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1996 Saab 900

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.0

Reviewed by 14 Epinions users

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Reviews written: 7
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Should you consider it? Definitely!


by bostenson:      Aug 5, 2000 - Updated Aug 6, 2000


Product Rating: 5.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Capacity, Features, Price (used), Reliability (yes, you read that right)
Cons: Rear seat room, lacking power w/o turbo

2 months ago I wrote a review of the SAAB 9-5 Aero, my current vehicle. Being a self-professed BMW fan, I think it's important that I tell you about how I got sucked into the SAAB fold...

Story

Previously, I owned a BMW 328i. It was a fantastic car, really. I'll leave out the details (long, long story), but in June 1999 I found myself searching for a new car, one that cost less but was on the border between a 'normal' car and the entry-level luxury class. I shopped around quite a bit for 3 year-old, 1-owner used vehicles. After paring down the list based on price, reliability and features, my list included the Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima, VW Passat and the SAAB 900. The Honda, while probably the safest bet, just felt too boring. The Maxima would have been a nice choice as would have been the Passat. At the time, I was driving a coworkers spare Honda Wagovan and just needed to get a car NOW. I decided that the car I REALLY wanted was a SAAB 900 and I had to act quickly. I had nearly bought a 900 Convertible over my 328i and the other cars just didn't do it for me. Thus began my search...

Within a week, I found a 1996 dark green 900S 5-door with a 5-speed transmission.

What the 93/94 - 98 SAAB 900 is: It is a nice, feature laden, economical, reliable (96 and on) front wheel drive compact that carries more than any other compact. Look at in this light and you'll love it.

Comfort & Convenience/Features

As for features, SAAB's come pretty much loaded with all the standard stuff like AC, power seats/windows/locks, keyless entry, power sunroof, headlight wipers, heated seats, pollen filter, basic computer (Miles to empty, Mileage and Temp), etc. I'm not sure about the options in 96, but in 98 the only options on the 900's were transmission, color, trim level (S or SE) and whether you wanted the CD changer. As I said, they come loaded. The SE includes leather, automatic climate control, upgraded stereo and trip computer among other things.

Engine

In 1996, 3 engine choices were offered. The base engine is a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder normally-aspirated (non-turbo) 16-valve engine that generates 150 HP. Now, this is no screamer but it does move fairly well, especially if you are willing to run the engine at higher RPM's regularly. This engine is probably your best bet if you're seeking long-term reliable engine.

The mid-level engine was a short-lived 3.0 liter V6 producing 170 HP. I honestly don't know much about this engine but have heard often that reliability is questionable. This engine was, from my understanding, really a concession to US buyers who believe a 4-cylinder is inappropriate for a car in the 900's class (mid to upper 20's in 1996). If you're considering this engine, do your homework. All I know is the rumors about it.

SAAB's been using turbo-charging for years and does well with it. The most SAAB-like engine offered was the 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine mated with a turbo-charger and a few other modifications. In this form, it generated 185 HP and prodigious torque at low RPM's. If you're looking for a car that will be fun, I recommend this configuration. Now, am I saying that the turbo is unreliable??? Absolutely not, it's just that the turbo is another piece that may fail at some point and generates a little more stress on the engine and transmission but it is an absolutely solid engine. SAAB has been building production cars with turbo's since 1978 or 1979 - they know how to do it. In fact, all '00 models feature turbo's and my belief in turbocharging should be clear by the fact that I've just bought into it in a big way with the purchase of a 2000 9-5 Aero (featuring a high-output turbo) that I intend to keep for a long time.

The 900S is not a sports car. It handles well, with good communication but is definitely biased towards comfort over cornering ability. Again, if you're looking for performance, buy the SE model with turbo, better suspension and better tires. The SE can be downright fast with that turbo.

Hauling stuff

Fold down the rear seats, open the hatch and you WILL be impressed. This car can haul stuff like no other small car. The 900 has ~24 cubic feet with the seats upright and about 48-50 with them down. Let me give you a few comparisons:

00 Honda Civic (seats up): 11.9 cubic feet
00 Honda Accord (seats up): 14.1 cubic feet
00 Ford Crown Victoria (seats up): 20.6 cubic feet
00 Honda CRV (max cargo): 67 cubic feet
00 Ford Explorer (max cargo): 80 cubic feet

So, with the rear seats up, you've got more space than a Crown Vic and anything beneath it. With them down, you're approaching the CRV. It's this that makes me believe that the SAAB 900 (or 9-3) is the perfect young urban car. There's a reason that Europeans love hatchbacks and it's shown in the numbers above.

I have folded down the rear seats and piled two adult bikes in the hatch without any problems. A bike rack is the right way to do that, but the SAAB can easily. Camping with 4 people and WAY too much gear - no problem, the SAAB can do that. Hauling a bunch of computer equipment to a trade show - the SAAB can do that. No, I'm not going to claim that you can move all your furniture into your new apartment or that you'll be hauling 3-ton trailers but you can carry A LOT of stuff in this car. And let's be honest, if you're moving, go rent that U-Haul for the day. It's cheaper than paying for the poor mileage of a truck or SUV all year long just for the 3-4 occasions that you really need that cargo capacity!

