Which Car: Should I stick to Saab?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

David Burton is 36 and lives in Leicester. He currently runs an old Saab 900 (the original type) and would like to replace it with something equally strong, manly and characterful. He's not sure the newer Saabs are up to it because he's heard that they are based on old General Motors underpinnings. He doesn't want to spend a great deal on his next car, say £3,000 to £5,000 maximum. Should he buy another old 900?

At Which Car we would like to declare an interest - the research team (me) owns a 900 bought six months ago. It is not a classic one like David's, but the next generation, the first model designed and built under General Motors ownership.

For many enthusiasts this is when the Swedish firm stopped designing quirky, individual vehicles and started doing the big corporate compromise. So yes, scratch the surface on the original 1993 Saab 900 and you will find an ancient Vauxhall Cavalier underneath.

The 900 only graduated to the Vauxhall Vectra underpinnings with the launch of the 9-3 model in 1998. For some that's a shame, but the reality for many is that the Saab remains a refreshingly different package. Because it is set up so differently to a Vauxhall with decent handling characteristics, plus unique, distinctive and ergonomically ideal interiors, the newer Saabs should be familiar surroundings for David.

He is right to point out that so many cars today are dull and not that macho. Cars now need to have a broad appeal and be utterly consumer friendly, although some areas of design are now becoming a little more "out-there", for example the latest generation BMWs.

A car for the head

David can't afford a new BMW 5-Series, which is why I think he should be looking at a Subaru Impreza. Although the legendary Impreza Turbo models are becoming much more affordable, I believe he should consider the 2.0-litre, four-wheel drive, non-turbo examples.

Here is a vehicle which is every bit as characterful as an old Saab 900, with its flat-four engine and permanent four-wheel drive. It also looks the part with no-nonsense styling with a hint of mini-cab chic. Inside it is much worse, with some very tacky plastics and unpleasant fabrics, although David might like the idea of all that macho lack of coherent interior design. As a driving experience, the Impreza makes a satisfying noise and it has phenomenal grip.

David has the option of the saloon or hatchback. The entry-level LX has few comforts, apart from power steering, while the GL has slightly more of a Saab-like list of equipment with central locking and electric windows, although the Sport also has ABS brakes. Importantly, an Impreza is as tough and cheap as an old Saab.

A car for the heart

For the reasons outlined earlier I don't see any reason why David shouldn't still love a more modern Saab. My own 900 is coming up to 100,000 miles, has every extra I could possibly want, including air conditioning, cost just a few thousand and it hasn't broken down yet.

I reckon David could get lucky, too. With up to £5,000 to spend, he could graduate to the 9-3 model. Here is the much improved version of the 900, which despite looking identical handled better and was meant to rival the BMW 3 series. It does not come close to a BMW for sheer driving pleasure, but it still looks uniquely Saab.

There is an impressive 2.2 diesel, which is refined and quick. A 2.0t Eco is a low-power, turbo-petrol engine which is probably the best compromise of performance (0-60mph in under 9 seconds) and relative economy (around 30mpg).

One of the most appealing thing about a 9-3 is its depreciation, which allows a classy badge at a knock-down price. It should be easy for David to find a 9-3 within budget, but if he struggles then the 900 looks almost identical.

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