With a steeply raked windshield, wedge-like profile and short front and rear overhangs, the 9-3 Convertible model convey a sense of movement even while standing still. The shape of the windows combines with the sleek, integrated headlights and grille to emphasize the distinctive Saab identity.
The Saab 9-3 Convertible brings a stylish, open top dimension to the exciting 9-3 range and is the most significant advance Saab has made in 20 years of designing four-seater, four season, soft tops, reaffirming the brand’s leading position in the premium convertible segment.
From the very outset of the development of the latest 9-3 product generation, engineers were ableto feed in their demanding requirements for a premium, open-top car. The result is a Convertible with a level of structural integrity, build quality and running refinement that places it at the very top of its class.
As practical as it is stylish, its innovative product features further develop the Saab concept that an open-top car should be ‘more than a Convertible’. And in addition to its functional qualities, the Convertible also offers great driving appeal through sharing the excellent chassis dynamics of the 9-3 range.. By combining such sporty and functional characteristics, it symbolizes the core appeal of the Saab brand.
Powered by a choice of turbocharged engines ranging in power from 150 bhp (110 kW) to 250 bhp (184 kW) and including a diesel engine option, the Convertible is a fully integrated design engineered from the ground up to be free from compromise. It effortlessly exchanges a coupé profile for roadster-like looks by deploying an automatic soft-top which is among the most advanced in the segment.
- Self-raising, soft-top storage well (CargoSET)
- Color-keyed interior headlining inside the soft-top
- Two phase tonneau cover movement for quick roof deployment
- Surround Trim integrates front and rear passenger cabin
- Hydroblox water repellent textile seat upholstery
- Automatic climate control adjusts to heat levels in open top mode
- 5-star EuroNCAP safety rating
Well-balanced proportions and a purposeful stance endow the car with a strong, sporty character that, roof up or down, echoes its fun-to-drive appeal.
- Unique ‘stand alone’ design. Scandinavian design flair that ensures the lines are clean and flowing, but never cold or clinical. An open top car that looks like a unique model in its own right, free from any awkward styling compromises.
- Saab signature, wedge-shaped profile. Top down appearance no longer interrupted by intrusive mounting towers for front seat-belts.
- Clean rear deck styling. Pop-up roll bars and retractable rear head streamlined by twin fairings, hinting at Convertible’s sporty character.
- Coupé looks. The new soft-top has a tauter, smoother appearance through use of six, instead of five, braces and greater tensioning.
- Unique ’Surround Trim’. U-shaped styling line extends from base of A-pillars along the top of the doors, rear side trims and tonneau cover. Color-keyed with metallic colors, it integrates the front and rear passenger areas and visually unites the only top exterior surfaces that ‘come inside’ when the top is up.
- Hydraulically-powered, triple layer roof. Automatic self-latching to the windshield header and deploys fully in just 20 seconds. Among fastest in its class.
- Integral rain gutter sewn into side of the soft-top fabric. Prevents water droplets dripping down on to the seats when a door is opened.
- Weight-saving design. Soft-top frame, swivelling braces and front header rail all made from magnesium.
- Unique tonneau cover operation. For quicker roof deployment, the tonneau has a unique two-stage cycle, rising horizontally and then moving rearwards parallel to the top of the trunk. More robust operation, better sealing.
- ’CargoSET’ Automatic trunk expansion. Soft-top connected to flexible, ‘concertina’ storage well. When the roof is in position, the well retracts, releasing useful storage space in the trunk.
- Class-competitive 0.34 Cd (roof up). Soft-top resistant high speed ‘ballooning’
Interior Design and Features
The interior shares the cockpit feel and driver-focused themes of the Sport Sedan and SportCombi. Particular emphasis was placed on styling that integrates the rear passenger area, including a ’f’ixed-head’ interior ambience
- Front and rear passenger areas integrated by consistent styling themes, contributing to ’bespoke’ character.
- Fixed-head‘ interior ambience. First convertible to offer soft-top with light colored headlining. Combines with near seamless fitting to give impression of fixed-head interior.
- Front seats with integrated seat-belts unique to Convertible. Deeply bolstered for comfort and support.
- Easy entry/exit for rear passengers. Single action movement of front seats through 243 mm and elimination of ‘B’ pillar-mounted seat belts.
- Rear seat comfortably shaped and upholstered. Deep squabs with back-rest kept at a comfortable angle, not compromised by packaging requirements.
- ’Hydroblox’ water repellent textile for seat upholstery. Unique feature.
- ‘Profiler’ customization. A wide range of functions can be pre-set according to personal preference including: anti-theft alarm, parking assistance, rain sensitive wipers and automatic climate control.
- Saab ComSense functionality minimizes potential for driver distraction through ’dynamic workload management’, suppressing messages/phone calls, includes Night Panel instrument illumination dimming to reduce visual ‘clutter’
- Choice of Linear and Vector ‘forms’, plus ‘Aero’ sporting flagship. Each with uniquely-designed seat upholstery and 16/17-inch alloy wheels. Aero adds sports bodystyling, lowered chassis and optional 18-inch alloy wheels.
- ‘Light room’ or ‘dark room’ interior themes. Beige or light gray seats, door panels, rear side panels, lower front fascia, headlining and carpet.
- ‘Intelligent’ dual zone air conditioning. Automatic Climate Control (ACC) switches to offer 11 manual heat settings when soft-top is lowered.
- Infotainment systems include DVD/GPS satellite navigation with large 6.5-inch color monitor, Bluetooth Phone Integration system (BPIS), providing automatic connection to audio system with operation by voice control or steering wheel buttons. Auxiliary input socket standard with all infotainment systems. .
- Foldable wind deflector for easy stowage among wide range of accessories.
The 9-3 Convertible retains the sporty handling characteristics of the Sport Sedan. The rigid body structure provides a solid foundation for suspension systems with impressively low levels of noise, vibration and harshness.
- ‘ReAxs’ passive rear wheel steer characteristic. The kinematics of the rear suspension are tuned for a unique rear wheel steer response for optimum handling and stability.
- Four-link independent rear suspension. High lateral stiffness for stability and grip; longitudinal compliance for ride comfort.
- Front suspension by MacPherson struts with lower A-arms mounted on a hydroformed (hollow), sub-frame. High lateral bushing stiffness for good steering response and precision; high longitudinal compliance for ride comfort.
- Low mounted steering rack gives excellent feel and precision with progressive power assistance and fast responses.
- Mechanical Brake Assist (MBA). Automatically boosts braking pressure when driver presses hard on pedal, reducing stopping distance. Standard fitment.
- Advanced chassis electronic systems. Saab-tuned ‘user friendly’ ESP® (Electronic Stability Program). ESP Plus standard with 2.8V6 turbo. EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution), CBC (Cornering Brake Control) and TCS (Traction Control System) all standard features.
- Minimized unsprung weight for better ride comfort. Hub carriers, brake calipers, lower control arms in the front suspension and the toe and lower links in the rear suspension made of aluminum.
Body Structure and Systems
The 9-3 Convertible was developed in tandem with Sport Sedan, ensuring all the special structural requirements for an open top car could be accommodated. Structural integrity and build quality positions it at the very top of its class.
- Excellent torsional rigidity (11,500 Nm/degree) , giving ’hewn from solid’ feel for excellent refinement, stiff suspension mountings and strong safety structure.
- Second ‘supplementary’ chassis. To compensate for absence of fixed roof, torsional stiffness raised by completely integrated, additional strengthening system, linking front, rear and side structures.
- High and ultra high strength steel widely used, accounting for about 60 per cent of the Convertible’s body weight.
- Reinforced A-pillars and windshield header rail able to withstand loading 2.2 times greater than weight of the car.
- Low speed impact resistance. ’Self-repairing’ bumpers and deformable crash boxes provide bodywork protection in impacts up to 15 kph, minimizing accident repair bills.
- Advanced electronics. Extensive use of fiber optics for advanced ’infotainment’ and telematics. With a signal capacity 50 times greater than conventional wire circuitry, fiber optics provide a reliable high speed communications platform, saving weight and complexity.
- LED used for high level brake light in trunk lid for faster, safer warning.
