By on November 30, 2010

Peter writes:

I have been twice plagued from owning a Saab. My current ride is a 2009 Rav 4 and the Wife’s Corolla S from 2004. Lately I’ve been missing, horribly missing, my old Saabs. It’s something about the change in the weather that has reminded me of how much I adored these cars when they weren’t in the shop. The 2.0 turbo, and the 2.3 Viggen turbo paired with those awesome seats and perfect climate control was just wonderful. I’m looking for a replacement to my wife’s Corolla, and she wants it to be our fun car. I’d like to keep the price under 20K. The car must be reliable. I want it to have some of the same soul as the two 9-3’s I used to have, but probably not a Saab (it must be reliable). Does anything like this exist without becoming an honorary Jersey Shore cast member?

Steve Answers:

No. Nothing else drives like a Saab…

On the other hand there’s a reason why Saab and Yugo are the last four letter words of automotive brands. They are known for being serious beasts of burden. However I also have a soft spot for Saab. Would I throw $20k at it? Nope. Maybe $2k if you got me drunk enough. But seriously… unless your wife is a hardcore Saab enthusiast you may be throwing your money away.

I would sit down with the wife. Look at her intently… and say…”I could either give you 5 trips to Vegas, 5 trips to Disney, 5 trips to New York City, and 3 Cruises. Or I can buy you a 2008 Saab 9-3 Sportcombi wagon.”

Given that she drives a Corolla, I have absolutely no doubt you guys will soon find yourselves loaded with frequent flyer miles. Keep ol’ reliable in her capable hands and remember that if you don’t like Disney, there’s always Honolulu.

Sajeev Answers:

Oh goodness, another displaced Saab junkie. Only difference between you and my friend Hillary is that her Corolla “S” was an insurance rental, a holdover between her first 9-3 droptop and her current 9-3 Vector: a delightful $6500 investment that blew the boombox and threw warning lights aplenty shortly after purchasing. And with the nickname of Vectra (get it?) it’s a lovely car that proves the Saab depreciation schedule exists for a reason. I will grudgingly admit that I adore “Vectra,” even if I fought its owner at every step of the purchase process.

But I digress. My time between Saabs and the Corolla “S” made one thing clear: there’s a happy middle ground. Whose name is the Mazda3, 5-door hatchback, in new or slightly used form. Over 160hp from the bigger motor, 6 speeds, and you can finally ditch the Corolla’s lame-o solid rear axle. I know it lacks Saab’s subtle (yet condescending) combination of excellent fit and finish with crappy component quality, but this Mazda is still a looker with a tight suspension. Plus, the Speed3’s turbo mill is available, with enough proper Swedish turbo torque steer to fill an IKEA shopping cart, and then some.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to [email protected], and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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62 Comments on “New or Used: The Last Four Letter Word in Automotive Brands...”

  • avatar

    Subaru WRX… unfortunately you’re trying to stay under 20K, and buying a used one strikes me as a bad idea.

  • avatar

    I have a friend who is a total Saab fan (well, he is Swedish) after only owning two, and I must say I can’t think of any real problem he has had with those cars. His first was a 1985 9000, and after a short period of VAG-confusedness (VAG actually spells out the Norwegian word for ‘vague’ ) he got back into a ’98 Saab 9-5 SE. It’s an automatic so it drinks like gas was plentiful and cheap and it’s nowhere as fast as his 85 9000, but it understeers like only a Saab can, and has seats only a swede could build (lovely) The completely lag-free torque is also kinda great for those who rather wish they had a V6. Guess I just accept that some people love them for their quirks , and I don’t, but I never heard about any huge reliability issues with them over here.

  • avatar

    Peter – don’t listen to these jabronies.  Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.  You’re a Saab guy.  Buy an ’06 9-5 with a 5 speed stick for about $13K, put a spare DI cassette in the trunk, put $3K aside for repairs, buy a viking helmet on ebay for $50, bank the rest.  The rush of 250 turbo’d horses will beat the nanny panties off a Mazda3 any day.

