Saab's 900 Turbo: road control is tight and specific

The Saab 900 Turbo has been around since 1976, but that doesn't mean the car has remained static. A little more than a year ago the car got a significant boost, not in power but in the engine's ability to use just about any kind of fuel around - poor quality, super-octane, or anything in between.

The APC system, or Automatic Performance Control, adjusts the fuel system to avoid engine pre-ignition, or ping.

Not long ago Saab-Scania AB unveiled its third-generation turbo at the Brussels Motor Show in Belgium. The Saab Turbo 16-valve Aero has a sportier look and sharply improved aerodynamics, resulting in a 5 percent lower coefficient of drag (Cd) and much better stability at high speed.

Beneath the hood is the most powerful Saab production engine to date. Now being sold in Europe, the Aero has a 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine and is said to be 10 percent more fuel-efficient than the current Saab turbo now being marketed in the United States.

The new-generation turbo will reach the US in 1985, according to Robert J. Sinclair, president of Saab-Scania of America, based in Orange, Conn. But till the Saab l6 Aero hits the US, we're more than content with a crisp-handling '84 -model Saab Turbo.

It is this kind of product philosophy that propelled Saab into a 42 percent rise in US sales in 1983 compared to 1982.

Saab has always run with front-wheel drive, while Volvo, Sweden's largest carmaker, sticks to rear drive.

Until comparatively recent years, no one could confuse the Saab automobile with a thing of beauty. ''It looked like a tank,'' one early Saab buyer recalls. ''But you knew what you were buying, and it was cheap.''

To some eyes today it still isn't a very beautiful car, but to others it is the epitome of function and style.

One point is sure, the Swedish Saab does its job well, and it does it with a bit of dash and flair. Actually, the car feels good, road control is tight and specific, and there is no need to guess about what'll happen next. In short, the manners of a Saab are predictable and precise.

Actually, the Saab Turbo has become a pricey item with a window sticker of $ 17,400, plus options. With leather seats, electric sunroof, cruise control, and fog lights, plus a delivery charge of $276, the test vehicle hits the price scale at $19,591.

Equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission, the 2-liter Saab APC turbo carries an Environmental Protection Agency city-mileage figure of 21, but on the highway the economy needle goes up fast. It won't compete with some of the high-mileage performers on fuel use, but it should range from the mid to upper 20s under steady-state cruising on the Interstate.

Even though shifting in some of the lower gears, I found, was notchy, it did not detract from the pleasure of driving the car.

In short, it's a fun car to drive, no matter where the road takes you.

The Saab 900 Turbos go out the door as fast as they move onto the dealer's back lot. If the dealers could get more cars, they'd sell them - a lot more of them, say the people at Saab.

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