Fine chassis dynamics are complemented by outstanding driveability and refinement from the all turbo powertrain line-up, which includes 2.8V6 and 2.0-liter four cylinder turbo gasoline engines and a 1.9 TiD unit. All notable for typically strong, mid-range torque characteristics.
- Highlights include:
- All-aluminum 2.8-liter turbo engine. The first six cylinder unit to be purpose-built for Saab’s turbocharged application. Offering 250 bhp (184 kW), it combines multi-cylinder refinement with outstanding turbo performance. Single twin-scroll turbocharger fed by both cylinder banks.
- All-aluminium 2.0-liter turbo engine. Saab developed and tuned for 150 (110 kW), 175 (129 kW) and 210 bhp (147 kW) with high torque for swift overtaking. All internal components unique to Saab. Balancer shafts for greater running refinement.
- Sophisticated 1.9 TiD engine. 150 bhp (110 kW), 16-valve, common rail, direct and multiple injection. VNT turbo technology for quick pick-up. Maintenance-free particulate filter fitted as standard.
- Wide transmission choice. Six speed and uprated five speed manual gearboxes. Six and five speed, adaptive automatic transmissions include Saab Sentronic sequential gear selection with steering wheel buttons.
Saab products consistently show well in real-life safety surveys, and the 9-3 Convertible joins 9-3 Sport Sedan in achieving a maximum five star EuroNCAP crash safety rating test study. The 9-3 Convertible meets the same crash performance targets as the sedan.
- Crash testing based on ‘real life’ research. Test configurations developed from Saab database covering more than 6,100 real-life road collisions.
- Wide range of crash test configurations used in development of body structure and restraint systems for 9-3 range, including eight different types of rollover test for the Convertible.
- ’DynaCage’ rollover protection includes pop-up rear roll bars, strengthened A-pillars, sills and automatic seat-belt pre-tensioning
- Fully integrated front seat-belts mounted entirely to frame of seat. Optimized belt geometry regardless of seat position, also more comfortable to use.
- Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR). Protection against neck injury for front seat occupants in event of rear end impact. Automatic re-setting.
- Adaptive front airbags. More occupant-friendly deployment according to impact severity, seat position and seat-belt usage status.
- Two-stage side airbags. Separate chambers for thorax and head protection. Mounted in outer edge of front seat-back for optimal deployment irrespective of seat position.
Sporty Scandinavian Design
- Well-proportioned, ‘bespoke’ design
- Sporty styling with Scandinavian design flair
- Coupé looks (roof up), roadster-like looks (roof down)
- Fully automated soft-top sets new standards for class
- Unique ‘Surround Trim’ delineates passenger cabin
- Unique ‘CargoSET’ self-expanding trunk feature
- Competitive 0.34 Cd with reduced lift forces
The impressive looks of the Saab 9-3 Convertible radiate power, sporty performance and great strength; all elegantly packaged with a Scandinavian design flair that ensures the lines are clean and flowing, but never cold or clinical.
As an indication of the success of the overall design, this is an open top car that looks like a unique model in its own right, free from any awkward styling compromises. Furthermore, the car looks just as good, top up or top down - effortlessly exchanging the looks of a sporty coupé for those more akin to a roadster.
The automatic soft-top operates entirely at the push of a single button. It incorporates three innovations and new performance standards for the class, including its speed of operation and means of deployment.
Saab has been a leading player in the premium convertible segment since exhibiting its first open top car as a design study in 1983. It has been a driving force behind the growth of the segment by demonstrating that a car built for the pleasures of open air driving can also accommodate four adults as a practical, all year round means of transport.
The current 9-3 Convertible breaks new ground for Saab in being developed as a separate but parallel project to the Sport Sedan, with many of its design team working on both projects in tandem.
Testimony to the essential ‘rightness’ of the final design is that the Convertible and the Sport Sedan share the same frontal bodystyling, even retaining the same rake angle for the windshield and A-pillars.
The well-balanced proportions and purposeful stance endow the car with a strong, sporty character that echoes its fun to drive appeal. The swept back, frontal styling, with the grille and integrated headlamp/indicator units steeply angled back, is a striking evolution. The rearmost corner of each unit is 450 mm behind the centre point of the bumper. This ‘arrowhead’ shape also matches the traditional wraparound proportions of the windshield.
In profile, the clean wedge line is typically Saab and, top down, the shape is no longer interrupted by a tower to mount the front seat-belts. The styling of the rear deck is particularly neat because the pop-up roll bars and retractable rear head restraints are beautifully streamlined by twin fairings, giving a subtle hint of the Convertible’s sporty character. The color-keyed tonneau cover is, of course, flush fitting.
Top up, the car assumes the persona of a coupé, an impression reinforced by the extremely smooth, taut lines of the soft-top and its step-less integration with the windshield header rail. The whole body appears more low-slung and closer to the ground. Reduced wheel-arch clearances, with the negatively-cambered wheels located well to the outer edges of the bodywork, contribute further to the more purposeful stance. In Aero guise, the styling is taken one step further with the addition of 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels and discreet side sill and bumper extensions, which are flared at the wheel-arches.
The rear of the car features large light clusters, unique to the Convertible, which are set high to balance the overall proportions. They wrap around each corner, incorporating a triangular shape and horizontal clear/red lens fields, both Saab signatures. For better visibility, the heated glass rear window is 25 per cent larger and the trunk lid opens through 120°, even with the top up, for good trunk access.
A new design feature, never seen before in Convertible styling, is the introduction of a distinctive Surround Trim, marking the transition zone between the car’s exterior and interior. It is a U-shaped line that extends rearwards from the base of each A-pillar, incorporating slim panels along the top of the doors and rear side trims and most of the tonneau cover.
This line integrates the front and rear passenger areas, visually uniting the only top exterior surfaces that ‘come inside’ when the top is up. The Surround Trim is color-keyed with metallic colors or presented in matt graphite with solid colors.
The Convertible’s soft-top and tonneau mechanism features three innovations: CargoSET automatic storage well retraction, a two-step tonneau action for quicker deployment and a light-colored interior headlining. It is undoubtedly one of the car’s most impressive features.
A well-engineered roof is essential for good weatherproofing, insulation and noise refinement. It must be strong, snug-fitting, quiet when up, quick and easy to operate, good looking and extremely reliable.
For its latest Convertible, Saab specified a completely automatic, ‘state of the art’, soft-top operation, requiring no manual involvement beyond pressing a button. The roof is hydraulically-powered, with automatic self-latching to the windshield header rail, and deploys fully in just 20 seconds with the engine running, making it among the fastest in its class. It can be reliably operated in strong winds and, in an emergency, can even be raised while on the move at speeds up to 30 kph (20 mph).
The materials for the triple-skinned soft-top are also improved, with the addition of a thicker, fleece middle layer for good heat and noise insulation. The outer skin is made of an extremely tough, canvas/butyl(rubber)/canvas, weatherproof, woven fabric and the inner textile skin forms the interior headlining. There is an exterior color choice of black or blue.
To save weight, the soft-top’s frame, the swivelling braces and the large padded front rail which connects to the windshield header, are all made from magnesium. To ensure robustness, steel is used only for the soft-top’s pivoting side brackets.
Great attention has been given to effective sealing in order to prevent drafts, water leakage or intrusive wind noise. A small gutter has been sewn into the side of the fabric to prevent any water droplets dripping down on to the seats when a door is opened. Excellent sound insulation means that occupants can listen comfortably to the audio system or chat easily with the top in position at speeds up to 200 kph (125 mph).
Looks in this class of car are even more important than functionality and the soft-top now has a much tauter and smoother appearance, more like that of a fixed roof on a coupé. This has been achieved by the use of six, instead of five, swivelling braces (or bows) on which the fabric is mounted. As the distance between each brace is reduced, there is less sagging of the material and, once in position, the whole soft-top is finally tensioned by locking braces at the rear, instead of the front, which helps stretch the fabric even tighter.
Interior looks have not been overlooked, either. With the roof up, convertibles are often criticised for being rather gloomy or claustrophobic inside because of the usually black headlining. Saab has now addressed the issue and the 9-3 Convertible is first on the market to offer a light color, either beige or light gray.
The operation of the tonneau cover - made in aluminium to save weight - is another Saab ‘first’. Automatic soft-top systems have previously required the tonneau cover to be hinged at the rear. For quicker roof deployment, the Convertible’s tonneau now features an extremely elegant, two-stage operation, being completely raised horizontally and then moved rearwards, parallel to the top of the trunk.
