High-tech Saab 9000 in the luxury class
MEASURED against the activity in the small and medium size car sectors in the past five years, the large-car class has been a fairly neglected area. Most of the running has come from Audi, the new 200 Turbo and Quattro models establishing a benchmark for high performance with comparable handling, but in the summer Saab took the wraps off the new 9000 model which we drove just prior to the Turin Show.
In most people’s minds the Swedish manufacturer concentrates on medium size cars built to a standard that comfortably exceeds mass-production averages, though the announcement last spring of the 16valve turbo engine gave a hint of things to come. That engine, rated at 175 bhp, really stretches the 900 model chassis which falls short of excellence in handling and refinement when asked to transmit so much power, so when we went to drive the new 9000 in Gerrnany there was no certainly that the car would live up to expectations. Any route designed by Eric Carlsson is going to reveal quite a lot about a new model. In a total of nearly 400 miles covered in a day it was possible to sustain 130 mph on autobaloten without breaking any laws, enjoy the fast sweeping main roads that characterise Germany, take a mo.tain route to test the chassis thoroughly, and best of all, drive around the proper Nurburgring. At the end of the day we had no doubts at all that Saab has arrived
in the large car class with a model deserving the highest praise as regards comfort, space, high performance and superb handling.
In Europe we have only a hazy idea what a large car is . . . Jaguars and Mercedes are large, but why would the Saab 9000 be a large car when the Audi 200 is not? The Americans have a formula for measuring the interior volume, measured as the EPA Index, and anything over 120 cubic feet is officially a large car. The Saab 9000 turns out to be the leader here with a EPA index of 121.8 while the Audi 200 Turbo, though larger in most vital statistics, has an index of 114. The Renault 25, too, is greater in length, width and wheelbase but isn’t sold in the States, so it doesn’t have an EPA rating. The Saab, we are assured, is larger inside.
The American market is a vital one for Saab, which is in the process of increasing its manufacturing capacity by 50 per cent, to 150,000 per annum by 1988. This year Saab will sell more cars in the States than in their home market, and the Americans have given the 9000 a thumbs-up reception on the basis of test drives, and reputation. Since the oil crisis, and sub-sequent downsizing of their products, the Americans have moved much closer to the Europeans and the Japanese so that a model doesn’t have to incorporate acres of chrome-plating in order to succeed over there. Today, in fact, what’s good in Europe is good in America too, so the era of the truly world car has finally arrived.
Saab would like to think of its new 9000 as a world car with high potential in all the world markets. It has taken a full ten years from conception to production, and there has been a lot of talk of cooperation with Lancia on the Type 4 platform. Maybe it would be a mistake to draw too many comparisons since few of the pressings are identical and all the vital statistics are different: obviously, the Saab is a five-door hatchback while the Thema is a notchback saloon, longer but 0.3 in narrower and 0.5 in less in the wheelbase. What is certain is that Saab has exchanged its experience in thorough corrosion protection for Lancia’s experience of transverse engine installation. The development cost of around £200 million is fairly low, say Saab, halved or thereabouts as a result of the Italian connection.
The Saab 9000 will reach the British market around May 1985 at a projected price of about C16,000 depending on the level of equipment (in particular, the new air conditioning system developed jointly by Saab and Bosch is outstandingly good, and is likely to be demanded by many customers). Initially the only version will be the manual, using Saab’s brand-new five-speed gearbox, but in the autumn a new version using the ZF 4-speed automatic with a torque converter lockup will be offered. At around the same time ABS anti-skid braking will become available too, but the one thing Saab’s engineers will not comment on is their work tIn anti-skid acceleration. Four-wheel drive has be&I ruled out with the definitive statement “four-wheel drive, as it exists today, is too expensive and has no future”. So while Audi reel from that comment, Saab will get on with an advanced limited slip differential system. The engine is mounted on three hydraulic dampers, sloping 20 degrees forward to lie ahead of the axle line, and in this respect alone it is significantly better than the 900 turbo 16 which can be a little snatchy when driven roughly, and transmits some unwanted noise and vibration. The 9000 is notably refined, and the 2-litre engine is one of the smoothest we have come across at that capacity. The addition of the twin-cam. 16
valve head, the Garrett T3 turbocharger with an intercooler, and Bosch LJ-Jetronic electronically controlled injection have done nothing to impair the smoothness, and the 175 bhp punch of this unit could easily lead the driver to believe that a 3-litre sixcylinder lies under the bonnet.
