Airflow Extras

Saab’s market slot, though concentrating on the executive luxury aspect, has been built up through the performance image of its turbocharged cars. That aspect is reinforced in a fairly restrained way with the 9000 Turbo 16, but the more extrovert customer should welcome the new Airflow option — not a new model, but an accessory package from which the customer makes his own selection.

Most marketing departments would launch this as a new and separate performance model, but Saab, noting that its accessories market is expanding considerably faster than its car sales — by 35% last year, has chosen to integrate engine-tuning and body-styling kits into a new range of accessories under the label “Designed by Saab”. Most makers try to capitalise on customer loyalties by offering trim and comfort “goodies” as after-market items to be added to the basic specification levels, but Saab outlines several reasons to offer these more basic choices through the dealer.

Customer preferences vary from country to country, so more than one specification would be needed if these were factory-fit items, and of course not every buyer will necessarily want the same combination of elements. Dealers also benefit since the profit margin on fitting the kits goes direct to them. As things stand, some 85-90% of Saab extras are ordered along with a new car and fitted by Saab’s dealers, so the new scheme should please dealers and buyers alike. Total package price including labour will run out somewhere around £5100.

Apart from the expected racks, mats and timber trim, the new performance kits centre around suspension, engine and aerodynamic changes, all of which the customer is recommended to purchase for maximum benefit. Stiffer springs and gas-filled dampers drop the car by 20mm at the front and 10rnm at the rear, and a front antiroll bar can be added. Tweaking the boost pressure and fitting a freer-flowing exhaust pushes the power (in UK non-catalyser spec) from 175 to 192 bhp, and the torque also jumps by 10 ft lb to 203, bringing the 0-60 time down to just over 8 sec.

But what distinguishes the car from outside is the Airflow fibreglass kit, consisting of deep spoiler, sills and arches, rear valance and the “bridge spoiler” on the boot, which collectively bring the drag below the standard car despite the wider 205/50 VR16 tyres. More important still is increased stability from a reduction in rear lift of 80%.

Although I have reservations about the normal Turbo 16’s ability to put down its 175 bhp on anything other than dry tarmac, Saab’s engineers deserve credit for giving the faster car a more rounded torque delivery which actually makes it better behaved. Mid-range surge is terrific, and the lag is minimal, with a good crisp gearchange which sweeps the Airflow 9000 past streams of slower traffic. Alloy wheels and Pirelli P7s keep the car firmly stuck down, and the ride is perfectly acceptable even by executive standards. Handling, too, matches well with the upper bracket of sports-saloons.

So far the styling kit only fits the hatch, but a CD saloon version will follow. Buying extra performance this way looks relatively expensive as options go, but in fact a complete factory model would very likely be as much; Saab’s after-market route with its advantages of simple administration and increased dealer profits may point the way for other makers too. GC