Whilst it is an action that is intriguing to behold, it offers real benefits. Tests have shown this to be a quicker and more efficient means of allowing clearance for deployment of the soft-top. Pulling the tonneau down flat, instead of hinging and latching it closed, is also a more robust operation that contributes towards improved reliability and better seating and sealing.
The final innovation is a practical feature: raising the roof automatically raises the capacity of the trunk. The CargoSET (Self-Expanding Trunk) feature directly links the soft-top’s rearmost hinge mechanism to the flexible, ‘concertina’ storage well in the trunk. When the roof is in position, the well is therefore fully retracted, releasing useful additional storage space. It is a simple mechanical action that eliminates the need to manually hitch up the well with straps or rods. When the roof is stowed, there is still enough room in the trunk to accommodate two golf bags.
The design and operation of the Convertible’s soft-top is a masterpiece of precision engineering. As an indication of the demanding requirements involved, the roof, which is more than two meters long when fully extended, locates at the windshield header to a lateral tolerance of just ± 2 mm, equivalent to a remarkable 0.001 per cent margin of error!
Real World Aerodynamics
In the field of aerodynamics, the performance of Saab products is optimized for real world conditions, in the same way as Saab has developed its ‘real life‘ safety strategy.
The first question about the aerodynamics of a new car always relates to its coefficient of drag. Important, of course, but in everyday driving conditions it is seldom a major factor for long enough. A shape that cleaves the air as efficiently as possible is, of course, important but good high speed stability, excellent weatherproofing, low wind noise inside the car and optimised fuel consumption are also areas where the aero team has an input. Simply quoting a Cd value hardly does their work justice.
For instance, a great deal of time was spent testing for yaw behavior and stability in cross-winds at different speeds and angles. It is also important to know how a car behaves when passing or being passed closely at speed by large vehicles, as well as how much and where any grime builds up on the car. Questions that are best answered by testing in real road conditions, outside the laboratory.
The Convertible’s roof-up drag coefficient is a class competitive 0.34 but, probably more important, major strides have been made in improving high speed stability by keeping rear lift forces low and consistent.
Asmooth airflow over, around, through and under the car is important, with particular attention paid to points of flow separation at the rear in order to reduce the size of wake turbulence and improve stability. Here the focus was on the shaping of corner radii and the curvatures at the rear of the roof and the sides of the car..
The behavior of the Convertible’s roof, particularly its effectiveness in resisting ‘ballooning’ at speed and in its seating on the side windows was closely studied. As there is no monoside upper door closure for a Convertible, the effect of the windows being ‘sucked’ outwards, by the difference in outside and inside air pressure, with undesirable consequences for wind noise, had to be addressed. It is actually the same effect that causes ’ballooning’ or flapping.
At the front, the rear edge of the hood lid ‘kicks up’ to smooth the passage of air on to and around the windshield. Its traditionally deep curvature also reduces the acceleration of the airflow as it approaches the A-pillars, which have a flattened radius where they connect to the windshield to minimise airflow disturbance and wind noise. The bottom edge of the door mirror casings is also extended rearwards by 5 mm to help reduce the likelihood of road grime build-up on the mirror surface.
Good airflow management even plays a safety role. The ‘wraparound’ rear light clusters have an optimized corner radius that gives a distinct separation for airflow from the side of the car. Careful shaping of the angle actually helps the air ‘turn the corner’ first before it separates. This creates a flow over part of the light clusters, helping to reduce the build up of road grime, which can impair the visibility of the lights.
Airflow is also designed to keep the windows of the car as free from grime as possible. For example, the door mirror casings have a small spoiler-like profile in the bottom surface to reduce contamination of the side windows.
Underneath the car, airflow management is becoming an increasingly important area for ‘fine tuning‘ and the aero team concentrated their efforts where the return is greatest. A small spoiler ahead of the front wheels has been carefully shaped in the wind tunnel to reduce drag and the forward lower link of the rear suspension has also been aerodynamically shaped to reduce wind resistance and minimize the accumulation of road grime on the wheel rims.
Airflow under the hood, within the engine bay and at the bottom of the front footwells was also closely scrutinised. Shielding of the ‘exhaust’ air from the cabin air conditioning reduces disturbance where it exits behind the rear wheel-arch.
As evidence of the close liaison between the aero and design teams during development, it was possible to test up to 70 different body variations in one-fifth scale during a single eight hour shift in the Stuttgart University wind tunnel, where most of the optimization work was carried out. This is only possible by having a modeller on hand and a number of moulds prepared in advance. In this way, a large number of suggested changes can be investigated quickly to meet aerodynamic targets.
After this work was completed, the team moved to full-scale testing on a rolling road. Further wind tunnel work was also carried out at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) in the United Kingdom and in Detroit in the United States, for wind noise suppression.
Advanced CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) modelling now replaces a great deal of laborious work in the wind tunnel and also allows faster, more effective communication between project team members. For example, CFD played a vital role in the visualization of airflow and speeded up optimization work in the wind tunnel.
CFD was also the main tool for managing internal airflows: in the engine bay to control heat build-up and in the passenger compartment for best possible comfort.
More Comfort and Functionality
- Integration of front and rear passenger areas
- ‘Fixed-head’ interior ambience
- Light colored headlining brightens interior – Saab ‘first’
- Unique front seats with integrated seat-belts
- ‘Hydroblox’ water repellent textile upholstery – Saab ‘first’
- ‘Profiler’ customization function
- ’ComSense’ driver safety function to minimize distraction
- Two interior ‘forms’ – Linear and Vector
- Easy entry/exit for rear passengers
- ACC switches to heat settings with soft-top down - unique feature
- Extensive use of fiber optics for advanced ‘infotainment’
As you would expect from Saab, there is more to the design of its Convertible than good looks alone. The latest model offers major improvements in interior comfort and refinement and is, without doubt, the biggest step forward Saab has made during 20 years of engineering premium, four season, four seater convertibles.
The overall interior design reflects the curves and flowing lines of the exterior. In the same way, the fascia layout, the supportive seating, the shape of the door panels and trim, together with the feel of the tactile, soft-touch controls, are all very modern interpretations of classic Saab styling themes. It is a warm, harmonious interior, without undue ostentation, that is typically Scandinavian and could only come from Saab.
The high quality materials include the introduction of Hydroblox, the first water repellent seat upholstery to be fitted to a convertible. A polyester membrane lines the underside of the textile seat covering in order to prevent water penetration, a particularly useful feature for a convertible if the driver is caught in a shower of rain, for example, before being able to raise the soft-top.
The membrane has billions of tiny perforations as small as one micron in size which prevent water, but not air, passing through so that the fabric can still ’breathe’. Hydroblox is fitted as standard for the Linear specification interior. It is, of course, not necessary for leather upholstery.
The standard of fit and finish throughout is everything you would expect - and more - from a premium-class manufacturer such as Saab. For example, the lines of the large door panels are beautifully extended through into the rear side panels, creating a single sweeping shape that integrates the front and rear passenger areas.
Front shoulder width is increased and rear passenger access greatly improved by the adoption of sliding front seats and the elimination of B-pillar mounted seat-belts.
Attention to detail, so typical of Saab, is everywhere to be seen, no more so than in the rear passenger compartment. In design terms, this relatively small part of the interior of convertibles has become rather neglected. As it is generally used only occasionally, and there are no carry-over panels, the standard of finishing trim and upholstery often lacks cohesion, failing to match the quality up front. However, rear seat passengers in this Convertible do not travel second class because Saab’s design team has paid close attention to this ‘forgotten’ area.
Both seating positions are well shaped and upholstered, with deep squabs far superior to the flat, narrow bench seats that are often seen. The rear seat cushion also extends outwards at each end, in a gentle concave arc, right up to the side panels. This complements the shape of the rear cabin and even the tonneau cover. The angle of back-rest is kept at a comfortable 21° from vertical and not compromised by packaging requirements.
The integration of the front and rear areas is, of course, further reinforced by the unique Surround Trim styling line, described in the exterior design.
An important aim of the interior design team was the achievement of ’a fixed head interior ambience’, when the roof is in position, similar to that of a sedan. This has been accomplished by adopting an interior headlining that is co-ordinated for color and fits almost seamlessly.