Many manufacturers will claim five-seat capacity for their cars, which is often true at a pinch, but the Saab 9000 falls naturally into that category. The design started out on the premise that rear legroom had to match that in the front even with the driver’s seat pushed back as far as it would go. The seats are plushly bound in leather, the front ones heated automatically, and the interior generally has an opulent and spaceous appearance and feel. The instruments were designed in co-operation with Saab’s aircraft division, with illuminated orange needles sweeping around black dials with green figuring. They look nice in the daytime, and couldn’t be more clear at night. The Swedes have, thankfully, avoided the gimmicky digital and bar-graph instruments which other manufacturers feel they have to foist on a not very willing public.
At very high speeds the Saab 9000 is relaxing and extremely stable. There was no wind blowing, but passing trucks didn’t make the car flinch one inch and this was one of the priorities for the engineers. It felt like a car you’d choose instinctively for a very long journey, geared at a fraction short of 25 mph / 1,000 rpm in fifth; though bigger than the 900 the 9000 is no heavier, but has a better drag coefficient of 0.34 which is reflected in a fad consumption that’s around 10 per cent better.
The Nurburgring, by which we mean the 22 kilometre track which members of the public can still enjoy, remains daunting even if you use it as a fast road, and you appreciate all the more the skills of racing drivers who got around it in less than eight minutes. The unexpected often follows the unexpected, as black lines riding over the kerbs and into the armco prove, but the Saab 9000 refused to be ruffled in what we’d like to think of as a quick but sensible lap. The handling is surprisingly neutral and the low roll centre all but eliminates body roll, so while some performance cars would be pushed into revealing their weaknesses, the Saab showed none. Well, the brakes felt a bit grainy after several hard applications, but they recovered as soon as we returned to normal roads.
In the next couple of years the large luxury car market ;and we’ll think of the Audi 200 as a large car, even if the Americans don’t!) is going to take on a new lease of life with that and the Saab 9000 joined by the Renault 25 V6 Turbo, the Lancia Thema V6 and 4-cylinder turbo, the forthcoming Mercedes W124 and, eventually, the new Jaguar XJ40. Executives with upwards of £14,000 to spend are going to be spoiled for choice, lucky people. — M. L.C.
BMW Extends 5 Series Range
BMW HAS reinforced its .5 Series” range with the addition of two new variants. At the bottom end the carburettered 518 is replaced by 518i using the L-Jetronic injection system which increases the power from 90 bhp to 105 bhp with a corresponding improvement in performance. 0-62.4 mph now takes a claimed 12.6 sec against 14 sec for the old car, and top speed has been improved from 102 mph to 109 mph. Detail attention to aerodynamics has reduced the drag coefficient to 0.37 which makes a contribution both to the car’s performance and to a small improvement in economy. In addition, the driver now has an adjustable steering column and a seat which adjusts for height and angle. Prices will begin at £8,970 when it comes on the UK market next January.
At the other end of the range comes the new M535i. BMW introduced the “M” motif two years ago to symbolise its connections with motorsport. So, “M Power” stands for the racing engines and .M Style” for sportswear. Apparently the Germans, a people not unknown for a respect of status, have taken this symbol to their hearts and putting an “M” badge on an existing car has become the latest “demon tweak”. Driving across Germany to test the car, I certainly saw at least one example of this. The engine in the M535i, is not however the same as in the M635 Coupe (see the March issue of MOTOR SPORT), which uses the 24-valve head first seen in the M1 Coupe. Against the 285 bhp of the M635, the M535i has just 218 bhp but this is more than adequate. Incidentally, the BMW people vvould not conunit themselves too far, but it seems likely that “M” models will
appear in the 3 and 7 series ranges in the future.
Along with the more powerful engine go special sports seats at the front, wide tyres on alloy rims, the ABS (anti-brake locking system) as standard and differently tuned suspension with gas-filled dampers. Prices will start at £17,950 and for this one may opt for one of two five speed manual gearboxes, a long ratio standard box or a close ratio Getrag, or a four-speed automatic gearbox. BMW claims a top speed of 143 mph but the car I drove (with a Getrag box) reached the rev limiter in fifth on an autobahn equating to 147 mph. Colleagues who drove examples with the long ratio box reported that maximum speed came in fourth with fifth gear being basically an overdrive. It was not possible to accurately test BMW’s claim of 0-62.5 mph in 7.2 sec but I would not dispute it, though I wonder if the same time could be achieved with the long ratio box. The Getrag on “my” car felt very notchy but I think this was the individual characteristic of a relatively new unit.
