2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible
Although it may be born from jets, as Saab's new ad slogan goes, the 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible's navigation system makes it hard for pilots to follow their flight plans. The automatic unfolding of the convertible top is a sight to behold, however, and we were impressed by the quality of the stereo. The sound system gave us reason to bring an MP3 player on road trips but no more than one friend, as backseat space and trunk room are both extremely limited.
The 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible's road handling and manners are acceptable, but the turbocharged four-cylinder engine doesn't produce much low-end power, making for weak acceleration at less than 15mph. Mileage figures, both tested by the EPA and based on our observations, aren't very impressive for an engine of this size, suggesting the turbocharger burns extra. Accelerating at medium speeds is enjoyable, especially since a gauge on the instrument cluster shows how hard the turbocharger kicks in. Road handling is heavily technology-assisted with traction control, a stability program, and antilock brakes, all contributing to a very safe ride. Only the front seats get air bags and active head restraints, further suggesting the backseat is just for show.
The base price for the 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible is $36,500. Our test car was optioned with Fusion Blue Metallic paint, Sentronic automatic transmission, front heated seats, headlamp washers, and a navigation system. Including the $720 destination charge, the final sticker on our vehicle was $44,160.
The 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible retains a traditional Saab look, but from the side, the wheels and the tires just don't look big enough for the car--there's a lot of space between the wheel arches and the waistline. The trunk space is limited, even more so with the top down. The doors contain decent-size map pockets, and the air-conditioned glove box is large enough to hold a notebook computer. The passenger-side cup holder is a novel piece of engineering--it pops out of the dash, with plastic pieces unfolding and pivoting in either direction. Our staff members had differing estimates on how long it would last in real-world usage, from 5 minutes to a year. The eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat was quite comfortable, with a solid range of adjustments. The steering wheel can be manually adjusted for tilt and rake, and it has cruise and stereo controls. Ergonomically, our only complaint from the driver's perspective is the hand brake. Although nicely integrated into the interior layout, it has an odd release-button position that led to some forearm pain after repeated operation. On the other hand, you open the power soft top by holding down a single button. All it takes is 20 seconds up and 25 seconds down, and it puts on a good show doing it. Even better, if we kept the button depressed, the windows matched the position of the top, making it easy to roll into summer mode.
While the 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible's front-seat occupants can expect to be quite comfortable, life in the backseat is a different story. If one of the front seats is all the way back, there is literally not an inch of legroom behind it. Even with a driver of less-than-average height, there still isn't enough legroom for an adult. The hard-plastic seat backs used for the front seats also don't provide any give, although they are dished slightly in an attempt at giving more legroom.
The navigation system requires destination input via the knob on the lower right, which is not easy to use.
The 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible's navigation system seems to have more buttons than just about anything short of the space shuttle, though we suspect the shuttle might be easier to operate than this navigation system, which is one of the worst we've seen. By far, our biggest complaint is that it doesn't want to display street names on the map, no matter what level of zoom--although it showed a few names if we scrolled the map so that it wasn't centered on the car. Inputting a destination wasn't fun either. At $2,000, this should have been a touch-screen system. Instead, we had to select each letter and number using a rotating dial, which was especially frustrating, as there is a keypad sitting right next to the navigation system. Points of interest include only places such as museums, gas stations, and Saab dealers--if we wanted to go to Costco, Home Depot, or a bookstore, we were out of luck.
The keypad, which so taunted us while we attempted to enter navigation destinations, didn't do anything at all in our test car. It seems to be a legacy from European models, which have a factory Bluetooth option. American models don't get the Bluetooth option, just a useless keypad.
A pod on the dashboard displays information from the stereo and other car data.
The stereo is another story. Our test car came with a 300-watt, 10-speaker stereo and an in-dash six-CD changer, both of which are part of the Premium Option Package. The sound quality is excellent, and we were more than happy with the bass--it was strong enough at low volume and remained clean well above normal listening levels. Changing between the CD player, the radio, and the auxiliary device was a bit confusing at first but was easy once we got the hang of it. One thing we liked on the radio was the ability, with a single touch of a button, to temporarily assign the strongest six signals in the area to presets--very nice when traveling long distances. The lack of MP3 CD support on the six-disc in-dash changer was the biggest flaw on an otherwise fine system. Although it didn't have true iPod integration, there is an auxiliary jack located in the console. The stereo also had a feature that limited its volume when the car is first started--a nice feature if the last person to use the car had AC/DC maxed out.
The 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 210 horsepower at 5,500rpm. On the freeway, the engine is quite peppy, with more than enough power to get up to speed on an on-ramp or accelerate quickly when needed. Impressed by the freeway performance, we were nearly caught out badly when pulling out of a side street into traffic. The acceleration up to about 15mph is abysmal, since there is almost no power until the engine exceeds 2,000rpm. We tried accelerating with the optional Sentronic automatic transmission in both drive and with first gear manually selected, and there was no difference in performance. Unlike most automatic transmissions with a manual mode, this one does not automatically upshift when it redlines. Performance drivers may also not like the push for upshift pull for downshift layout.
Although it's fun to watch the turbo gauge, the car might deliver all-around better performance with a six-cylinder engine.
The handling seemed fairly decent if not pushed too hard, although some of our staff noticed a bit of understeer, which is to be expected in a front-wheel-drive car originating from snowy climes. On the freeway, the car behaved well, while ride comfort on rough pavement was also good. On heavy acceleration, the front-wheel-drive 9-3 pulled gently to the right as it exhibited a small amount of torque steer--not nearly as bad as a Nissan Maxima. On wet roads, the Saab 9-3 felt very stable and secure, and we're sure it'd feel the same in the snow. Fuel economy was a bit disappointing. During our test, where we spent a majority of the time on highways, we observed 22.4mpg. Although that number falls well within the EPA-tested 19mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway, the six-cylinder Ford Fusion gets EPA numbers of 21mpg (city) and 29mpg (highway), which suggests the Saab might perform better with a nonturbocharged six-cylinder engine.
Like most Saabs, the 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible comes with a good variety of safety equipment. Electronic systems include traction control and a stability program, both of which can be turned off if desired. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution assist in stopping. The car has daytime running lights (which we couldn't turn off) and a rear fog light to reduce the risk of other drivers not seeing the car in poor light or fog. Should an accident occur, the car has front and rear crumple zones, as well as seat-belt pretensioners and load limiters. Front-seat passengers get active head restraints, adaptive front air bags, and head/thorax side air bags. For small children, there are child-seat top-tether anchors in the rear. Rollover protection for this convertible is enhanced by the heavily reinforced windscreen frame and the active pop-up bars hidden immediately behind the rear head restraints.
The 2006 Saab 9-3 2.0T Convertible comes with a 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, a 10-year corrosion warranty, and no-charge scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.