Saab has led the premium convertible segment in introducing a color choice for the headlining of the soft-top as part of the car’s standard specification. The choice of beige (parchment) or light gray, depending on the ‘room’ option chosen, contributes to an interior that is lighter and more welcoming than that of other convertibles.
The feeling of being inside a fixed-head car is reinforced by the neat fitting of the fabric. Seams where the headlining is attached to the roof’s swiveling braces are barely visible and the edges sit smoothly over the seals on the side windows.
Up front, the color of the soft-top’s header rail matches the headlining. It is very slim and completely padded, locating invisibly on the windshield header where the small light console adds to the impression of being under a permanent roof.
Unique Front Seats
The sporty, well-shaped front seats have been specially designed for the Convertible. They make a very visible contribution to the high quality appearance of the interior and reinforce Saab’s fine reputation for class-leading seating comfort.
Both the seat cushion and back rest are deeply bolstered, giving excellent lateral and under thigh support without restricting seating comfort.
Both seats are manually adjustable for fore/aft movement, back-rest rake and height. Optional electrically-powered seats also have a driver’s memory setting and a pneumatic lumbar support adjustment.
The seats have also been designed to provide easy entry/exit for rear seat passengers, allowing up to 243 mm of forward movement on their runners. On manual seats. this is done by simply lifting a lever on the outboard corner of the back-rest, which then folds down, allowing the entire seat to be easily pushed forward. The movement is spring-loaded and requires only a light pressure of seven kilos, equivalent to the modest effort required to push a drawer closed at home.
For electrically-adjustable seats, the process is completely effortless. The seat automatically moves forward once the lever is lifted and the seat-back folded down. For safety reasons, the seat will stop moving if the lever is released at any time.
Rear entry/exit is also greatly facilitated by the adoption of integrated seat-belts, used by Saab for the first time on a convertible, and eliminating the need for attachment to a B-pillar ‘belt tower’. Integrated belts are easier to use and more comfortable for the wearer. They are always optimally located, irrespective of the seat position, and less prone to any flapping in open air driving.
The seats also incorporate Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR), a proven way of helping to prevent serious neck injury in the event of a rear-end collision (see Safety section for details).
The Convertible offers a near perfect driving position for the vast majority of drivers. The multi-position driver’s seat and a steering wheel that adjusts for rake and height, provide a wide range of adaptation.
The main instrument panel gently arcs round the driver, as in the Sport Sedan. In typical Saab fashion, the controls are all logically grouped, those most frequently used bring nearest to hand and closest to the driver’s natural field of vision. The short gear shift lever is just a hand span away.
The main dials - a large speedometer, with a compressed scale above 140 kph, flanked by a smaller rev-counter and a combined fuel/water temperature/turbo boost gauge - are recessed in traditional Saab fashion. They are white on black and continue to be softly illuminated in green, a color that Saab believes is the most restful choice for night driving. In contrast, warnings are displayed in amber or red.
Also located in the main instrument panel are twin adjustable air vents and audio or infotainment system controls with, according to specification, a 6.5 inch, high resolution monitor screen displaying particularly clear graphics.
The Profiler facility, offering driver pre-sets for a wide range of functions is operated via steering wheel buttons with on-screen prompts and selections shown in the main instrument display. Automatic climate control modes, the clock/alarm, speed scale illumination and, where fitted, the anti-theft alarm, parking assistance, rain sensitive wipers and heated seats can all be tailored in this way.
Saab has been seeking to minimize potential driver distraction for many years and the 9-3 Convertible shares the Sport Sedan’s ComSense safety function, which includes the use of a ’dynamic workload manager’ introduced with the first generation Saab 9-5 sedan in 1997. This enables the brief suppression of dashboard warning messages, or the interception of an incoming call on the integrated telephone, when a moment of high driver workload is detected by the operation of the indicators or heavy braking.
In the same way, the ’Night Panel’ feature allows the driver to minimize distraction by switching off, or dimming, all the main instrumentation illumination at night (expect for the speedometer). The development of steering wheel controls for the audio system and telephone, as well as voice activation programs, are seen as further means of keeping the driver’s attention on the road.
A small console in the center of the header rail above the windshield accommodates an interior light and two reading lamps. The rail itself is seamlessly padded and color-matched, contributing to the sedan-like quality of the interior.
The slim but thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel complements the Convertible’s sporty character and accommodates optional controls for the audio system and the Sentronic automatic transmission.
The central console below the main instrument panel is inclined slightly towards the driver and sweeps elegantly down between the front seats. It accommodates the automatic climate controls, more minor switchgear, the gear shift lever, ignition switch and handbrake..
A particularly neat innovation is the ‘disguised’ handbrake, which is beautifully integrated in the edging trim of the console. It is a Z-shaped lever, self-adjusting and with a positive, easy-to-use action. On the other side of the console, mirroring the integrated handbrake, is a Smart Slot detachable sleeve for further storage of small items. In true Saab tradition, the ignition switch continues to be located alongside the handbrake. It is entirely electronic in operation, the previous reverse manual gear lock now being replaced by an automatic, electronic steering column lock.
The interior can specified in a choice of two ‘Forms’, or design themes, both Scandinavian-inspired for a distinctive, modern feel. The names of the forms – Linear and Vector - are derived from the world of architecture, each creating its own atmosphere inside the car. The style and design of the seat upholstery is unique to the Convertible.
Each form can be specified in a ‘light room’ (parchment) or ‘dark room’ (gray) color scheme, including seats, door panels, rear side panels, the lower front fascia, the headlining and other main trim items. The carpet remains black in both cases.
The line-up starts with ‘Linear’, a line or base element in architecture, although the trim is hardly basic as the seats are part upholstered in the innovative, water repellent Hydroblox textile.
‘Vector’ is more progressive and performance-focused, the mood changing to ‘industrial high tech’. The leather seats have optional contrasting black panels in the cushion and back-rest. The door and glove box trim inserts and the ear shift molding and steering wheel are now finished in matt chrome.
‘Aero’ is, of course, the ultimate performance expression of the new Convertible. Here the interior is similar to Vector and the exterior specification includes aerodynamically-tested spoilers and flared sill extensions which help reduce lift forces.
Heating and Ventilation
All variants are fitted with a highly efficient, automatic climate control (ACC) system. which have been adapted for the specific needs of a convertible. This includes, for example, ensuring a smooth engagement of the ACC system when the roof is closed under hot conditions and re-tuning control software, taking into account the different thermal properties of the soft-top and the smaller side window area.
Engineers are constantly seeking to raise the efficiency of air conditioning systems, often balancing conflicting needs, such as ensuring quick engine warm up in cold conditions while also providing an adequate supply of warm air for the passenger cabin.
For more consistent performance, Saab favors ‘energy balanced’ rather than sensor-controlled automatic systems. This means there are no sudden eruptions of the fan, for example, when a door or window is briefly opened.
The ACC functions on a ‘dual zone’ basis, allowing different temperatures to be selected for the left or right hand side of the car. This can be useful when the driver, for example, may wish to keep alert by having a slightly cooler setting.
It also switches automatically to manual control when the roof is open and reverts to automatic control, including all the previous settings, when the roof is closed. It is a feature unique to the premium convertible segment.
In open-top mode, a choice of 11 (0 –10) heat levels is offered, with a maximum outlet temperature as high as 65°C. The driver and front passenger can still each select a different heat level to suit their own preferences. In this mode, airflow distribution is shared between the driver and passenger, although the system can be set so that, for example, air from the floor outlets is hotter than the output from the windshield defroster.
The heated front seats are included within automatic climate control, which will start and progressively lower the seat heating as the interior warms up. This function and other ACC settings, such as the fan and air distribution, can also be selected through the Profiler customization menu.
A final, thoughtful feature is the air-conditioned glove box. A useful place to store a cold drink to prevent it getting warm, or a bar of chocolate to stop it melting.
Storage and Convenience
As you would expect in a car from Saab, its Convertible offers some useful storage and convenience features.
There are two good-sized door pockets, a large, lockable glove box (air-conditioned) and pouches at the front of the cushions on electrically-adjustable seats.
