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New Car Test - Saab 9-3 Linear Convertible

An open-top cruiser that you won't want to get out of.

By Michael Knowling

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There are plenty of convertibles on the market that masquerade as performance cars, but the Saab 9-3 Linear Convertible has an emphasis that will attract the typical soft-top buyer. The soft-top buyer wants the ability to drop the roof with a minimum of fuss, the chassis must feel tight, there should be space for four people and it should be comfortable enough to make those extended cruise sessions bearable.

The 9-3 Linear Convertible is all that.

'Accommodating' and 'comfortable' are the two best words to describe the Saab 9-3 Linear Convertible. The cabin offers good space and real-world seating for up to four adults. Rear seat occupants needn’t be double-jointed and there’s plenty of headroom with the roof up - foot space can be limited depending on the position of the front seat. Still, there’s no need to draw straws to decide who gets the back seat...

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Boot volume varies depending whether the roof is up or down. A considerable amount of space is gobbled up when the roof is down (as seen here) but full boot volume is available when the roof is up. Total boot space is generous and there’s good access thanks to a complex hinge mechanism that allows the bootlid to be lifted past vertical. A full-size spare wheel lives beneath the false floor – the spare is only a steelie, not a matching alloy.

The multi-layer soft-top hood is raised and lowered using either a switch on the dashboard or by holding the unlock button on the remote control – there’s no need to fight with locks on the windscreen header rail. The roof action is impressive to watch and includes momentarily lowering of the side glass; it takes about 20 seconds to raise or lower.

With the roof up the cabin is so quiet you sometimes forget you’re in a convertible and, with the roof down, there’s absolutely no nasty buffeting or wind noise. What’s even more impressive is the minimal amount of scuttle shake – there’s only the occasional wobble noticeable through the steering column. We get the impression Saab did a lot of work refining the 9-3 convertible.

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Much of the 9-3 Linear Convertible’s comfort comes from its brilliant soft leather seats - these are amongst the most comfortable we’ve ever encountered. (The 9-3 Aero we tested at New Car Test - Saab 9-3 Aero also had standout seats.) Aside from a roof open/close switch on the dashboard, the rest of the cabin is a carryover from the rest of the 9-3 range. The dashboard is high and contains a host of switchgear that all looks the same. Some features worthy of mention include heated front seats, an adjustable front armrest, glovebox cooler, rain sensing wipers, hard-wearing upper interior trim surfaces, easy-to-use cruise control and dual-zone climate control (which changes modes when the roof is down). A central LED display on top of the dash shows time, ambient temp, trip computer functions, audio system info and safety messages. The single CD/tuner sound system relies on some powerful door speakers, which deliver decent sound quality and power – but crank up the volume and the exterior mirrors vibrate into blur!

Note that an optional Linear Luxury Pack (costing AUD$4000) includes a remote alarm, parking assistance, a 6-disc in-dash stacker and electric front seats. That’s right – you don’t get electric seat adjustment as standard...

The 9-3 Linear Convertible is pleasurable to drive – it won’t set your pants on fire but is an accomplished all-rounder.

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The all-alloy 2.0-litre DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder is boosted to a maximum of 0.7 Bar (10.3 psi) by a single turbocharger blowing through an air-to-air intercooler. With electronic throttle control, the 2.0-litre turbo engine is responsive to accelerator inputs (especially when driven at higher revs) and it gives a very smooth rate of acceleration – not surprising given the Linear name! The 9-3 Linear engine holds 265Nm of torque from 2500 to 4000 rpm and there’s 129kW accessible at 5500 rpm. This is quite a low revving engine and it’s not as silken as some other engines.

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Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional 5-speed Sentronic automatic transmission with an up/down sequential selector on the floor. (Only the Aero version gets steering wheel up/downchange controls.) The transmission behaves well and we were never left wishing for an automatic downchange - perhaps this is a result of the engine’s generous torque spread.

