The Saab 900 range first hit the car showrooms in 1978 and continued in production right up until 1998. The first generations between ’78 and ‘93 are known as the classic range, while the ones brought out between ’93 and ’98 are called the New Generation.
The 900 cars are three or five-door hatchbacks and two or four-door sedans, and from 1986, a Cabriolet version was available. Designers on the Saab 900 initially created a car with a longer nose and proud rubber bumpers with a more sculpted rear design. They had double cluster headlight units with the main beam and indicator lights in separate units set between a Saab-logoed grille.
Even the early designs had a little more sophistication and style than their other rivals of the period, with the turbo-charged, alloy-wheeled versions proving popular classics even today.
The first real facelift to the Saab 900's bodywork came about in 1987 when the front end integrated bumpers were altered and became more slanted. The production line was pretty small at Saab, so design modifications were kept to a minimum, the main ones being the introduction of the five-door version and overall minor changes to the car's panels.
The overall look of Saab cars came under the influence of GM in 1994, and their design changes and use of the Opel Vectra chassis created the New Generation models. It still retained elements of the earlier 900 cars but had a more contemporary, rounded feel. While not totally eliminating the Saab-esque nature of the car's design, the GM buyout definitely tamed its styling, but it still retained its powerful turbo engine and fun driving experience.
Early on in their production, the Saab 900s came equipped with a 2.0L or 2.1L engine under the boot that featured some innovative elements specific to the Swedish car manufacturer. The longitudinal mounted engine is fitted backwards, with the transmission mounted beneath the oil pan.
The 1979 2.0L engine is capable of producing 79.4kW of power and 164Nm or torque, while the later 1995 2.0L turbo engines put out 136kW and 263Nm. The later 2.0L engine can get the 900 going from 0-100km/h in 9.8 seconds with a top speed of 196km/h, and the fuel consumption level around town comes in at 16.6L/100km.
The transmission comes in 4- and 5-speed manuals and a 3-speed Borg Warner automatic. The 900s gave easy rides and communicated road conditions to the driver through the double wishbone suspension, and the sway bars were only installed on models after 1985, leading to a firmer, less comfortable car when cornering.
Standard kit on the early models include an AM/FM stereo, radio/cassette with six speakers, anti-theft lockout code, engine immobiliser, childproof door locks, and remote central locking. Later models come fitted with daytime running lights, headlight washer/wipers, fog lights in the front and rear, air-conditioning and climate control, collapsible steering column, 3-point seatbelts, leather upholstery, and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat.
The designers also thought a lot about storage, and along with the decently sized boot there are map pockets, cup holders, coin holders, seatback pockets and glove box. As standard, you can expect powered steering, electric mirrors, heat absorbing glass, and the option of an electronic sun or moonroof.
The interiors were nicely proportioned, but some of the materials used in the later models are a little on the plasticky side. The dashboard design in the earlier models is unique but based around Saab’s assertion that the most often used controls should be placed closest to the driver. This leads to weird positioning of things like the high mounted radio and cassette.
The Saab 900 was in production for over 20 years and had a number of rivals along the way. Its main competition during the heady days of the “hot hatch” in the eighties saw the Mazda 323, Honda Accord, Peugeot 208GTi, Ford Laser, and the Mitsubishi Mirage fighting for buyers. The nineties brought the BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Alfa Romeo 156, and Lexus ES300.
The Saab 900s have now drifted into the classic car sector and happily attract interest from enthusiasts from the Swedish car manufacturer. Residuals have lost pace in recent years, as the company has encountered problems, which has made the usually reliable and resilient Saabs lose value. An obvious benefit is that you can pick up a reliable and often sporty 900 at a fraction of the price you would have paid two years ago.
If you are looking for the more quirky Swedish cars, then track down the pre-1994 models, as the General Motor’s amalgamation did away with a lot of the distinctive Saab design.