The main storage compartment in the central console between the seats can be specified to incorporate coin slots, a 12-volt outlet for a battery charger and an MP3 input, as well as a smaller roll-top compartment with a cup-holder.
The Smart Slot, opposite the disguised hand-brake, provides convenient storage for items such as credit cards, pencils and a small wallet or notebook. A CD disc holder, cup-holder and ice scraper are available as accessory items for this feature.
Another superb accessory item can probably be described as the ‘world’s most advanced cup-holder’. It follows in the tradition of the cup-holder in the front of the Saab 9-5, which automatically swivels out through 90 degrees from a vertical position.
For the 9-3 range, Saab was also determined to create something special as a dashboard cup-holder. The result is ‘The Butterfly’. There are two separate movements in different directions, one for the base and one for the retaining hoop (the ‘wings’ of the butterfly), both hinged from one arm.
The new 9-3 Convertible benefits from one of the most powerful electronics systems to be installed in a series production car (see Body and Systems section for full details).
Fiber optics are used to provide a high-speed platform for the car’s extensive ‘infotainment’ (communication, information and entertainment) functions, a development of cutting edge technology first seen on the Sport Sedan. It is utilized by all three audio system options and, where fitted, the Bluetooth Phone Integration System (BPIS), which features voice control, the GPS navigation system with DVD reader and the OnStar telematics service (US market only).
This network is capable of handling all likely future requirements in the fast-developing field of ’infotainment’ and e-services, making it easy for owners to fit upgrades.
A choice of three ’infotainment’ systems is offered, each of which includes a CD player compatible with MP3 music discs. Also fitted as standard is an auxiliary audio input. The acoustic requirements of a convertible have been carefully examined. For example, the range of volume adjustments for the automatic, speed-sensing control has been increased, including the programming of a slightly wider base response. The BPIS microphone is also installed in the driver’s side A-pillar for convenient use in open top conditions.
The standard ’Saab Infotainment’ system includes an RDS radio and single-slot CD player, ’Saab Infotainment CD Changer’ adds an in-dash 6-disc facility and ’Saab Infotainment Plus’ includes a satellite navigation with a large, 6.5 inch color touch-screen and voice control. In addition to a ’bird’s eye view’ map selection, direction arrows are now shown on the touch-screen.
All three ’infotainment’ systems can be combined with a hands-free mobile phone facility, the Bluetooth Phone Integration System (BPIS). After an initial ’pairing’ set-up procedure, a Bluetooth-enabled phone will automatically connect wirelessly to the audio system whenever the user enters the car. The phone is then operated by voice control or steering wheel buttons, with call information shown in the main instrument display. For recharging and connection to the car’s external antenna, a phone dock in the center console is available as an accessory.
All Turbo Line-up includes Diesel option
- Range-topping aluminum, 250 bhp/184 kW, 2.8V6 TurboAluminum 2.0 turbo offering 150 bhp/110 kW, 175 bhp/129 kW or 210 bhp/155 kW
- 150 bhp, 1.9TiD engine for sporty performance with frugal fuel consumption
- Five/six-speed manual and automatic transmissions
The fine chassis dynamics of the Saab 9-3 Convertible are complemented by the outstanding drivability and refinement of an all turbo powertrain line-up, including a 1.9 TiD engine in addition to the all-aluminum 2.8V6 and four cylinder2.0-liter gasoline options.
The advanced 2.8-liter V6 Turbo includes the following features: lightweight, all-aluminum construction; variable valve timing; a twin-scroll turbocharger; unique cylinder heads, pistons and con-rods, and hydroformed exhaust manifolds with stainless steel liners and air injection for improved cold start emissions.
The result is the most sophisticated turbocharged engine to be installed in a Saab, delivering strong power and torque, together with the high level of refinement and excellent low-speed pick-up characteristics associated with a large capacity, six cylinder engine.
The all-aluminum, 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine is configured for three levels of power output: 150, 175 or 210 bhp. This four-cylinder line-up is expanded by the addition of a 150 bhp 1.9TiD engine, bringing diesel power to the Convertible for the first time.
Transmissions include a close-ratio, six-speed manual gearbox - fitted as standard to all engines except the 150 bhp turbo - as well as six-speed and ’5+2’ automatic transmissions with Saab Sentronic manual gear selection and optional steering wheel controls.
Sophisticated 2.8-liter V6 Turbo
The 2.8V6 Turbo has a 60º vee-angle between its cylinder banks for perfect balance and combines excellent multi-valve refinement with outstanding performance. The all aluminum construction provides a light and compact architecture, well suited to its transverse, front-wheel-drive installation in the Saab 9-3.
The cylinder heads, each with double chain-driven overhead camshafts operating four valves per cylinder, are of high specification aluminum and unique to this turbocharged application. The design ensures enhanced heat resistance under 85 bar cylinder pressures, as well as minimum maintenance costs.
Also unique are pistons with hard anodized ring grooves for durability and under-skirt oil jet cooling, together with steel con-rods that are strengthened by sinter-forging, a process that involves molding metal in a powered form. The exhaust valves are filled with sodium to further enhance cooling. The cylinders have cast iron liners and a bore/stoke of 89.00 / 74.8 mm.
For improved engine breathing, variable cam phasing on the inlet side is electronically controlled and hydraulically actuated, allowing continuously variable adjustment through 50º of crankshaft rotation. On the road, this translates to a more flexible power delivery and better fuel economy under different engine loads.
A die-cast aluminum oil sump is designed to increase structural stiffness and the strong, four-bearing crankshaft is made from micro-alloy forged steel, a specification more commonly seen in competition performance or diesel engines. Together with a dual-mass flywheel, these elements further reduce unwanted noise and vibration, ensuring smooth and refined performance.
The twin-scroll, water-cooled Mitsubishi TDO4-15TK turbocharger, operates at 0.6 bar maximum boost with intercooling and an integral by-pass valve. It is mounted centrally above the transmission and fed by both banks of cylinders. The use of two separate inlet tracts, one for each cylinder bank, separates the exhaust gas pulses, improving gas flow, reducing energy losses and raising turbocharger efficiency. The turbine wheel is made from a special high-grade steel alloy, commonly used in the turbocharged engines of world championship rally cars, which is resistant to erosion, cracking and creeping under high temperatures and centrifugal forces.
Also unique are double-skin exhaust manifolds, which are hydroformed with stainless steel liners to improve cold start emissions by minimizing heat absorption to the manifold. Air injection into each manifold for up to 30 seconds after a cold start also helps the central pre-catalyst, positioned upstream of the main catalytic converter, achieve ’light off’, its effective working temperature, as early as possible.
The 32-bit engine management system, with software calibrated specifically for the Saab 9-3 application, utilizes a torque-based engine control strategy and direct coil-over-plug ignition with a robust engine-mounted control unit. Ignition timing, fuel injection, turbo boost pressure, air mass measurement and the throttle setting are all key engine functions controlled by the software.
The sophisticated control strategy is designed to deliver smooth performance in all driving conditions. The system works with the vehicle’s transmission to modulate torque, providing stirring performance and excellent engine response. The system can also limit torque in low-traction conditions, helping provide confident, sure-footed driving. Variable fuel pressure further contributes to smooth idle and driving characteristics.
For driving comfort, control of the electronic throttle through the movement of the accelerator pedal is programmed to be sensitive to different driving conditions, with greater pedal movement introduced at lower vehicle speeds, such as when maneuvering or parking. At low engine speeds, the engine control system also brings the turbo in quickly by momentarily opening the throttle slightly more than requested by the driver.
The 250 bhp (184 kW) 2.8V6 Turbo is exclusive to the top-of-the-line Aero model.Maximum torque of 350 Nm is generated from just 1,800 rpm all the way to 4,500 rpm, with 90 per cent of this value available from an exceptionally low 1,500 rpm.
Impressive on-the-road performance is typified by a superb low-speed engine response, attributable to the careful programming of the engine management software and the increased engine capacity. Under a full throttle load at take-off or low engine speeds, 90 per cent of maximum acceleration is delivered within one second.
The fast, but controlled, torque build-up immediately above the 720 rpm idle speed is delivered with a turbine-like smoothness. For the top-of-the-line 9-3 Aero Convertible, the result is zero to 100 kph acceleration in a rapid 7.2 seconds and 80-120 kph in fifth gear in just 8.6 seconds. Careful tuning of the Aero’s twin sports exhausts downstream of the main catalyst adds a distinctive, exhilarating engine note.
