Everyone in New England has a Saab story. Either you owned one, knew someone who owned one, or knew someone, who knew someone, who owned one. 900 Classics (’79-’93) filled the parking lot at my high school, hand me downs from parents and older siblings, that inexplicably hadn’t succumbed to a number of brutal Vermont winters. From an early age I had been taught that Saabs were more trouble than they were worth. Overpriced, unreliable, and expensive to maintain, that was my view of Saab for a long time. Eventually I was able to see the big picture, and realized that while all those things were true, there was another side to the oddball cars from Sweden.
The second generation of Saab 900s are known within the enthusaist community as NG 900s, and the one to have is the 900 Turbo. As was the case with the previous generation, the 900 NG Turbo got its power from a 16 valve, 2.0L four cylinder, though it was now mounted transversely instead of longitudinally. The motor made 182 hp, which would kick in around 2,400 rpm if I remember correctly, and would quickly taper off as you gained speed. These cars were much quicker than their naturally aspirated counterparts, but they were by no means fast. That’s a good thing too, because the NGs didn’t handle nearly as well as the Classics did. Body roll was far more pronounced, the flickable nature of the older cars was noticeably absent from the newer ones, but that didn’t stop them from being enjoyable to hoon around a snowy parking lot or dirt road. The kind of strange kind of fun that you can have with a 900 NG Turbo is as odd as Saab itself. It encourages you to be silly, to enjoy the simple pleasure of tearing around a corner sideways in a front wheel drive car, which as far as simple pleasures go, may very well be the simplest.
The interior of the 900 NG leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a combination of Swedish sensibilities and bits plucked from the GM parts bin, you can imagine how well that worked out. It’s not particularly well put together, I remember there being a lot of mystery noises that I couldn’t determine a place of origin for. Saab placed buttons in order of importance, but forgot that what’s important to one person, might not necessarily be important to another. If we were all perfect drivers then there would have been a method to their madness, but bless their hearts, the Swedes didn’t take into consideration the lack of skill the average American has behind the wheel.
Overall the interior feels foreign, like a midcentury modern home built on a budget. From the lack of cupholders, to the very upright driving position, to the doors, and dash that are just plain surfaces, the vibe is basic transportation all the way. A friend once told me, “Saab style is to not try to be stylish, and therefore they are stylish”. While that sounded like a load of b.s. at the time, now it makes a little more sense. Saab was just doing things the way they thought they ought to be done, with little consideration given to what customers actually wanted. For that reason their success was always with a niche group of people, and their best efforts remain completely underrated.
So, although they are not the most solidly built cars, nor the most comfortable, I still think the 900 NG Turbo is an underrated vehicle in 2015. Why? Because you can pick them up for an absolute bargain, that’s why. Even just 5 years ago there were still sellers out there clinging to the idea that because their car was “Born From Jets” it could command a premium. With the brand now defunct, and a limited part supply available, sellers have seen the writing on the wall. You can pick up a 900 Turbo for next to nothing, enjoy ever minute of driving it into the ground, and then move on to the next car. The only vehicles that I’ve ever driven that welcome abuse as much as a Saab, are from their uppity country mates in Gothenburg, and given the current success they’re enjoying, I’m not so sure there is such a thing as an underrated Volvo at the moment. If you’re looking for a winter beater, a car to run in 24 Hours of Lemons, or a vehicle for a newly licensed driver, a 900 NG Turbo is a great option. It’ll teach a new driver a multitude of life lessons, and they’ll come out the other side better for it. If you’ve never owned a car that might self implode at any moment, then you’ve never really lived, and few things will make you feel as alive as dumping the clutch on a gravel surface* in a turbocharged Saab.
*applicable to any surface where traction will vary.