AS THE technology to reduce or even eliminate driver error comes nearer, what will happen to the notion of driving for the hell of it? It may become something you visit a leisure park for, for an expensive three hours of thrills. But car-builders will still have to persuade customers to buy one brand of super-safe, self-navigating personal transport over another. They will somehow have to appeal to the "enthusiastic driver" who is young enough in heart and mind to know how to have a good time.
Saab, which has carved out an enviable niche as a maker of safe, rugged cars, is thinking along these lines. It advertised its new Griffin executive saloon as an eager-looking machine leaning its way around a taxing curve. But it also looked safe and well built, virtues that make it a strong contender in the upmarket big saloon bracket.
What's different about the Griffin? A six-cylinder engine is the biggest change. This three-litre GM engine, altered to slot in transversely instead of longitudinally, offers smooth, unstressed performance. Though the 9000 body shape isn't exactly racy, its square-rigged style gives it a very roomy interior. Handling is terrific, with minimal roll and sway on twisters. The down side is more wind-noise and the ride is a little firm, but the seats are so comfortable that these are minor criticisms. It isn't cheap, but a sizeable number of those who don't baulk at a £31,995 price-tag will be attracted by Saab's new flagship in 1995.
GOING PLACES: Gracefully sporty V6 engine, offering 210 brake horsepower at 6,200 revs per minute, 0-60mph in 9 seconds (7.6 for manual version). Very strong on low-rev pulling, quiet and economical at cruising speeds. Auto gearbox a bit restrictive of performance potential, but smooth.
STAYING ALIVE: Handling in the highest class, with Saab's electronic traction control device increasing stability on loose surfaces. Twitchy at low speeds, because of sporty springing and very sensitive steering feedback. Anti-lock braking, driver's airbag, rugged bodyshell, good visibility.
CREATURE COMFORTS: Very roomy, with spacious boot; excellent seats with electronic adjustments; elegant cabin design; automatic climate control; reach-adjustable steering. Driving position amen-able to nearly any anatomical eccentricity.
BANGS PER BUCK: £31,995 is a lot of bucks, but along with creature comforts there are cruise control, CD player, alloy wheels, immobiliser, electronic adjustment windows, sunroof, mirrors and all. Quite economical for size and power: 22.5 mpg in town, 33-35 mpg at motorway speeds.
STAR QUALITY: Great engine, great hand-ling, roomy and relaxing inside.
TURKEY QUOTIENT: Dated 9000 body styling, hard low-speed ride.
AND ON MY RIGHT: BMW 540i V8 (£35,650) - better looking, but less for the money and cramped in the back; Mercedes E280 (£32,000) - a little more charisma and excellent performance, but most goodies come on top of the price; Jaguar XJ6 3.2 (£28,950) - great engine, better auto gearbox, but more sway. The new XJR has a better chassis, but is much more expensive.Reuse content