Overall, the engine’s high level of performance and six cylinder refinement perfectly complements the Convertible’s superb chassis dynamics, giving a truly rewarding, fun-to-drive experience.
Lightweight 2.0-liter Turbo, choice of three power ratings
The compact, all-aluminum, four cylinder 2.0-liter gasoline engine has a block perfectly ‘square’ in configuration, with a bore and stroke of 86 mm, and carries a unique Saab four-valve cylinder head, maintenance-free chain-driven camshafts, counter-rotating balancer shafts, for improved refinement, and an integrated oil cooler. It is controlled by the latest Trionic 8 version of Saab’s own, in-house engine management system, among the most sophisticated of its kind in commercial production.
All main internal components are unique to Saab’s turbocharged application. These include a five-bearing forged steel crankshaft, strengthened con-rods, redesigned pistons and gudgeon pins, piston oil cooling jets and reprofiled camshafts. The cylinder head is a unique alloy casting optimized for turbocharging, with substantially revised inlet porting, modified inlet valves and sodium-filled exhaust valves.
A major innovation for Saab is the in-board location of the turbocharger, behind the transversely installed engine. This position allows an even quicker warm-up for the front exhaust catalyst, giving improved fuel consumption and lower cold start emissions, as well as benefiting weight distribution.
A Mitsubishi TD04 turbocharger, with an integrated by-pass valve, is used together with intercooling in all applications. It operates at 0.5, 0.7 and 0.85 bar maximum boost pressures, respectively, for the 150 bhp (110 kW), 175 bhp (129 kW) and 210 bhp (155 kW) engines. The latter also has altered valve timing.
The power characteristics of all variants help set new Saab standards for four cylinder engine refinement, throttle response and progressive torque delivery, as well as yielding competitive fuel consumption and low CO2 emissions.
In common with all Saab gasoline engines, outstanding levels of torque are generated at low engine speeds, with at least 90 per cent of peak values available from just below 2,000 rpm.
Maximum power and torque figures are as follows:
- 150 bhp (110kW) at 5,500 rpm, 240 Nm at 2,000 - 3,500 rpm. (Badged 1.8t)
- 175 bhp (129 kW) at 5,500 rpm, 265 Nm at 2,500 - 4,000 rpm. (Badged 2.0t).
- 210 bhp (155 kW) at 5,300 rpm, 300 Nm at 2,500 - 4,000 rpm. (Badged 2.0T).
The 32-bit Saab Trionic 8 engine management system, incorporating direct ignition, is torque-based and specifically developed to meet to the needs of turbocharged engines. In common with the 2.8V6 turbo engine management system, it controls ignition timing, fuel injection, turbo boost pressure, air mass measurement and the throttle setting.
The torque delivery of the engine is noticeably ‘linear’, encouraging the driver to hold intermediate gears for longer periods. Under acceleration, Trion ic will control engine torque if there is insufficient grip available at a requested throttle opening and it will also cushion the transitory effects of large accelerator pedal movements in order to maintain a smooth power delivery. As with the 2.8V6 turbo engine, the degree of required pedal movement is related to the driving situation and the control of the electronic throttle is optimized for a quick turbo response.
Saab Trionic 8 is unique in using the spark plugs as sensors to monitor ionization rates during ignition. It is able to individually control the combustion process for each cylinder, detecting any combustion malfunction before it may become critical.
Sporty 1.9 Turbo Diesel
This sophisticated 16-valve, common rail, direct and multiple injection engine significantly narrows any perceptible difference between diesel and gasoline engine performance levels - except in the frequency of visits to the filling station.
It offers exceptional peak torque of 320 Nm between 2,000 and 2,750 rpm, with 90 per cent of this value generated between 1,750 and 3,250 rpm. The engine is fitted as standard with an advanced, maintenance-free particulate filter.
The four cylinder, cast-iron block has an alloy cylinder head with twin, chain-driven, overhead camshafts and hydraulic tappets. It includes a steel crankshaft and connecting rods, a variable geometry (VNT) turbocharger for a quick low-end response and a high power capability, a dual-mass flywheel, a weight-saving pressure cast aluminum intake manifold and electronically-controlled exhaust gas re-circulation (EGR) for quick warm-up and low emissions.
Offered in Linear and Vector variants, this engine gives excellent performance with outstanding running refinement, as well as competitively low fuel consumption and emissions. Its sporty driving characteristics are a perfect match for the Convertible’s fun-to-drive chassis dynamics.
In-gear acceleration, the most important feature for everyday driving, is on a par with the 210 bhp (155 kW) gasoline engine and the zero to 100 kph dash is accomplished in a brisk 10.4 seconds. With combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.3 liter/100km (7.4/automatic) showing a 25 per cent gain over the 150 bhp, 1.8t gasoline engine, it offers an appealing combination of performance, refinement and economy.
Common rail technology provides consistently high injection nozzle pressures of 1,600 bar, allowing small multiple injections of fuel, between two and five, to release as much energy as possible from a given amount of fuel. This extremely efficient combustion process, controlled by the Bosch ECM, pays dividends in a number of key areas. Apart from improving fuel consumption, emissions and power, it is crucial in helping to iron out the strong vibrations traditionally associated with compression ignition.
An electro/hydraulic power steering system is also fitted with the 1.9TiD engine. This helps to further optimize fuel consumption by utilizing electric power during low-speed maneuvering, when more steering assistance is required, as well as minimizing mechanical losses.
Advanced Automatic Transmission
A six-speed automatic transmission is offered for the 2.8V6 Turbo and 1.9TiD engines. A five-speed version is available on all other gasoline turbo engines, with an additional ’5+2’ transmission exclusive to the 210 bhp (155 kW) unit, introducing two intermediate gears, ’2.5’ and ’3.5’, for greater access to acceleration on kick-down.
All transmissions include ‘Saab Sentronic’, a sequential manual gearshift giving closer driver involvement. When the shift lever is moved across the gate to ‘manual’ Sentronic mode, ‘up’ and ‘down’ changes can be made with full lock-up in 3/4/5 or 6th gears. This process is taken a step further by steering wheel buttons, which bring gear-shifting right to the fingertips of the driver. The level of driver control offered by Saab Sentronic means that ‘sport’ or ‘winter’ mode settings are no longer required.
In automatic mode, these ’smart’ transmissions from Asin AW are adaptive to driver usage patterns and prevailing road conditions, fully exploiting Saab turbo power characteristics. The transmission can sense changes in engine performance, engine load, road gradient or altitude and will quickly find the ‘right’ gear without any irritating ‘hunting’.
Six-speed manual gearbox and improved gear change quality
A close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, standard for all engines except the 150 bhp turbo, is rated for 400 Nm maximum engine torque and has dual output shafts for compact design and to lower transmission vibrations.
On all gearboxes, gear change quality is enhanced by the adoption of a cable linkage, instead of rods, from the gear lever. The driver enjoys a faster change with a much smoother and more positive feel. Noise resonance and vibration are also reduced.
Open top dynamics for the open road
- Sporty handling inherited from sedan challenges class benchmark
- Greatly improved ride refinement and NVH levels
- Saab ‘ReAxs’ - unique rear wheel steer characteristic
- Excellent steering response and feel
- Braking system includes MBA, CBC and EBD as standard
- Progressive, Saab-tuned ESP
The fine chassis dynamics of the Saab 9-3 Convertible deliver the kind of on-the- road performance that is promised by its sporty looks and purposeful stance. Of course, that is hardly surprising since it shares the core chassis and suspension components of the widely-acclaimed 9-3 Sport Sedan.
The Convertible’s impressive chassis composure, handling agility and ride refinement place it among the very best on the market.
Like the sedan, the Convertible is the product of a rigorous development program, designed to combine the benefits of front wheel drive - predictability and excellent driver feedback - with new levels of chassis control for a more rewarding driving experience.
A rigid body structure and optimized suspension are the foundations on which the Convertible’s chassis poise, refinement and impressively low levels of noise, vibration and harshness have been developed..
