Saab has a long way to go

As prices are now available for the new 9-5, we finally have an indication that Saab's rescue by Spyker will result in the brand hitting our roads again.

But just five minutes spent in the old 9-3 Biopower shows just how far the company has to come to establish itself as a major manufacturer once again.

While BMW, Jaguar and the other premium brands that Saab hopes to challenge have moved on, the 9-3 we drove felt like a very outdated car, despite the '59' registration plate it was carrying.
Apart from the plain and cheap-looking dashboard, the most obvious indicator of a lack of quality was the standard of finish. The handbrake was the biggest culprit here, with its party piece being an irritating desire to trap your fingers between the end of the handle and the dash. It also didn't line up with the interior panel it was trying to appear as though it was part of, which just made it look like it was engineered on a budget, or just a long time ago.

The handbrake is clearly only a small part of the car, but it is indicative of the whole interior quality. Other points of irritation were the radio, which was unable to hold a station without letting pirate broadcasts cut in, and the satnav, which was slow to respond to requests for information.

But the fact that we could find irritation with the satellite navigation points towards the fact that this is a very well specified car. We had leather seats, parking sensors all around, climate and cruise controls and four electric windows included in the price, although the satnav was a cost option at nearly £2,000.

This is all because the upper medium class in which the Saab competes caters largely for the corporate driver, with a few exceptions. And for this kind of driver the statistics are what matter. It is therefore disappointing that the supposed big selling point for the Biopower – the engine – is also its big downfall.

It runs on bioethanol fuel, which claims to boost its fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. Sadly, the on board computer told a different story and we recorded no better than early 30s for mpg, with it often dipping into the 20s.

The other unavoidable problem is the UK's current taxation system. As it is calculated on an emissions figure set at the beginning of the car's production lifetime, it is of little benefit having a car that can reduce its emissions depending on which fuel is put into it. The Biopower's emissions rating of 177g/km and claimed fuel economy of 38.2mpg is just not good enough unfortunately.

Sadly it seems Saab's brave gamble with alternative fuels has not turned out as it hoped, and it will be back to the drawing board for its next efficient model. Now there is new investment in the company, it seems this may not be as distant a dream as it once was.
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