Mileage

The base engine delivered ~24 miles per gallon in my mix of a 50/50 city/freeway driving using 87 octane and with a little too much throttle application (wanted that bigger engine). I believe that a more conservative driver could have yielded 26-27 mpg.

Safety

SAAB talks a lot about "real life safety". You will find that they are ranked above average in safety - not excellent, just "above average". Tests do not necessarily reflect real life. I believed this was a simple marketing message - I now belief that it's more than that. If you feel you need a little convincing, I encourage you to look at the following link:

http://www.saabnet.com/tsn/ssl/

I realize that you could interpret this as simply the exception to the rule. Maybe 95% of the time they fold up like a Geo Metro, right??? I've seen a couple New Generation 900's after accidents, 1 a broadsiding and another with an offset collision. The deformation was perfect. I also have a video with 10-20 minutes of the 900 being crash tested. This car holds up far better than the testing indicates. Read the following quote:

"Still, a year before the introduction of the new 9-5, for example, there were no known fatal accidents involving the new Saab 900." - (Saab 9-5, Anders Tunberg, (c) 1997 pg. 57)

SAAB sends representatives to investigate accidents throughout Sweden on a regular basis. They test for impacts with moose (makes me feel better taking on a deer here in Minnesota and Wisconsin). Without going into all the tiny details (email me at bostenson@advdoc.com if you want some), this is a safe car. Volvo markets on safety - SAAB doesn't but it does not mean that they don't design for safety. Investigate the real safety ratings and I think you'll find this is true. My experience certainly does.

Source for moose test and accident investigations:
http://www.saabnet.com/tsn/archive/files/54/5450.html

Reliability

I sold the 96 900 before I really had that many miles on it but I understand this is a solid car (both turbo and non-turbo but not V6). MS Carpoint gives the 96 a 5/5 in every zone. My experience bears this out. Though it's not the same car, Ingrid, my 85 900S has 309,000 miles and is still on the original engine and transmission. In fact, the original engine doesn't even burn significant amounts of oil yet. 309,000 miles - that's 12 times around the earth at the equator. Put another way, that's ~20,000 miles per year for 15 years. Put simply, that is a lot! I still drive it about 2-3 days a week and when my friends Honda (good car, very reliable - I like Honda and recommend them) suffered a failed master cylinder this week, it's Ingrid that's getting him around while the Honda's in the shop. That gives me confidence in SAAB's reliability. I would advise that you shouldn't necessarily buy an older (pre-GM) SAAB that was on it's first year (e.g. SAAB's first V6 in the mid 90's or the 94 900) because SAAB just didn't have the money to redesign the entire car year after year and run all the necessary tests but that doesn't mean that SAAB's aren't reliable - just that you should buy a tested, tried and true design. The 2.3 liter HOT in my current 9-5 has been in production since the early 90's, just in a new car that's now in it's 3rd year.

Styling/Design/Image/Uniqueness

SAAB's are different. They always have been - I hope they always will be!

I think the SAAB is beautiful in its function-over-form image. I like that my cars generally don't look like every other car on the road. I like that my car came from a quirky little manufacturer from Trollhatten Sweden that does something different. A SAAB isn't for everyone but it is something that should be considered. Often, different is dismissed simply as different but perhaps it's different for a reason. As a classic example, maybe putting the key on the floor between the seats makes sense... Maybe the car's harder to steal...Maybe that's where your hand is when you put your seat-belt on and before you move it to the transmission...Maybe it's out of the way of your knee when you are in a most unfortunate accident??? Different? Yes. Wrong? No. Or, maybe putting a 4-cylinder engine in a luxury car is wrong??? Maybe that 4-cylinder engine produces good mileage and 150 horsepower. Maybe that 4-cylinder turbo delivers 185 hp and makes for a fun drive. Or maybe in the case of the 9-5, that same basic 2.3 liter engine with high-output turbo produces 230hp and at least 258 ft-lbs of torque! In the 1950's, this same little Swedish airplane manufacturer introduced its first car and that car featured front-wheel drive. Maybe that was a little different at the time too???

Conclusion

This is why I drive cars, especially SAAB's - They meet my needs of good mileage, fun performance, great hauling capacity (people and cargo), wonderful safety, long-term reliability, and comfort. I'm on my 3rd SAAB now and will likely have more. Do I think SAAB is the car for everyone? No, definitely not. Should you consider one? Yes, you definitely should.

PS: I bought Ingrid, the 85 900S, just 3 weeks after selling the 96 900S to buy the 9-5 Aero. I missed having a 900! My friend with the Honda commented that he was impressed by Ingrid's hauling capacity with the seats down and her stability for such an old car.

PPS: Check out www.saabnet.com and www.saabusa.com for more information or email me at bostenson@advdoc.com.



Amount Paid (US$): ~15000
Condition: Used
Model Year: 1996
Model and Options: S
Product Rating: 5.0
Recommended: Yes 
Reliability:  
Build Quality  
Roominess:  
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