Is it possible that the 1993 Saab 9000 CS Turbo is the perfect automobile?
Naahhhh!Even if it were, I wouldn't be dumb enough to come right out and say so. There wouldn't be any reason to keep writing this column if I had already found the perfect ride, and I'm not even close to calling it quits yet.
Still, if you could own only one car to serve all your needs, the Saab should be on your short list. The fact that I asked the "perfection" question up front is a pretty good hint about how I feel about the "Imola Red" Saab 9000 I've been driving this past week and now, alas, must bid adieu.
I don't usually get wistful when they come and take away my new cars, even the ones that cost more than my first two houses put together. More often than not, I am just as happy to climb back into my luxury-challenged econobox.
But the Saab . . . I'm going to miss it.
If it isn't the perfect car, it may be the most versatile. Need a roomy family sedan that seats five grownups in comfort? Check out the 9000. Like the classic look of a traditional sedan but the carrying capacity of a station wagon? The five-door hatchback 9000 is at your service.
Need an economical four-cylinder that delivers good gas mileage but you still like to run with the big dogs on occasion? Saab's optional 2.3 liter, 16-valve, DOHC turbocharged engine will turn you into Emerson Fittipaldi simply by dropping your right Florsheim (or Reebok on weekends) to the floor. Trust me on this, if you buy a Saab, you will never regret the extra $4,000 you must spend to get the turbo power plant.
Can't afford to spend a really large sum of money on a car but don't like to see yourself coming and going all day? For just under $30,000 the Saab delivers a nice dose of exclusivity.
So, what do we have here?:
- A handsome, roomy, classy, imported sedan that handles like a sports car but can double as a pickup truck.
- An economy car that can loaf along the interstate turning a leisurely 2,000 rpm at 65 mph delivering 27 mpg but, on command, becomes the '60s muscle car that you always wanted but couldn't afford at the time.
- A luxury car with automatic climate control, 8-speaker stereo and heated seats, along with such safety amenities as anti-lock brakes, airbag, rear roll bar and side impact protection. Finally, it has front-wheel drive made to plow through harsh Swedish winters.
If Saab, by some miracle of Scandinavian skullduggery, could sell the 9000 CS for, say, $18,900, the streets of America would look like downtown Stockholm on Saturday night.
But they can't, so instead of competing against Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus, Saab will have to continue going up against the likes of Lexus ES300, BMW 325i, Infiniti J30 and the new Chrysler LHS, to name a few.
Not that it is an unworthy competitor to those marques, but Saab has never quite made it over the hump to become a serious threat to the established luxury and "near-luxury" nameplates. Try as it might, Saab remains stuck with its ancient image as a quirky car that appeals to offbeat people who spend their spare time trying to save the whales and the ozone layer.
Maybe when Saab finally moves the ignition switch off the floor in its 900 models, then the last vestige of Saab's reputation as an oddball will be put to rest forever.
Maybe it has already started. Saab Cars USA reports total sales of 1,680 new Saabs in May, up 9.9 percent over May, 1992, and the 9000 series led the way.
Since we have agreed that the 9000 is not the perfect car, we should take a minute and find some fault with it. Journalistic integrity demands it.
NITPICK 1 - Converting the sedan into the aforementioned station wagon is not as easy as it should be. The rear seatbacks that are so roomy and comfy to sit on become recalcitrant, overstuffed monsters when you try to force them down into something resembling a flat surface. Once accomplished, though, you end up with a whopping 56 cubic feet of load space.NITPICK 2 - Where are the cupholders? Saab, don't you know Americans demand someplace to stash their can of Diet Pepsi? That omission has probably scared off a few hundred potential buyers.
NITPICK 3 - The car needs a fold-down armrest for the driver's right arm during those long, cruise-controlled commutes on the freeway.
NITPICK 4 - The windshield wipers on the headlights seem kind of silly for a no-nonsense car like the Saab. Just because Mercedes has them to justify a sticker price the size of Ecuador's GNP doesn't mean you have to. No one will ever remember to turn on their headlight wipers.
NITPICK 5 - When I first drove the car, the clutch pedal seemed stiff and the shifter of the 5-speed manual transmission somewhat balky. But in a couple of days I got used to both and learned to drive it smoothly. (Familiarity cancels out a lot of nitpicks. That's why I am always lobbying for more than the usual 10-minute test ride for potential new car buyers.)
NITPICK 6 - Like Audi, Saab has a reputation for not holding its value as well as many of its high-ticket competitors. I'm not sure of the reasons for this, but the turbo may be partly to blame. The reliability of used turbocharged cars has always been suspect and Saab apparently has not been able to put those fears to rest even though it has been in the turbo business longer than anyone and has made this technology as bulletproof as it will ever get.
In any case, buyers of $30,000 cars want to feel they are making a wise investment over time, and Saab has not led the pack in that category.
Well, that's it for the nitpicks. Even if it had nothing else to recommend it, the thrill of that turbo engine would make up for all the other shortcomings.
Need to pass a big triple trailer rig? Whoosh! He's just a dot in your rearview mirror. Need to change lanes to exit the freeway but the only opening is a hundred yards ahead? No problem. Point the car, mash the go-pedal and you're there. Like to dust off teenagers in Camaros at stoplight drag races? They're history.
The turbo Saab allows you to whip off your Clark Kent three-piece suit and slip into your cape and tights anytime you want. It's heady stuff. And addicting.
Incidentally, the 9000 CS and upscale CSE hatchbacks are new models for 1993, joining the CD/CDE sedans with regular trunks. Saab has had 9000 hatchbacks in the past but they looked like hatchbacks. The new models are better disguised.
The EPA rates the 9000 CS at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. I averaged 27.68 mpg in mostly highway driving so the EPA is right on for once.