1986-1992 Saab 9000 Turbo
When Saab debuted the 9000 in 1986, it raised some eyebrows. It's not often that a car garners attention because of its normalcy; but such is the case when a noted oddball carmaker like Saab introduces a car so seemingly bone-stock conventional as the 9000.
Saab had always been known for cars with profiles that could best be described as quirky. From the early 92 and 95, to the swoopy Sonnetts, to the swollen and hunchbacked 99 and 900, Saabs looked different than normal cars and were seemingly proud of that fact. By contrast, the 9000 was clean and attractive but otherwise unremarkable by the standards of 1986. The aero headlights and the smoothly contoured sides were handsome and aerodynamic, but reminiscent of the ground-breaking Audi 5000 and Ford Taurus. Without the Saab grille and insignia, it would be difficult to identify the 9000 as a Saab--while the 900, on the other hand, showed its Saab heritage clearly and proudly. Only the five-door hatchback bodystyle betrayed Saab's quirky tendencies.
In another break from non-conformity, the 9000's platform was the result of a joint development effort with three other European carmakers. The 9000's chassis and, in some cases, body panels, were shared with the Alfa Romeo 164, Lancia Thema, and Fiat Croma. Sharing a platform with the likes of Alfa and Lancia doesn't exactly raise the spectre of awful and irrelevant clones like the Cadillac Cimmaron or Mercury Bobcat, but its conventionality was a bit worrying for this slavish Saab-ite. Had Saab sold out and built a bland every-car?
In a word, no. For those who looked beneath the anonymous exterior, the 9000 had Saab flavor baked deep into its very essence. Strangeness aside, Saab had built its reputation on cars that married dependability, amazing utility, and the traction of front-wheel drive. To that utilitarian base, the 99 and 900 Turbo added the sheen of a performance reputation. In the mid-1980s, Saabs were known for being supremely useful and rugged cars that, with turbocharging, were also all-world European sports sedans. The 9000 proudly upheld that Saab tradition and served as a worthy stablemate to the classically quirky 900.
The 9000 Turbo debuted in the United States as a five-door hatchback only; the four-door sedan appeared a few years later when Saab inevitably bowed to the American market's unexplainable hatred for hatchbacks. That hatchback bodystyle meant the 9000, especially with the back seats folded, could swallow an eye-popping volume of gear--enough to rival a station wagon or small SUV.
The 9000 also acquitted itself quite well as a performance car. The 1986 Saab 9000 Turbo could run the 0-60 sprint in the mid 6-second range and top out around 140 mph, which was startlingly performance for it time. The 9000 Turbo could run with and past the Porsche 944, the Toyota Supra Turbo, the Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z, the buzz-bomb Shelby Omni GLH-S, the Mazda RX-7, the Ferrari 328 GTS, or the Porsche 928. Unlike those cars, the 9000 Turbo also offered a complete package of passenger capacity, luxury-car comfort, sure-footed all-weather traction, and sophisticated flair. Significantly, the 9000 Turbo could outrun my 240-horsepower 2003 Honda Accord, which has the benefit of two extra cylinders and 17 years of computerized technology.
Taking into account its cavernous cargo space and high performance, this was a large sedan that could haul in both senses of the term--like a Dodge Colt Vista with a JATO booster attached. The second-generation 9000 Turbo, especially in Aero trim, continued the tradition, but that is a post for another day. Is it truly quirky enough to be a Saab? I can't pretend to answer that question, but as a low-profile, high-speed, highly useful luxury cruiser, the 9000 Turbo is a long-time favorite of mine, conventionality be damned.
The video below is a compelling tribute to Saab's mid-1980s bravura, back when sales were strong, and when the company was still independent and proud of it--a highly impressive demonstration of precision driving in 9000s set to stirring classical music. If you're interested in a funny 9000 commercial of the time, click here--but beware, I'm not embedding it here because it features foreign language and nude male buttocks.