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2008 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible: Snap Your Fingers and Your Dreams Come True

Wanna see the most ‘80s short film EVER? Depending on your affection or distaste for the decade of white suits, popped collars, saxophone solos, keyboard riffs, high waistlines, and Aquanet, you might find the following the best…or worst…six minutes of your life.


This little movie could be solely responsible for the creating the image of Saab drivers in the ‘80s as pompous, self-absorbed jerks (who might be overcompensating to make up for certain insecurities). But hey, it was the ‘80s, and we could afford to dream big. Who wouldn’t want to simply snap their fingers to not only make their dreams come true, but also get rid of people you don’t like (to quote the movie), or make it big with hot blonde Swedish models?


Fast forward 20 years, and you’ll see that while the Saab 900 is now called the 9-3, a convertible variant of that car is very much alive and well. Only now, it tends to get lost in the shuffle because there are so many appealing alternatives out there, many of which are equipped with retractable hard tops (the 9-3 gets by with a traditional – but nicely executed – cloth soft top). It’s also a lot less quirky and distinctive than that old 900, which further contributes to it blending into the luxury convertible segment.

Saab_2008_9-3Cvt_front34.JPG

The entire 9-3 lineup received a facelift for the 2008 model year, receiving a new front clip, clear rear tail lamps, and a host of other small upgrades. Being a huge fan of the original 900 (it’s on me and Mrs.’ short list of project cars that we’re considering), I particularly liked the new clamshell hood parting line that recalls one of the many distinctive styling cues of the original. Though the overall look of the car dates back to 2004 when this generation debuted, it still manages to look stylish and contemporary; there’s a nice and planted stance to its proportions.
Saab_2008_9-3Cvt_rear34.JPG

Our Aero model was equipped with a 255HP turbocharged 2.8L V6 (base models get a 210HP turbo 4-cylinder) paired to a 6-speed automatic. This engine is General Motors’ High Feature V6 that has become increasingly common across the GM lineup in 3.6L normally aspirated form, with similar horsepower ratings as the Saab’s turbo engine. It’s amazing just how different the engine feels in smaller displacement, turbocharged form. It’s uncommonly smooth and absolutely loves to rev, and there’s no discernible turbo lag. It has a great exhaust note, particularly at high revs where its smooth hum turns into a muffled yet turbine-like shriek. By contrast, the normally aspirated 3.6L version found in other North American GM vehicles feels a bit more grumbly and less refined, particularly when you wind it out.
The 2.8L turbo also seems to get significantly better fuel economy than the 3.6L, never mind that the official EPA numbers suggest otherwise. I averaged 20.2 mpg over 300 miles with the top mostly down (making for poorer aerodynamics) while I have never been able to average more than 16.5 mpg in either the 3.6L Chevrolet Malibu or Saturn Aura (both of which weigh about the same as the 9-3 Convertible). Hooray for efficient technology!
As is often the case with chop-top variants of sedans, the suspension is set up fairly soft to compensate for the decreased chassis rigidity due to the loss of the roof. There’s absolutely nothing sporty about the way the car drives; there’s plenty of body roll despite the “sport suspension” that the Aero model supposedly has, and the tires give up early and loudly in mild cornering. The steering too is very light and lacking in feel, though it is pretty accurate and precise. But charging hard is clearly not the point of this car (or the original 900 Convertible for that matter); it’s a cruiser that’s meant to make your dreams come true, right?
Cruising in fact is definitely what this car does best. It rides in a supremely comfortable and controlled fashion and despite the lack of a snap-on wind deflector, the cabin remains relatively free of turbulence at speed. The seats are typically Swedish in their supportiveness and comfort, and there is nary a hint of unrefined shake or shudder in the structure or steering, even over poor surfaces. In the bright white of our tester, it looked and felt just so in its element as we wafted down Pacific Coast Highway.
Saab_2008_9-3Cvt_interior.JPG

Great colors and textures, in true Scandinavian fashion…but wouldn’t you want navigation for $50K?

The 9-3 Convertible was an extremely agreeable weekend companion and we were all sad to see it go. Unfortunately for the Saab, there’s just simply a lot more competition at its price point than there was back in the 1980s. At nearly $50,000 as tested, the Saab’s pricing is in the neighborhood of compelling premium convertibles like the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Volvo C70, and even a certified pre-owned Mercedes-Benz CLK. Also, convertible versions of the Audi A5, Lexus IS and Infiniti G37 are coming soon. All are attractive and aspirational.
Saab_2008_9-3Cvt_side.JPG

Nice car, but does its soft top put it at a disadvantage against its competitors?

Ultimately, convertibles are all about style and feeling good, so the rational arguments that often apply to car shoppers don’t necessarily apply as much in this market space. Unfortunately, this also means that shoppers considering one of these vehicles often will go for prestige and image – which Saab as a brand doesn’t have quite so much of. To some, however, prestige and image means having something that not everyone else has. The 9-3 Convertible is definitely rarer around these parts than the increasingly ubiquitous (but undeniably delicious) BMW 3-Series Convertible, which in many parts of Southern California has become about as common as a Camry or Malibu.
It all depends on what your definition of prestige and image is, but should you decide to snap your fingers in anticipation of your dreams coming true, the 9-3 Convertible will be more than happy to indulge you. Just stay away from the hairspray and put your Jan Hammer tape back in the drawer where it belongs, alright?

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