Saab 9000CS (1991 - 1998) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

Saab's 9000CS series is a car that has rapidly slipped into obscurity. Most associate the 9000 label with the car that shared a chassis with the dinosaur Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema way back in 1982. By contrast, the 9000CD's successor, the 9-5 is hailed as a refreshingly modern car but it didn't get that way overnight. Throughout its development the 9000 was steadily refined and the CD models are very well built. Tracking down a decent used example can put you behind the wheel of a very underrated car that the market has yet to wake up to.

Models

Models Covered:Second generation 9000 5dr hatch 1991-1998:2.0i, 2.3i, 2.3i turbo, 3.0 V6 [base, CSE, T16, XS, Ecopower, Anniversary Edition, Carlsson, Aero]

History

Although the 9000 does trace its roots back to the ill-fated 'Group 4' experiment with Lancia and Fiat, it emerged a far more class competitive car than the Thema and Croma. The range was seriously revised in 1991 when the suspension was revised, the chassis was made stiffer and anti lock brakes and catalytic converters were fitted to all models. The saloon and the hatch versions were now badged differently, the four-door cars being badged 9000CD and the five-door versions 9000CS. A sporty S model made a brief appearance in 1991, ending production in 1992. With alloy wheels, an electric sunroof, leather trim and walnut dash it now makes a good buy for the committed 9000 watcher. CSE models replaced the S. Ecopower engines debuted in 1992. These were turbocharged versions of the 2.0-litre and 2.3-litre units using a light pressure turbo to improve efficiency and driveability. For once the focus wasn't on big numbers. Don't confuse a 2.3-litre light pressure turbo - badged Eco or Eco E - with the full-blown 2.3-litre Turbo model). In 1993, the Carlsson was replaced by an Aero model with a slightly different look but much the same performance formula. After General Motors took control of the Trollhattan Company, the 24-valve V6 from the Vauxhall Omega was installed in top models in 1994. Twin airbags, reach adjustable steering columns and colour keyed bumpers subsequently made a relatively late appearance in the 9000CS range. In 1997, the saloon CD models were replaced by the all-new 9-5. The five-door CS continued, however, with Anniversary models appearing in 1997, but was itself deleted at the end of 1998, Saab deciding that the market for five-door executive hatches was too small to be worth pursuing.

What You Get

A solid Swede that's safer than just about everything else on the road - 30% safer in fact, than comparable mainstream rivals like the Vauxhall Carlton, Renault 25 and Ford Granada. It is the safest executive model of its era you can buy, statistically tougher in an accident than say a BMW 5 Series or a Volvo 940. Nor is that Saab's marketing talk. Sweden's leading insurance company Folksam judged the 9000 to be the country's safest car - for a third year running. It was also assessed as one of the safest cars in the United States by HLDI, the Highway Loss Data Institute. The 9000 is surprisingly large inside and has a huge boot capacity of between 22.1 and 56.5cuft. Most cars came well equipped, with CSE models featuring air conditioning, cruise control, central locking and anti-lock brakes as well as a driver's airbag.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Early Saab 9000s have developed a surprising reputation for flaky electric but this was largely ironed out with the introduction of the late shape car. Nevertheless, it's worth checking ancillaries such as electric sunroofs, windows and aerials as these can be surprisingly costly to put right. Saabs have a reputation for taking high mileages in their stride and such was the manufacturer's confidence in the 9000 that Saab extended its Safeguard Plus cover scheme to cover cars with up to 120,000 miles on the clock. That said, if the car has been used to tow a caravan or boat, bargain hard for a reduction of around £350 as this can fry the clutches of turbocharged models surprisingly quickly. Look out for any stains that might indicate water ingress around the doors and window seals. Also, look out for damaged turbo compressor units and frazzled front tyres on turbo versions.

Replacement Parts

(Based on a 1996 9000CS 2.0I - prices ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £205 and a starter motor is roughly £155 (exchange only). Tyres can be as much as £70 each, while a new headlamp is about £170. A radiator with air con is about £215, a front wing about £150 and front and rear brake pads just over £35 a set.

On the Road

It's hard to find another similarly sized alternative at the price which can begin to match the all round qualities of these cars. Take the light pressure turbo `Ecopower` system fitted to more recent models. It was the first turbo in this class of car that enabled you to have the benefits of 'blown' performance without the penalties of either high price or high fuel-consumption. All the turbo engines are pretty quick, but more important on the road are their mid range pulling abilities which enable you to ease past slow moving traffic with ease. And without necessarily having to change gear. As the years progressed, the Swedes tried very hard to make the turbo installation almost unnoticeable. And it's true that you have to concentrate quite hard to feel the turbo cutting in as you accelerate - the engine is that smooth. In the Ecopower cars, there isn't even a boost gauge to tell you. If you're out for even more power, the 2.3-litre turbo variants provide it in abundance. Fifth gear acceleration for example, is better than that of a Ferrari Testarossa. At the top of the range, the 3.0-litre V6 models carved out a tiny niche for themselves in the executive ranks.

Overall

The Saab 9000CS was a car that never really fulfilled Saab's aspirations of challenging Audi and BMW. With an image lodged too firmly in the past and an unfashionable five-door shape in a market dominated by saloons it was perhaps destined to fail. Despite this gloomy story, it makes a good deal more sense as a used buy than it ever did new. If you cover a lot of motorway or A-road miles and don't mind the fuel bills, the Saab 9000CS makes a very capable companion. Practical, well built and still imbued with plenty of trademark Saab quirkiness, the 9000CS is well worth a look.