As you would expect of a BMW, comfort left nothing to be desired and the seats gave excellent support even when driving fast over Alpine roads. The interior is, again, excellently laid out and one wants for nothing in terms of controls and information but the matt black finish does not really speak of a car in its price bracket. The scats in mine were of black leather but looking at them, they could equally well have been of vinyl, they did not suggest that they were an option costing the best part of another £1,000. This is odd considering the prestige placed on the “M” logo. In motion, the manners of the car are impeccable. The (power aisisted) steering is
light and it feeds the information to the driver. The whole car feels taut and forgiving, seeming to corner on rails. Applying the brakes firmly from 140+ mph provided less drama than braking from half that speed in an average car. It says much for the car, too, that ordinary conversation can continue at its maximum speed, for wind and road noise are very low indeed. The car will flatter an average driver and give deep satisfaction to a skilled one.
The styling of the car is undeniably staid but discretion is no bad thing when driving a car of its performance on roads with a speed restriction. All in all, it’s a beautifully engineered package which will be available on the British market in January. BMW hope to sell 500 examples in the UK next year, a 10th of the total production. These figures seem high enough to peg the price, yet low enough for the car to remain relatively exclusive which is, after all, part of the thinking behind the “M” motif. — M.L.
THEMA is vital to Lancia’s recovery in Britain; that much is frankly admitted by John Turner, of Lancar, the recentlyformed British distributor. So it is no surprise that the recent launch of this three-box Itomry car stressed very strongly the corrosion protection and the build quality of the Thema. And the latter at least is very obvious as soon as one sits inside. Even the two lesser models (100 bhp turbo-diesel and 120 bhp twin-cam injection) have a lwturious feel, with a wraparound dash containing clear and logical controls and instruments. The two top versions boast a V6 (a revised PRV unit) with 150 bhp, or a turbo version of the 2litre twin-cam which peaks at 165 bhp, with an extensive option list including several types of upholstery, electric seat adjustment, automatic heating system with or without air conditioning, self-levelling rear
Chevrolet’s Indy Project
AS PART of a move to re-establish an individual identity for Chevrolet within the General Motors Corporation, a joint venture between the American firm and a small British engineering concern has been created with the intention of developing a new Indy / CART engine. The 2.6-litre twin-ohc turbo V8 will be built up with Chevrolet technical help at Ilmor Engineering of Brixworth, and testing will take place both here and in America, where the Penske team have exclusive use of it during the development programme. Thereafter the engine will be sold to Indy I CART teams, with a good result at Indianapolis in 1986 being the aim. Although this project will be in addition to support for the existing push-rod V8 and turbo V6 units, Chevrolet maintain that their corporate policy is “we’re not in racing”.
suspension, and anti-skid brake system. The ABS, though slightly rough in action compared to the Audi system, acquitted itself well on a wet test track, allowing emergency manoeuvres even under heavy braking, and the power steering (standard on all but the 2-litre) provides a good compromise between effort and feed-back. Road-holding is secure, a small degree of understeer stabilising the car against the surprisingly high g-forces which are possible, but the ride is particularly impressive, remaining smooth and quiet across motorway and city road-works alike. Surprisingly, the 2-litre Turbo is the fastest, Lancia quoting 7.2 sec 0-62 mph compared to the V6 which takes a full second longer. The intention seems to be to separate the “sporty” Turbo image from the more relaxed six-cylinder, but as the Turbo has more torque, and lower in the rev range to boot, this distinction seems doubtful. Peak torque is 182 lb ft at 2,500
ONLY mull badges donngut, ,th version of Laura’s Thera from another.
rpm, but a novel “overboostsystem closes the wastegate under full throttle, increasing boost pressure, and therefore torque, up to 203 lb ft for brief overtaking sprints.
Two counter-rotating balance shafts make this a very smooth unit, while the use of an intake intercooler and a knock-sensor system allow a relatively high cr of 8:1, reducing the jump between the onand off-turbo states,and making it a responsive and eager performer. Surprise of the range is the turbo-diesel, the first such Lancia saloon, which claims to be the fastest diesel saloon in the world at 115 mph, but which is unlikely to be included in the British line-up, at least until the petrel Themas establish themselves. Lancar’s guess at prices says £12,000 for the 2000 e.i., up to £14,000 for an all options Turbo. — G.C.