temperatures coincided with the arrival of a Saab 9-3 convertible. Talk about mixing work with pleasure – key in hand, I immediately set about “evaluating” this Swedish beauty… topless, of course.

As I alluded to, you have to start with one heck of a stiff structure to create a convertible that doesn’t exhibit the cowl shake and quivering A-pillars that are the most common symptoms of a car with a floppy structure. And generally speaking, the best convertibles in this regard are the ones that are designed as such from the start. Saab says the 9-3 convertible’s structure was developed “concurrently” with that of the sedan and wagon. Still, driven over the frost heaves and sunken sewer grates that are common on the routes I drive the most, it’s quick to remind you that you’re missing a whole bunch of sheetmetal up top.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible. Click image to enlarge

Not that this Saab is alone in this. A Pontiac G6 in folding hardtop form is worse, as is the Toyota Camry Solara convertible. A common engineering tactic for mitigating the shake-while-you-bake sensation is to soften up the suspension so that the springs soak up more of the road’s irregularities before they make it up into the car’s structure. That seems to be the case with this Saab, which felt noticeably cushier than the 9-3 SportCombi I drove last year; where that car drove like a sports car, this one was more of a boulevard cruiser (the wagon’s uplevel Aero trim might have had something to do with it too; this convertible is the base, 2.0T, model). Handling is hardly ho-hum, but there’s more wallow over large bumps than I remember from the SportCombi.

Acceleration from the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, either. That 9-3Aero SportCombi was powered by Saab’s turbo 2.8-litre V6; if anything, it was quicker than its 250-horsepower specification would have indicated. So while I expected this convertible to be a little slower, it still felt surprisingly sluggish.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible. Click image to enlarge

I figure my expectations for the Saab four-banger were set back in April, when I drove a VW Passat powered by that brand’s own 2.0-litre turbo four: a torquey motor that feels far stronger than its 200-horse rating. In the Saab, power delivery felt less linear, like there was more turbo lag (wherein it took longer for the turbo to spool and start force-feeding the cylinders). Could it have something to do with gearing? It’s certainly a possibility: VW uses a terrific six-speed auto with its four-cylinder, but Saab reserves its six-speed for six-cylinder models and hooks the four-cylinder up to a five-speed instead. For sure, it’s not an issue of weight: the 9-3 droptop’s 1,578 kg curb weight is virtually identical to that of the Passat wagon.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible. Click image to enlarge

Saab makes much of the 2007 9-3’s revised interior, and it’s certainly an improvement: gone is the disorganized mess of buttons that dominated the 2006 model’s center stack. In its place is a much more straightforward layout that echoes the efforts GM has put into most of its other recent models.

But while this new dash looks great, it’s a letdown in terms of fit-and-finish. Well, I should qualify that: it’d be okay (and just okay) in a car that cost two-thirds of the $53,635 that Saab wants for a base-model 9-3 convertible. Most of the materials themselves are fine, but that’s just it. For this kind of money, it’s gotta be better than fine. The GMC Acadia I drove just before I got into this Saab was worth close to $60,000, and it had an interior that looked and felt like it, too.

My main criticisms? The directional controls for the dash vents feel cheap and cheesy. And run your fingers along the seam between the front of the dash and the dash top, and the gap feels uneven and the edge sharp.

My tester, as mentioned, was a 2.0T model, but fitted with a 60th Anniversary Edition package that comes with a choice of one of three unique exterior colours (Ice Blue in this case), a new 17-inch alloy wheel design, power-operated black sport seats with grey inserts, rear spoiler, dark walnut interior trim, a premium audio package and fog lights. Those interior extras, plus the way the exterior colour is repeated along the top of the inner door panels, helped redeem the 9-3’s interior looks-wise.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
The 9-3 convertible’s rear seat is surprisingly useable (top); trunk space is good with the top up (middle photo) but is decidely less so when the roof is folded back. Click image to enlarge

The interior is beyond reproach in terms of comfort, though. The front seats fit great, and there’s lots of headroom, despite what appears to be a rather short windshield. Only the tallest drivers might find the front places lacking for legroom, but I had no such issues. Even the rear seat is plenty usable, with good legroom (again, moving the front seats back to accommodate taller people up there limits rear-seat space) and surprising headroom. Those with wider bottoms might find the rear seat a bit tight, though, thanks to the shape of the rear seat, which I suspect was dictated by placement of roof hardware.

With the top up, trunk space is reasonable, as I discovered after driving two sets of parents (mine and my in-laws) to and from the airport for their respective vacations. One large suitcase and a couple of carry-on-sized bags will fit comfortably with room for some smaller stuff, but anything else wound up in the back seat. But with the top down, forget it: when folded, the roof eats into about half the trunk. And if the trunk’s full when you decide you want to go topless, the roof will politely decline to recline.

There shouldn’t be an issue finding room for small stuff in the cabin, though, as there are plenty of stash-spots, including a massive glove box.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible. Click image to enlarge

All told, my tester priced out to $58,175: $53,635 of that is for the car itself (9-3 2.0T convertible with automatic transmission), plus $995 for OnStar, $2,045 for the 60th Anniversary package, $100 worth of A/C excise tax and $1,400 for freight.

Compare that to the VW Eos: that car starts at $36,900. Option one out with automatic (VW’s excellent six-speed DSG, which, as mentioned, is one more gear than you get in this Saab), an 18-inch wheel package and the Sport Leather package, and the bottom line swells to just $43,590 including freight – not bad for a car with arguably the best folding hardtop on the market today. The Eos also feels higher quality inside and its body seems to quiver less over rough roads.

Some might argue that the Saab has the more graceful exterior proportions, and I’d tend to agree. And it’s not as if the 9-3 is a dog to drive – far from it, in fact. Perhaps most of the differences between the 9-3 and Eos – looks, hardtop versus softtop – are subjective. Cost isn’t, though. Fifteen grand is a big difference, and when the cheaper car does everything just as well, if not better, it’s a difference that’s hard to ignore.


Pricing: 2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible


Specifications

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Competitors

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  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 VW Eos
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Volvo C70


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