Saab turbo performs on all roads

It's the latest thing to come down the pike from Saab.

More than half of all the cars being sold in the United States by Saab, biggest export market for the firm, are turbocharged.

Remember, these are turbocharged gasoline-engine cars, not diesels.

By using sensors and automatically making adjustments, the unique automatic performance control (APC) turbo system solves the knock problem and compensates for the variation in octane and fuel quality around the world.

A car exporter also has to meet the varying requirements for motor-vehicle emissions control. The APC system allows the engine to meet the varying requirements without fuss.

Because of a significant increase in the compression ratio with APC, performance is higher at all speeds, as is the fuel economy of the car -- around 30 miles per gallon, on average, for a mix of driving conditions.

The system also increases the low-end performance of the car. With a non-APC turbo, there is often a delay until the engine picks up speed. The APC system gives an almost immediate response to a press on the gas pedal. Simply put, the performance is exhilarating, but not unsafe.

The fuel system is Bosch K-Jetronic injection, while the engine block is cast iron with an aluminum head. Wheel base is a sliver under 100 inches. Vehicle weight is 2,822 pounds.

The Saab Turbo APC itself is a versatile machine, far from the austere cars built in Sweden some years ago. Indeed, the Turbo APC is ''luxury awheel,'' with velour-upholstered seats and a pleasing decor. The car can quickly be turned into a ''station wagon'' by pulling the rear seat flat and flipping down the back. The 14-cubic-foot trunk expands to 53 cubic feet in a flash.

As for driving the Turbo APC, the extremely comfortable seats make long-distance travel a snap.

An obstacle, perhaps: the $17,000-plus price tag on the car. A basic non-APC Saab starts at under $11,000. That's quite a price span from the early ''two-stroker'' Saabs in which the oil was mixed with the fuel and the price was under $2,000.

While more an annoyance than an obstacle, I suppose, the ignition switch is still on the floor. To remove the key, the five-speed manual transmission has to be put in reverse - a nuisance.

Even so, the car is a dream to drive, with a firm ride and a performance that is predictable with every move.

While the first Saab was launched in 1950, it was 1957 before the first car arrived in the US. Over the intervening years the company has had its car problems.

Perhaps the new 900 Turbo APC will help to repair some of the damage.

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