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Like all Saabs, the 9-3 convertible puts drive to the front wheels. Traction control is fitted as standard, though the Linear’s 215/55 16 Goodyear Eagle NCT5s are allowed to spin momentarily on hard take-offs. But the 9-3 Linear Convertible is no speed machine – Saab claims it can accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h in a rather dull 10.5 seconds. More impressive is the in-gear performance that’s noticeable in everyday driving.

The 9.5:1 static compression turbo engine requires a diet of premium grade unleaded and you can expect fuel consumption of around 10 litres per 100km. We averaged 11 litres during our test, which included some performance testing and a lot of idling time. This is commendable given the significant weight of the 9-3 Linear Convertible – in automatic form it tips the scales at 1638kg (about 100kg heavier than the 9-3 sedan!).

Although not a true performance vehicle, the 9-3 Linear Convertible is easy to drive fast through corners – but only to the point where its pedestrian tyres start squealing and sliding and the stability control system steps in. Go into a corner too fast and you can feel some understeer but, overall, the car is a reasonably tidy and safe handler. If you want a lot of cornering grip you should be looking at the 9-3 Aero Convertible with its 225/45 17 Pirelli P-Zeros (not to mention stiffer suspension). One interesting feature of the 9-3’s MacPherson strut/four-link IRS chassis is Saab’s ReAxs passive rear-wheel steering arrangement.

The ride quality of the 9-3 Linear Convertible is spot-on for an everyday ragtop – it is slightly firm but never uncomfortable. And there isn’t the jiggle that we experienced in the 9-3 Aero sedan.

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The power rack-and-pinion steering is nicely linear and accurate, if slightly incommunicative.

The brakes were fine during our test, though the pads shed a lot of dust over the alloy wheels. The ventilated front discs measure 285mm, the solid rears 278mm and there’s EBD, ABS and mechanical brake assist for emergency situations. Note that the Aero version gets bigger front and rear brakes.

The Saab 9-3 convertible protects its occupants with four airbags (dual-stage driver and passenger front airbags plus front side airbags), active front head restraints, auto seatbelt pre-tensioners front and rear, adjustable head restraints, 3-point seatbelts and active roll-over protection. The standard headlights (not the AUD$1500 optional Xenon units) perform very well, but we do have one safety-related criticism - rear quarter visibility is almost completely blocked when the roof is up.

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We loved the look of the 9-3 Aero sedan we tested last year but the entry-level Linear Convertible is not so impressive. The convertible looks awkward and heavy from certain rear angles and it lacks the overall grace of the sedan – it’s not ugly, though. Standard wheels for the Linear are 16 x 6.5-inch ten-spoke alloys.

Overall, our test car was built to a high standard – but it wasn’t without flaw. The driver’s side sail area trim was a loose fit, the indicator stalk felt rather cheap (which we don’t recall in the 9-3 Aero sedan) and the front shock absorbers were very loud in operation. The engine also had a slightly unstable cold-start idle.

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In the four-cylinder convertible segment the Saab 9-3 Linear Convertible is reasonable value at AUD$75,400. Yes, we know there are similarly sized convertibles available for under 50k but none are as accommodating, comfortable and well developed as the Saab. The more direct competitors hover at around 70k or more. Saab’s own Aero Convertible reaches over 90k in automatic form - and we can’t help wonder if its stiffer suspension and more aggressive torque delivery would spoil the overall comfort and refinement that we enjoyed in the Linear Convertible.

Why You Would...

  • Very comfortable
  • Good space – can realistically accommodate four adults
  • Minimal scuttle shake
  • Quiet cabin with no buffeting when the roof is down
  • Smooth torque delivery and decent fuel economy

Why You Wouldn’t...

  • Outright acceleration lacking
  • No electric seats unless you opt for the AUD$4000 Luxury Pack
  • Poor rear quarter visibility when roof is up
  • Not a standout bargain

The 9-3 Linear Convertible was supplied for this test by Saab Australia.

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