SAAB Reviews

Challenging the Norm: A Look Back at the 1991 Saab 9000 Turbo Sports Sedan

Saab 9000 Turbo: A Car Ahead of its Time

The Saab 9000 Turbo was introduced to the United States in 1985 and had landed on Car and Driver‘s 10 Best list four times. However, as the price increased without a significant increase in performance, the car lost its spot.

Saab has always been known for creating unique and innovative cars, and the 1991 Saab 9000 Turbo was no exception. American journalists who tested the car back then marveled at its interior packaging, impressive performance, and overall refinement. Even though the car had a few minor issues, it was still a car ahead of its time. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Saab 9000 Turbo and see why it was such a special car.

The Saab 9000 Turbo had a dear shot at regaining its misplaced glory with a 21-percent increase in power. The article, originally published in February 1991, by John Phillips, highlights the new Saab’s powerful engine, acceleration, and passing ability. It is interesting to see how American journalists described the Swedish big sedan at the time…

The Saab 9000 Turbo is a 3170-pound five-passenger sedan that is well built, accommodating, intelligent, and sexy. Dump the clutch at only 2700 rpm and the Saab’s front tires do a reasonable impersonation of Chernobyl. Back off a couple of hundred rpm and this car will drag you to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. That zero-to-60 time is quicker than any mass-produced five-passenger sedan, save the $60,000 BMW M5.

The Saab 9000 Turbo’s newly pumped-up pees are the upshot of more displacement (2.3 liters rather than last year’s 2.0 liters) and an increase in turbo boost (14.5 psi, as opposed to 10.9 pounds in the last Turbo they tested). The iron block is entirely new, greatly strengthened in the crankshaft area, and now equipped with counter-rotating balance shafts.

For 1991, this larger turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine produces 200 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 244 pound-feel of torque at an amazingly low 2000 rpm. That’s more torque than is produced by the V-8 in a Mercedes 420SEL. In day-to-day driving, what zings you most is not so much the Saab’s zero-to-60-mph prowess but rather its off-the-line capability and its 50-to-70-mph passing potential.


The Saab 9000 Turbo has a newly added “sport chassis,” available only on this model. The package includes spiffy 6.5-by-16-inch three-spoke alloy wheels, 50-series Z-rated Pirelli P700 rubber, a lower ride height (0.8 inch lower at the nose, 0.5 inch lower at the tail), firmer springs, and a thicker anti-roll bar (0.94 inch, up from 0.78 inch).

The Saab 9000 Turbo’s acceleration is like no other, and that’s what zings most drivers. The Saab 9000 Turbo’s power manifests shortly after you’ve let out the clutch in first gear, which, in this car, works out to about 1750 rpm. There’s no longer any need to slip the clutch to keep the revs and boost on the boil. In fact, there’s enough power here that, in the rain, you can spin the front tires through first, second, and third gears.

In the old Turbo, you could tap full boost as low as 3000 rpm. With no fancy footwork, you can now tap full boost as low as 2000 rpm. From there until the power peak of 5000 rpm, this engine pulls like the heartiest husky in the Iditarod. Saab 9000 Turbo: A Car Ahead of its Time, a side-to-side skittishness that is not alarming but does encourage you to keep both hands on the wheel.

Additional impressions

Interior and Packaging

The Saab 9000 Turbo was a car that excelled in interior packaging. It had acres of standard Bridge of Weir leather, and even the inner linings of the A-pillars were covered in a plush, velvety fabric. The car’s interior was so well-packaged that three adults could ride in the back seat comfortably, which was more than could be said for other luxury cars like the Lexus LS400 or the Infiniti Q45.

The rear seats could also be folded flat, giving the car 57 cubic feet of storage space, which was lined in silky black carpet. It was a car that was both spacious and practical, making it ideal for long-distance travel.

Performance

One of the most notable features of the Saab 9000 Turbo was its engine. It was one of the few luxury sedans on the market at the time that came with a four-cylinder engine, which was turbocharged and produced an impressive 200 horsepower.

This gave the car excellent acceleration and made it more than capable of cruising at high speeds on the highway. The car’s handling was also impressive, thanks to its front-wheel drive and smooth suspension system. The car was both smooth and visceral, refined, and very, very quick.

Ergonomics

While the Saab 9000 Turbo was an excellent car, it did have a few ergonomic flaws. The most notable of these was its obdurate automatic climate-control system, which had its own quirky agenda. It selected whatever blower speed it considered appropriate and was difficult to override.

The ten tiny ventilation and defroster buttons were also positioned to the right of the climate control system, requiring more squinting and scrutiny than was appropriate for a car capable of speeds more than twice the highest U.S. limit.

Market Perception

One of the biggest challenges the Saab 9000 Turbo faced was market perception. It was a luxury car with a Rodeo Drive price tag but came with a four-cylinder engine.

While it was quicker and roomier than other luxury sports sedans in its market niche like the Alfa Romeo 164S, the 1990 Audi 200, the BMW 525i, the Mercedes 190E 2.6, and the Sterling 827SLi, some felt that the car’s engine was not powerful enough to appeal to the luxury car crowd.

However, this was a car that worked very well and offered unique features like a five-door hatchback body and a folding rear seat that encouraged station wagon abuse.

Conclusion

The Saab 9000 Turbo was a car ahead of its time. It was a car that excelled in interior packaging, performance, and refinement. While it had a few ergonomic flaws and faced market perception challenges, it was still a car that worked very well and offered unique features that made it stand out from other luxury cars of its time. Today, the Saab 9000 Turbo is a classic car that is still appreciated by car enthusiasts who appreciate unique and innovative cars.

10 Comments

  • The 9000 was so far ahead of its time. It still does not look dated. Look at any car from Detroit or Asia designed in the eighties and they look really dated. The 9000 still does not.

  • A great car that was so underrated. I loved the ACC system. Type in the temp you want and forget about it. Always spot on. And the seats are the best in the business.

    • Despite the 9000 being obviously a great car back in the days and even now, its numbers are rapidly decreasing in Europe. Even in Sweden they are getting rare. How about the US?

  • Matters not to me the refinements.It was always the safety features in the frame,body, interior.
    The reason Chevy weiseled their way into Saab is their patents etc.The Saab team is still and was
    In my mind the ultimate next door engineer (neighbor) that was interested in you and your family being little ruffled after an accident,and smiling like a Cheshire cat.As far as I know, no other car company had people that cared and to save life and limbs
    BRAVO…

  • Yes. It was indeed 30 years ahead of what is the standard today: 4 cylinders, turbocharging and perhaps balance shafters. Just like the 944 Porsche.

  • I worked at a Saab dealership and we would refer to the 9000 as “Saabs best kept secret”. Great car. My last 9000 was a ’98 black aero 5 speed.

  • I had the 1991 model Bought it on my birthday in 1993 from Oxford Saab on Cumnor Hill and went straight up,with family to the Blackpool illuminations. Rocket ship !

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