As I grip the door handle: I swing the door open only to be greeted with the fresh, and moist air flowing from the San Francisco Bay. This cool draft was surely welcomed, as I have just spent the last 90 minutes driving a Deutsch rental (hint: It starts with a “J” and ends with an “etta”). My ears are still ringing from the excessive wind noise during the journey, which I have just completed. Mere seconds after closing the door, I witness the largest assortment of Saabs that I have ever seen. At this moment, I feel an odd sense of giddiness. This is a curious sensation for someone who hasn’t driven a Saab before. Yet, here I am, walking through a lot full of 9-3s, 9-5s and 900s, finding myself full of intrigue.
Read more after the jump. Also: Check-out this YouTube video of my Saab 9-3.
I peer into the window of a Saab 900, marveling at the surprisingly modern look of the dash, for a car that is over 10 years old. Then, a tall fella that has just emerged from what appears to be the sales office interrupts me.
“How’s it goin’?” he says. I then begin to recall what it was that brought me 50 miles from home: “I saw an online posting for a 2007 Saab 9-3 Arc Sedan”, I replied. Without saying a word he points over towards the fence, and there it is, in its sharp Titan Gray color. After a quick sprint to the office and back, he presents me with the coolest looking car key I’ve ever seen. I open the door and am immediately pleased with the car’s immaculate condition, and the lovely contours of the dash. Saab’s aviation heritage is beginning to become quite apparent. I adjust the incredibly comfortable motorized seats into position and tweak the orientation of the mirrors. One of the very first interior features of the car that immediately catches my eye are the slick heating/air-conditioning vents. Instead of the typical split x and y axis controls, there is a knob that can be rotated any direction. Then, I lean back and slip the key fob into the dash and start the engine. This motion feels so much more natural, and ergonomical than reaching around the steering wheel to insert the key – not as minor of a detail at it sounds. As the engine quickly springs to life I am in awe at the clean purr of the 2.0T four-cylinder engine. This engine sound immediately reminds me of the reassuringly solid sound of the rotary-engine-powered 1988 Mazda RX-7, which my brother owns. This is good to know as his car has aged with incredible grace.
I put the car into gear and the car smoothly rolls forward. Then as I ease onto the gas pedal, I sense a decidedly linear progression of torque. With just about every other car I have driven, this is the time where I find my self either lurching abruptly or feeling as if I’m stomping on a banana peel with only a vague sense of urgency. As I notice an awesome whistling sound. At the time, I didn’t actually know what the sound was: but a fellow SU member (yes I am talking to you: zippy) revealed to me that this is Saab’s famed turbo charger in action. After exiting the used car lot, there is a freeway on-ramp to my right. “Great! Now is my chance to see what this glorious Swede can do”. I progressively push more on the gas pedal and power builds predictably, but then when I stab at the pedal: the engine first beings to roar. “Not bad”, I think to myself. Then, after what you might call a “calm before the storm” — the turbo kicks in. As the cabin is very well insulated, this car is free of both road and wind noise. But, with the turbo gauge darting towards red: my “Not bad” turned into a “Wow!” as I could literally feel the flow of air being fed into the engine. As the Saab is in full-thrust: I am now passing cars in the blink of an eye, without even down-shifting. My appreciation of the Saab turbo-charger had a very short learning curve. I can feel the torque, as the revs climb, and with it: a seemingly endless supply of power. The steering is equally impressive; I find myself changing lanes, making sharp turns at break-neck speed with a newfound confidence. Yes, this had to be my car. period. Needless to say: I brought it home with me.
Lars-Erik Vilner Larsson is a 20th Century Swedish composer, whom I have deeply admired for his brilliant music. It is he that I have chosen to name my Saab 9-3 after. I have owned Lars-Erik for just over three months now, and my passion of Saab has went from curiosity to a full-blown hobby of mine. What’s interesting about Saab, isn’t any one particular feature, or even any single design characteristic. It’s the totality of the experience that you can only gain by either driving one, or riding inside one. I have had a number of friends and coworkers ride in my 9-3 and compliment the comfort of the seats, and the ride. And even though I’ve driven a Lexus in the past, I was much more impressed with the composure of this car.
Yes, Saab is a lot of things. Aside from being great fun, It is practical and luxurious. And what is a Saab with out some quirkiness? Like the bizarre front passenger cup holder, the overzealous alarm that will go off if you use the mechanical key to open the door and a warning signal that will sound if you exceed a user-defined speed threshold. Yes, there is a definite sense of over-achievement with this car. It attacks every corner well enough that a Mercedes fan was taken by surprise: not realizing that Lars-Erik is driven by its front wheels. The throttle control is so well-connected that with practice, one can easily erase the turbo-lag. Coupled with Saab’s legendary benchmark for safety, this is a car that gives one the confidence to handle any situation that life throws at you and make it look easy. This is the second car I have owned, and my first Saab. And while I assure you that other Saabs will make there way into my life, Lars-Erik will be sitting in the driveway for many years to come.