New Saab tickles your turbo fancy

Saab fans will love the new 9-3, and it could make a few converts as well. By John Simister

Naming this road test in my computer, I called it Saab 900 Ecopower, which is a Freudian slip. What I meant to write, of course, was Saab 9- 3 Ecopower, because Saab will tell you they are two very different cars, even if they look the same. Well, almost the same.

Besides, there never was such a thing as a 900 Ecopower. It's just that the shape shouts 900 to me, very Saab, very distinctive, forever linked with the 900 name that it inherited from the old range of solid, strange, styleless and likeable Saabs. And the 9-3? It's simply the current version of the same car, renamed to splice more neatly with the big 9-5 in Saab's current range, and newly revamped to make it vastly more pleasant to drive.

The 900 into 9-3 metamorphosis happened last spring. What we have here now is a new engine, rather a good one at that, and a whole new set of appeals. Saab, as you probably know, is a pioneer of turbocharged cars, and for years it has been itching to make a point by having its entire product range turbocharged. And now, with this new Ecopower 9-3, the Swedish company is a step nearer its goal.

The new engine, of 2.0 litres, replaces the non-turbo 2.3. All that will remain unturbocharged, then, is the base 2.0, which is due for the chop soon. And this "Ecopower" business? Already seen in the 9-5 and the defunct 9000, it refers to a gentle turbocharging effect carried out for fuel efficiency and relaxed driving characteristics, rather than massive performance (for which Saab already has the regular 9-3 Turbo and, just to confuse you further, a new and yet more powerful Turbo Sport).

Light pressure turbocharging, as the practice is known, is also used by fellow Swedish maker Volvo, and by Volkswagen/Audi. So we are talking upmarket cars here, and Saab would just love its cars to be viewed as direct alternatives to those current favourites of the high-class executive set, Audi. After all, the individuality, quality and integrity have always been there, or thereabouts. The problem has been that the just-ousted 900 was, frankly, a dull and stodgy drive, thanks to its being based on the underpinnings (though not the engines, of course) of the old Vauxhall Cavalier, a travesty which occurred after General Motors' acquisition of a Saab majority shareholding.

Recognising this, Saab redesigned parts of the front suspension, stiffened- up the chassis where the steering gear attaches to it, and recalibrated the springiness of the springs and the damping ability of the suspension's dampers. Cosmetic markers of the new deal were a new front grille with an aeroplane motif, a brighter and better-equipped interior, and visual tweaks to the bumpers and tailgate. In all, there were 1,100 changes: the effect was dramatic, because the result was a car whose smooth steering, fluid handling and comfortable, lurch-free ride would have been near-unrecognisable to a 900 driver. The 9-3 was now what the 900 should have been in the first place.

That's recent history. This new engine finishes the job beautifully. It's smooth, thanks to a pair of balancer shafts to cancel out vibrations, yet it still sounds distinctively Saab. Power rises slightly over the 2.3's output, from 150bhp to 154, but the real bonus is in pulling power, or torque. An engine feels more muscular if its maximum torque arrives at fairly low engine speeds, so you don't have to work it hard, and the new Ecopower delivers 98 percent of its maximum (162lb ft at 3,600rpm) from just 2,400rpm. Contrast that with the 2.3: 155lb ft at 4,300rpm, of which 85 per cent was available at 2,400rpm.

Saab has no doubt chosen these figures to show the engine in the best possible light, but there's no doubt that it's a powerful, relaxing engine which gives the 9-3 great overtaking ability. Cars which use a turbocharger simply as a route to lots of power often feel lifeless at low speeds until the exhaust gases have spun the turbo enough for it to compress the incoming air usefully, but there's virtually none of this in the Ecopower. It has the power you want, when you want it.

The rest of the car is thoroughly likeable, too. The handling and ride I've mentioned, and I prefer them to an Audi A4's because there's more "meat" to the controls' responses. The cabin is roomy and well-finished in a logical, high-tech way, the seats are extremely comfortable, and the boot is big. Saab-lovers from the old days will be pleased to see that the ignition switch still locks the gear lever rather than the steering, but that is a quirk I could do without.

I like this car a lot. If you're bored with the obvious German offerings, give the Saab a try.

Specification

Box

Saab 9-3 Ecopower

Prices: from pounds 19,645 (3dr S) to pounds 21,895 (5dr SE).

Engine: 1,985cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 154bhp at 5,500rpm.

Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Performance: 131mph, 0-60 in 8.5 seconds, 25-30mpg.

Rivals

Audi A4 1.8T: pounds 21,911. Lively, looks great, is built beautifully, has light-pressure turbo, is expensive.

BMW 318i: pounds 19,745. New 3-series builds on old model's virtues without advancing the art much. 320i comes later.

Honda Accord 2.0i ES: pounds 19,895. New Accord was styled in Europe, looks like an amalgam of Euro cars. Good to drive, though.

Volvo S40 2.0T SE: pounds 18,955. Good value, smart looks, but a shade short on quality and refinement.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

    £550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

    £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    .NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf