Saab vs Audi vs Mercedes vs BMW vs Lexus

Regular TS visitor and commenter, David W, recently attended a promotional event for the new Audi A4. The event gave attendees the chance to drive not only the new A4 Quattro, but three comparative cars in the Mercedes Benz C300 4matic, the BMW 328 ix, and the Lexus IS250 AWD.
Naturally, David took the event as an opportunity to evaluate his own Saab 9-3 2.0T against the competition.
These are his thoughts but the images are just generic web images of the cars, except for the last image, which is David’s actual car.
My thanks go to David for taking the time to put these thoughts down on ‘paper’ and sending them in to share here at TS.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the Audi A4 Experience. It was an event that showcased the new A4 against it’s “competition” consisting of the M-B C300 4matic, BMW 328 ix, and the Lexus IS250 AWD. They were all comparably equipped, none had a sport package, all had factory wheels and tires inflated to factory recommended pressure, all were fully loaded and ran side by side through an autocross track.
I will start this off with my frame of reference, my 2007 SAAB 60th Anniversary Convertible. While I could not take it on the track, after 24,000 miles in it and another 45,000 in my old 2003 9-3 SS, I have a pretty good idea of how they would have reacted.
First off, the Mercedes-Benz C300 4matic.
When they first came out, I was not a fan of the exterior. After some time and seeing many on the road, I have grown to respect it’s aggressive front and sweeping side lines. It looks better each time I see it. The interior however, was another matter.
The car was silver with a black interior. The seats were very hard and somewhat flat. The dashboard was atrocious. It looked like a big, black blob of rubber with very little style. It really made me appreciate the SAAB. While maybe not as sturdy as the Benz, it is far more aesthetically pleasing and easy to use.
On the track, the power was good, but the handling was not up to par. The steering was not communicative, and the car leaned a lot in the sharp corners. I have experienced quick lane changes and sharp corners in my SAAB, but never felt either of them lean that much. I came away less impressed with the C300 than when I started, as did another participant who referred to it as an expensive Buick.
Second came the BMW 328 ix.
I have not been a BMW fan since their disastrous ownership of MG-Rover, as my heart also belongs to my 1972 MGB. But this had nothing to do with how much fun it would be to test one on the track. After all, it is supposed to be the Ultimate Driving Machine, right?
The BMW’s were silver with black interior as well. The exteriors are very BMW, I think the 3 Series are their best designs. The interior was much better than the Benz, with more comfortable seats and a nicer looking dash. However, it still did not look as good as my SAAB’s. I am really spoiled with the 2 tone anniversary sport seats and door trims. The SAAB’s climate controls are far and away much easier to use. It took me way too long to turn off the BMW’s climate control as there was no off button to be found. I ended up turning the fan all the way down before it went off.
On the track, the BMW handled better than the Benz, but still was not as entertaining as I expected. The steering was my biggest disappointment. It felt thick and numb. There was no feel, no feedback, no anything that I was expecting. After this, I wondered what makes automotive journalist wet themselves every time they drive one? Must be the M’s???
Next came the Lexus IS250 AWD.
I really like the way this car looks inside and out. Ours were dark gray with light gray and black interior. The seats were very comfy (and air conditioned a-la the old Saab 9-5) and the dash looked great with a mix of black and gray plastics with silver and wood trim. Good so far.
On the track, it’s 204 hp 2.5 lt. 6 cylinder was no match for the AWD hardware. It felt hopelessly underpowered. The steering had more feel to me than the BMW’s, but was not quick enough. It took the most turns of the wheel to get around the track than the others, and when it did, it leaned the most and the seats had no grip. Again, I came away less impressed than when I started.
Last, was the Audi A4 Quattro.
Out of all the cars there, the Audi really shined (it should since this was an Audi event, right?) These were red with a tan interior. While the exterior is more evolution than revolution, it looked good (I love the LED light pipes on the headlights, like the 9-3… )
The interior would have benefited from a different color as the light tan mixed with the light wood on the dash was not to my liking. Darker wood or more brushed aluminum would have been better. They do have great fit and finish.
On the track, Audi’s new drive select system was pretty sweet. It gave the sharpest handling, the quickest, most precise steering and impressive power and acceleration. Of the 4 cars there, it would be the most able to tempt me out of a SAAB.
But there is a catch, a really BIG catch…the price.
$48,000 USD for this A4. Not an S4. Not an A4 S-line. Not an A4 Cabriolet. But a fully loaded A4 sedan. It did have the sweet 3.2 lt. 6 cylinder with 268 hp (the most there.) But I could not get past $48,000 for this A4.
Audi was very wise not to have a Turbo X or even the 2009 9-3 Aero there, as it would not have worked out in Audi’s favor. They made a point about how the others there did not utilize AWD for their more powerful models. They neglected to mention that SAAB (and Subaru) did. While 265 hp and 243 lbs. ft. of torque sound nice, 280 hp and 295 lbs. ft. of torque for the SAAB sound better while costing less!
Getting back into my SAAB, I realized again what a great car these are.
It never feels underpowered, even after this experience. It handled and steered just as sweetly as before and has the BEST SEATS IN THE BUSINESS! Bottom line, I was never happier to be back in my 2.0T with the top down and a smile on my face! Thank you Audi for a great experience, but I will be sticking with SAAB.

Djup Strupe and the future Saab time line


Djup Strupe (that’s Swedish for “Deep Throat”, the name for our secret Saab insider) has been in touch recently and provided me with the following Saab future model news.
I should mention that this comes direct from one of Saab’s major markets. Whilst timing may differ for other markets, seeing this is one of Saab’s top 6 markets, it shouldn’t differ too much for most.
There’s good news and there’s bad news. I’ll give my thoughts on which is which afterwards.
December 2008: We’ll get to see initial info and photos for the new Saab 9-5 sedan (Jan 09 – no pics came)
February 2009: Motorshow appearance for 9-5 sedan (Jan 09 – not happening)
September 2009: 9-5 Sedan on the road
February 2010: Launch for the Saab 9-4x
September 2010: Saab 9-5 wagon and 9-3x launch (Jan 09 – 9-3x to be shown at Geneva in March 09)
2011: Saab 9-3, written to me as being a facelift
2012: Saab 9-1 launch
The good news is that there’s news of all four cars in the proposed Saab model range there. The 9-1 right through to the 9-5 with the 9-4x and 9-3x there as well. Whether the 9-1 is actually definite or not at this point is anyone’s guess, but it looks like it’s definitely in the plans and with a date like that being circulated around Djup Strupe it means a decision might be imminent.
The bad news could be a calendar-year 2010 launch for the Saab 9-4x (a little later than expected), or a late 2010 launch for the Saab 9-3x (what could possibly take so long??), or maybe the 2011 Saab 9-3 being described as a facelift.
However you consider the news, it looks like Saab nuts are going to have to exhibit considerable patience for some time to come.
My tip: buy a cheap fun car to throw around in the meantime.
I’ve received another Djup Strupe email (different DS) indicating that project 540 was earmarked for 2011, meaning that the 9-3 due that year will be the all-new model rather than the ‘facelift’ noted above.
I used the word facelift as that’s how it was communicated to me, however the meaning may have been lost in translation.

A recent communication with Saab indicated that they were looking to the XWD 9-3 SportCombi to cross any gap between the 9-7x’s demise and the release of the 9-4x. I’d imagine the correspondent was referring to the 9-3x, which would make sense in that particular market (the US) and this would infer that the 9-3x would be seen some time in 2009.
Regarding the 9-3x info from Djup Strupe, above, it’s fair to draw the conclusion that the info doesn’t come from the US market and therefore, that the 9-3x might be released there first and in other markets at a later time depending on the demand they anticipate.

Hirsch on Aerodynamics

Here’s a little more Hirsch material.
Hirsch Performance have just released a new aerodynamics package for the 2009 Hirsch Performance edition cars that will be sold in various markets aroud the world. These are Hirsch’s own notes about the new package and they’re good for not only finding out about Hirsch products, but also the importance of aerodynamics and the role played by various parts in the package.
Click any of the photos to enlarge.
Improving the aerodynamics of the current Saab 9-3 was a real challenge, since the car has excellent aerodynamics already from the factory.
However, for this project Hirsch Performance enjoyed the co-operation and support of Saab’s master aerodynamicist Håkan Danielsson and his team, as well as renowned designer Taras Czornyj from Mutations AB, whose combined experience made it possible to develop a truly exciting aerodynamics package.
The final product range reaches from front splitter to an exclusive – limited edition – carbon fiber body kit for the SAAB 9-3 Performance special edition car.
Form follows function – Design process
The aerodynamics package was designed as a complete set of modifications to improve stability and reduce drag. In addition to the functional benefits, the aerodynamic modifications should also contribute to the car’s dynamic appearance.
During the entire development process, close co-operation between design, aerodynamics and engineering ensure that the end result creates the best possible experience, both when viewing the car from the outside and when driving at high speeds.

Read moreHirsch on Aerodynamics

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