- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

I definitely have a bias toward Saab vehicles. I don't know whether it's the quirky design cues, or how the vehicles handle or feel, or just my own feelings going back to the early 1960s and my first ownership experience with a Saab.

My bias remains unchecked. Absolutely nothing about my recent experience behind the wheel of a 2001 9-3 Viggen convertible changed my mind or my feelings about these Swedish wonders from the charming town of Trollhatten even if this car was built in Finland.

The 9-3 convertible is filled with all those quirks I find endearing. Even the name Viggen is special. The car name comes from the Saab-Scania JA 37 Viggen jet fighter built for the Swedish air force, and like the plane, the automobile Viggen is geared for top performance.

The power for the Viggen comes from a high-output, turbocharged engine with 230 horses and an impressive 258 foot-pounds of torque. That's about 10 percent more horsepower than the high-output turbo engine on the 9-3 SE.

The performance-oriented Viggen convertible comes only with a five-speed manual that slides through the gears with the greatest of ease. The drivetrain in total is responsive and fun and rarely kicks up a fuss, although when pressed hard under certain conditions, it can get a little torquey, which is totally in character. Because of its 32-bit Trionic engine-management system, turbo lag seems practically nonexistent.

And if you don't want to make your tires spin, the Saab Traction Control System will automatically prevent the drive wheels from spinning if grip is lost. For those who like to hear tire squeal, the traction system can be deactivated while running slower than 40 mph.

Flogging the Viggen over mountain passes is an exercise in pleasure. The Viggen features an advanced sport suspension with limited body roll and just the right amount of stiffness to ensure terrific handling and a balanced ride with enough compliance to make it comfortable. Seventeen-inch tires and wheels add to the ride and the car's good looks.

On the inside, the Viggen convertible is thoroughly modern, with just a couple of quirky items that hold a touch of the past. My favorite is the ignition switch that still rests on the floor of the center console. Absolutely practical and nonconformist and it doesn't demand the arm of a contortionist to start the car.

The seating position is somewhat like being in a plane. You plant yourself in a nicely designed, firm, comfortable leather seat, and, like a cockpit, the Viggen's instruments seem to surround you. Everything is within easy reach, and the steering wheel has redundant radio controls so your fingers never have to wander too far from the job at hand.

The convertible top moves up and down with ease with the push of a button. In the down position, the top hides under a hard tonneau that keeps it dry while stowed.

The 9-3 Viggen convertible has every available safety item that has made Saab famous: active head restraints; front-seat head-and-torso side air bags; front dual air bags; four-wheel discs with anti-lock; On-Star telematics; energy-managed crumple zones; et al. The car also comes with leather, cruise, power this and that it has most of the things one would expect in a $46,470 (including destination charges) car.

Saabs are just different. Made for those who like to march to the beat of their own drummer. And once you own one, no matter how many other makes might make their way in and out of your driveway, you'll always shake your head yes when thinking about your Saab.

LOS ANGELES NEWSPAPER GROUP

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