These innate abilities are backed up by Mechanical Brake Assist (MBA) and a full array of electronic driver aids, including ABS (Antilock Braking System), TCS (Traction Control System), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), all fitted as standard. A Saab-tuned ESP (Electronic Stability Program) is optional, while ESP Plus is standard with the 2.8V6 turbo engine.
Today’s premium convertible customers are prepared to make few, if any, concessions to the absence of a fixed roof. Inherent losses in body rigidity must, therefore, be largely recovered by careful design, particularly around suspension mounting points, to prevent the chassis’s handling and ride composure being compromised.
The work of the chassis engineers was made easier by the Convertible’s separate, but parallel, development program alongside the Sport Sdean. They benefited from the strategic decisions made by structural engineers to ensure that the architecture and ‘hard points’ for the 9-3 product range could be properly adapted to meet the needs of an open-top car. (A full description of this work can be found in the Body Structure section).
Compared to the 9-3 Sport Sedan, the weight distribution of the Convertible is slightly more favourable, in part due to the addition of the soft-top and its operating mechanism. The front/rear ratio of 55/45 compares well against the 60/40 split of the sedan and helps to offset a 10 per cent increase in kerb weight.
To deliver the high standard of ride quality expected in this class of car, engineers have also sought to minimize unsprung weight. As a result, all four wheel carriers (hubs) and brake calipers, the lower control arms in the front suspension and the toe and lower links in the rear suspension are made of aluminium.
In order to maintain a consistent suspension geometry - as well as helping to raise the chassis’s torsional rigidity – bracing rods are bolted to the rear sub-frame. These ‘V-rods’ run diagonally forward, from near the inboard mounting point for each lower suspension link, into the attachment point for the trailing toe link, reinforcing the sub-frame’s fixing to the body.
And to further eliminate the possibility of any slight movement, four metal sleeves, instead of polymer bushes, are used at both the front and rear sub-frame mounting points.
With these measures in place, the chassis team concentrated on tuning the Convertible’s spring and damper rates, in order to maintain the sporty handling characteristics of the sedan.
The front MacPherson struts keep their de-coupled top mountings, separating the damper and spring loadings, and the aluminium lower control arms are attached, as before, to a hydroformed (hollow section) front sub-frame, including hydraulic bushes on the rearmost mounting each side for optimum damping. There is a single, direct -acting anti-roll bar and, for good directional stability and ride comfort, the suspension layout is designed to be largely impervious to lateral forces and compliant longitudinally.
The multi-link, independent rear suspension incorporates three transverse and one longitudinal link, gas dampers, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. Compared to the rigid, torsion beam used for the previous Convertible, the new layout has far more longitudinal compliance. The trailing toe-link and lower transverse link are in aluminium and, like the front suspension, bushings are stiff for lateral forces and relatively soft longitudinally.
Apart from offering a more compliant ride, the multi-link suspension arrangement also allows greater scope for optimizing both handling and ride characteristics, in addition to reducing the amount of road noise transmitted to the interior. For tautness, the Convertible dispenses with the shear bushings in the top rear damper mountings, as fitted to the Sport Sedan.
Saab ‘ReAxs’ – passive rear wheel steer
Out on the open road, the Convertible’s sporty handling characteristics are rewarding and ‘involving’ for the driver due to a unique, passive rear wheel steer characteristic, known as Saab ReAxs, first seen on the Sport Sedan.
The toe-links in the rear suspension and the use of ball joints, instead of rubber inboard and outboard suspension bushings, allow a much closer control of wheel movement. As a result, under cornering loads, the elasto-kinematics at the rear axle induce a very slight deflection of both rear wheels in the opposite direction to the steering input, ie. toe-out for the outer wheel and toe-in for the inner wheel.
Depending on vehicle speed and the radius of a bend, which will vary the consequent loadings at the rear axle, one degree of steering movement at the front wheels would typically produce a small but significant deflection of about one hundredth of a degree at the rear. This is sufficient to prevent excessive understeer, where the driver is forced to apply progressively more steering lock to turn the front end of the car, increasing the scrub angles of the front tyres.
The Saab ReAxs characteristic overcomes this ‘crabbing ‘ effect, helping the tail of the car follow the direction of its front wheels, instead of its nose. For the driver, this makes the car better balanced and more fun to drive, helping it turn in and respond more closely to steering inputs.
The power steering on Saab cars is widely acknowledged for achieving just the right balance between assistance and ‘feel’. In the straight ahead position there is virtually no assistance, in order the give the driver as much direct control as possible, and even at low speeds, when there is more assistance, the driver’s feel for the road surface is never impaired
The rack and pinion steering system for the 9-3 Convertible continues this tradition. The hydraulic pump is camshaft-driven with gasoline engines and the rack is mounted low down at the back of the front sub-frame. For the 1.9TiD engine, an electro-hydraulic system is fitted, which uses a pump driven by a computer-controlled electric motor as a further contribution to improved fuel consumption.
The geometry and tuning of the front and rear suspensions also combine to give the steering its distinctive feel, linearity and responsiveness. At 2.97 turns from lock to lock, it is the quickest steering yet fitted to a Saab car.
The performance of the powerful steel disc brakes is among best in class, giving a consistent pedal feel and showing particularly good resistance to fade under repeated heavy applications.
In EU specification, three brake sizes are fitted according to engine power. For all four cylinder engines, except the 210 bhp version, 285 mm front (ventilated) and 278 mm solid rear discs are fitted. For the 210 bhp engine they are 302/292 mm (both ventilated) and for the 2.8V6 turbo engine these are increased to 314/292 mm.
High speed braking stability is particularly impressive, largely due to the Saab ReAxs control of the rear suspension geometry. This effectively ‘preloads’ the rear tyres by applying some lateral force through toe-in as braking commences.
An automatic brake boost feature, Mechanical Brake Assist (MBA) increases braking pressure from the master cylinder when the driver stamps hard on the brake pedal. This stops the vehicle quicker and also activates the car’s ABS more effectively.
A four channel ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) and a Traction Control System (TCS), with additional electronic throttle control, are both standard fitment. The other standard electronic brake control functions utilise the ABS wheel speed sensors and the variable valving at each wheel.
New for Saab in the 9-3 range is the introduction of Corning Brake Control (CBC), which is activated when the car is cornering under heavy braking. Brake pressure is individually varied between all four wheels so as to keep the car stable, minimising any snap oversteer or understeer characteristics.
Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) ensures an optimum braking force is always applied at both axles for maximum stability under heavy braking.
All four brake discs have full size dust shields. These ensure braking performance is not impaired by large amounts of snow, mud or dust jamming the calipers.
Advanced Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
The fine chassis dynamics of the 9-3 Convertible can be supplemented by the option of an advanced, Saab-tuned ESP system, which is designed to gently counteract over-exuberance or misjudgements from the driver.
It has been honed by technicians using dedicated software to match the behavior of the 9-3 Convertible’s chassis. The ‘intelligent’ system is extremely progressive in use and is designed to function almost imperceptibly, avoiding harsh interventions when the chassis has already reached the limits of adhesion. ESP Plus is fitted as standard with the 2.8V6 turbo engine and is specially tuned for sporty driving, intervening progressively when the limits of adhesion are being reached.
A yaw sensor in the center of the car detects movement around the vertical axis and a sensor on the steering column measures the steering angle being applied. Inputs from these sources are then correlated with the speed of the car.
The system is extremely flexible and it is programmed to execute whatever actions will most effectively prevent the onset of a loss of control. Depending upon the chassis’s disposition, it is possible for braking to be applied via the ABS system to just one or all four wheels at once, in addition to control of the electronic throttle.
World class Safety inspired by Real Life Experience
- Crash safety based on ‘real life’ research
- Rigid passenger compartment surrounded by deformable structures
- ’DynaCage’ rollover protection with pop-up roll bars
- Front seats with fully integrated seat-belts
- Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR)
- Adaptive front airbags
- Head/thorax side airbags mounted in front seats
- Maximum 5-star EuroNCAP crash safety rating
- Excellent driving safety with MBA,CBC, EBD and optional ESP
Saab has a long tradition of successful work with car safety. In surveys of real-life accidents carried out by the US Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and the Swedish insurance company, Folksam, Saab cars have consistently shown well, several times being ranked best in their segment. The 9-3 Convertible is also the first soft-top model to achieve EuroNCAP’s maximum crash test rating, joining the Sport Sedan with 5 stars.
For Saab, car safety involves two key areas: crash safety (often called passive safety) and driving (or active) safety. The 9-3 Convertible features important advances in both areas.
Crash impact resistance benefits from the introduction of a series of new structural and occupant protection measures that have enabled engineers to increase safety levels for the 9-3 Convertible. In doing so, they have succeeded in meeting crash safety performance targets which are the same as those of the Sport Sedan.
Greatly improved chassis dynamics, including steering, brakes and lights, keep the driver even more in control and, therefore, less likely to be involved in or better able to avoid an accident.
Driving safety is advanced further by the adoption of MBA (Mechanical Brake Assist) and a full arsenal of electronic aids including CBC (Cornering Brake Control) and EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution) as standard and an optional ESP (Electronic Stability Program). These systems are described in the Chassis section.
The Saab Comsense function (described in the Interior Features section) also plays a role in improving driving safety by minimizing the potential for driver distraction through the operation of ’dynamic workload management’.
Crash Safety based on ‘Real Life’ research
Computer simulations and crash testing at Saab are designed to replicate what happens in real collisions on real roads, based on the findings of a database covering more than 6,100 real-life accidents, including the Saab 9-3 and Saab 9-5, on Swedish roads.
During the Saab 9-3 product development program, the structural design of the car and the deployment of its occupant protection systems were evaluated not only in consumer and legally required crash tests, but also in a large number of additional in-house configurations, taking occupants of different sizes into consideration. Prototype tests were carried out in the laboratory and outdoors in a wide range of speeds and configurations.
However, advanced crash simulations, using finite element methods (FEM) and drawing on Saab’s extensive experience, help to find solutions before any prototypes are built. Support by simulation is used throughout the development process in structural design, as well as for the tuning of occupant protection systems, such as seat-belts and airbags. As a result, crash tests are increasingly used as a physical means of verifying what is already known.
For the Convertible, Saab also helped to pioneer the world’s most comprehensive rollover crash test program, involving eight different configurations that account for most instances of this relatively rare type of road accident.
Rigid Safety Structure
At the heart of the 9-3 Convertible is a steel safety structure fabricated mainly from high strength steel that is designed to protect the passenger compartment. Most beam sections are completely closed for additional strength and all joints are designed to help prevent tearing under severe impacts.
Compared to the sedan, additional reinforcement elements include: the A-pillars and windscreen header rail, the front and rear seat cross-members, the introduction of a substantial torsion box between the rear wheel housings and enlarged side sills.
The front and rear crumple zones are made of carefully shaped steel members designed to help absorb, distribute and deflect impact energy away from the passenger compartment.
Three distinct load paths on each side of the front structure are designed to help to channel impact forces through the front sub-frame, along the longitudinal members and through the upper rail into the A-pillar. The longitudinal members have large sections that extend right through the floor of the car as far as the rear seat. This design is a development of the concept first seen on the Saab 9-5.
The three load paths are connected transversely via cross-members, the most important of which is the front bumper beam. This helps distribute impact forces across and through the front structure, to help provide a controlled and predictable deformation in a wide range of frontal collisions. The beam is made from boron alloy steel, up to six times stronger than plain steel with a very high yield strength of 900 Newtons per square millimeter.
To help provide side impact protection, engineers have developed the lower B-pillars, the side sills and door beams to behave as a single, integrated structure, increasing the likelihood of deformation in a controlled and predictable manner. In side impacts with narrow objects, such as a tree or lamp post, the role of the door beams is particularly important.
At the rear, two more longitudinal members are designed to buckle and deform in a progressive manner to help protect the passenger compartment in a rear-end collision. They also assist in dissipating crash energy towards the lower body structure. The fuel tank is also mounted low down in front of the rear axle, away from any likely point of impact.
DynaCage Rollover Protection
Although rollovers are a comparatively rare event, the consequences are often serious and Saab has installed an ’active’ protection system in the 9-3 Convertible. The DynaCage concept combines pop-up rear roll bars, seat-belt pre-tensioning in all seating positions and substantial reinforcement of the A-pillars and side sills to help provide an integrated protection system.
The two spring-loaded rollover bars are recessed behind the rear head restraints and are made from aluminum alloy for low mass, to aid quick deployment, and high strength. They are mounted inside the car’s torsion box and released by a small pyrotechnic charge when the car’s central sensing and diagnostic module (SDM) detects the onset of a rollover. The SDM is programmed to have the bars deployed and locked in position by the time the car is at 90 degrees to the ground. Just as important, all four seat-belt pre-tensioners are activated at the same time, to firmly locate any belted occupants in their seats.
Integrated front seat-belts
Despite the use of airbags, seat-belts are still the single most important restraint system in any car and the front occupants of the 9-3 Convertible benefit from the first integrated belt system to be fitted by Saab.
The seat-belt is mounted entirely on the frame of the front seats. As there are no B-pillar or floor fixings, the belt’s geometry is optimized irrespective of the seat position. The belts are also easier to reach and the top mounting in the seat back ensures a closer fit over the shoulder without prejudicing seating comfort.
As the entire belt system is attached to it, the seat is mounted on a special U-shaped platform welded into the floor, which is designed to withstand extremely high loadings.
Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR)
Saab Active head restraints (SAHR) are fitted as standard to the front seats. Crash investigation findings published by the Journal of Trauma, and comparative tests by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Thatcham insurance center in the UK, have shown the SAHR to be extremely effective in helping to prevent serious neck injury to front seat occupants in the event of a rear-end collision.
The Journal of Trauma published a Saab study that found a remarkable 75 per cent reduction in severe neck injuries when comparing Saab cars fitted with the SAHR against older Saab models not having the system.The system is entirely mechanical and is activated as soon as the occupant’s lower back is pressed into the seatback by the effect of inertia during a collision from the rear. A pad in the seat-back is linked to lever which is designed to push the head restraint up and forwards towards the occupant’s head, helping to minimize head movement relative to the torso.
After activation, the head restraint immediately springs back to its passive position ready for further use.in case there is a possible second impact.
Adaptive Front Airbags
Dual stage, front airbags are designed to help provide an ’occupant-friendly’ deployment in frontal impacts.
Two sensors in the front bumper beam detect impact severity, a sensor in the seat track communicates seating positions and a switch in the seat-belt buckles indicates whether or not the belts are being worn. This data is sent to the centrally located SDM which, within milliseconds, chooses between activation of the belt pre-tensioners alone, or in combination with a stage 1 or stage 2 inflation of the airbags.
A collision with a relatively low level of impact energy would, for example, likely require less airbag pressure and, therefore, a slower rate of inflation than a more severe, high energy impact. A short driver sitting close to the steering wheel also benefits from a softer, lower pressure inflation.
Head/thorax side airbags
Front seat occupants are provided with additional side impact protection by the installation of airbags in the outer edge of each front seat-back, which ensures the airbag will always be well placed irrespective of the seat position.
The airbag has two chambers, one to protect the thorax, or chest, and the other to safeguard the head. In a heavy impact, the lower section inflates first and air is then pushed into the upper section for the head. The airbag has been specially developed to meet the requirements of the Convertible.
Seat-belts and Reminder System
All four seat-belts have pre-tensioning and load limiting functions to help remove belt slack and reduce loadings on the body in severe crashes. The pre-tensioners are mounted on the belt retractor and activated by a signal from the airbag sensing system, which ignites a small pyrotechnic charge to retract the belt.
The load limiting function consists of a torsion bar inside the retractor that, at a pre-determined load level, will start to deform and thus help reduce the belt load and ease the strain on the occupant’s body.
Saab has used a seat-belt reminder function since 1974 and, to further emphasize the importance of belt usage, the system in the 9-3 range independently informs and reminds the driver and the front passenger of non belt usage.
A great deal of experience has gone into making the interior surfaces and materials more ‘occupant-friendly’. In particular, the front areas of the cabin near the knee and lower leg are well bolstered to help prevent occupant injury. The driver’s pedals are also designed to break away in a severe impact and the steering column is collapsible.
Passenger safety is the main reason why interior armrests and inner door handles are recessed. It is also one of the reasons why the 9-3 Convertible, in common with most other Saab cars, has a floor-mounted ignition switch, well away from sensitive knee and leg areas.