    • 0 avatar

      This post is precisely why I love reading the comments from our B&B.  That was awesome.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the spare DI cassette, plus one of those Easy Cheeze-style pressurized cans of dielectric grease.  Never left home without ’em while under the Swedish spell.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah good – I’m glad someone else is suggesting this, because that’s exactly my plan for the new year.  Actually I’m looking for a 2004-05 Aero for about $11k, as pre-2004s have sludge woes and 06+’s have cheapened interiors and ugly noses.  But as I do a lot of New England highway driving, and can’t afford to blow $40k on a decently sporty leather-lined German or Japanese car, a used Saab and a train ticket for when it’s in the shop sound much more appetizing than a lightly used cloth-lined penalty box with a big engine.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought an 04 9-5 wagon after an exhaustive search. I learned a lot about that sludging issue that is a problem for all 2.3 litre Saabs from 1998 when they lightened components. It ruins all the seals. To love about the car: spacious, comfortable, well-built and well-equipped. Also, not bad looking. Not so great: its handling is pretty flat/understeery, fuel mileage isn’t what you would expect, and the 2.3 is very unrefined compared to a Toyota mill. It’s not slow but it’s not a starship. And there are some irritating facts that make maintenance a chore, like the car needs to be hoisted to get at the air filter, and the timing chain cover can’t be removed with the engine in. I like my wagon but if it had not come with 6 months extended warranty and transparent history, it would have been a nightmare.

      And the manual aero is not necessarily the one to have. Oh it’s fast! God is it fast in the mid-range. But the 5 speed has a poor action and the chassis tuning and general bulk of the car make real sporty driving impossible. Plus Aero owners/lessees aren’t very careful. The 9-5 is a cruise missile at best, and the 5 speed auto suits it. I have had some time in a Mazda3 and would say you probably sacrifice more in comfort than you gain in sportiness and fuel economy, and depending on how you use your car that might not be a problem.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve bought so much damn dielectric grease the guys at advance auto are a bit afraid of me….

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      As the owner of an ’02 9-5 aero wagon (from new, now with 80K miles), let me comment:  having test-driven both, I agree that the 5-speed auto is a more felicitous mate for the engine.  It won’t upset your grandmother in “normal mode” and it bang of snappy shifts at redline in “sport mode.”  That said, my tranny has done some weird things, which, for the time being were remedied by a fluid flush.  My favorite indy mechanic (and reputedly the best in DC Metro), say the only thing left in his bag of trick is a new one.  I assume a new clutch is cheaper than a new autobox . . . so factor that in your thinking.  The 9-5 is wicked fast between about 40 and 80; just remember when the boost comes on, you will be moving into the left lane, whether you planned to or not.
      Both main bearing seals are leaking, but not much.  Motor mounts have been replaced, also alternator; and the power steering has a mild leak.  The engine does not say “luxury car” when it speaks, which is often.
      However, the car gets a righteous 31 mpg on the freeway at 65-70 mph with a moderate load and the a/c running.
      Like any FWD car, if you get on the throttle in the corner you will run wide.  However, cornering with neutral acceleration does not exhibit much understeer.
      For me, at least, the seats were not as comfortable as they looked when I drove the car for hours on end.  I can’t figure out why, except that, because of my height (6′ 4″), I have to lower it to the floor to achieve sufficient headroom.

  • avatar
    Charles T

    Is there a single fun Saab that’s not an inevitable money pit? I test-drove a 1997 9000 Aero the last time I was shopping for cars, but the 186,000 miles on it sent me running. On the flip side, the turbo boost and excellent balance between comfort and handling were great, and the Starfleet shuttle styling was strangely appealing. I find myself casting sideways glances at 9-3 Viggens and 9-5 Aeros, but can’t bring myself to commit to one as a daily driver over my current MR2 Spyder. No shortage of used Saabs in the Boston area either.

    • 0 avatar

      186,000 miles is nothing, My friends 9000 had well over 200,000 miles on it and he sold it on (after giving up on all the rust …) Only problem was the ignition bit, and thet the trubo started lagging, and doing all kinds of silly things when he built a custom exhaust and put a cone filter on it. After restoring it to stock it worked fine again.

  • avatar

    I think if Peter is able to still appreciate his time with Saab despite the trouble he has had, then he has the Euro car bug and doubt a Mazda 3 will do even though it is a great car.  My suggestion (again) buy a well cared for E46 BMW 3 series with stick, save the extra 8-10k for Disney world and underwrite your own maintenance plan.  Ours has been dead reliable with just under 90k.
    next up:  The German car haters

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Unfortunately a used Mazdaspeed 3 would probably be in the same boat as the WRX mentioned above. Used under $20K, but not sure I’d want a used one.

  • avatar

    Get a Saab that isn’t a Saab, namely a 9-2x, which is just a Subaru WRX with a really good nose job and more reliable innards than a purebred Saab.

    Alternate Pick:  (my preference) an Audi A3. I love these little cars and can’t say enough good things about them. My wife’s had been a metric crapload of fun for 5 years and has otherwise been dead reliable.

  • avatar

    It prolly doesn’t matter much to this discussion, but my stock ’09 Mazda 3 “s” hatchback has been the most unreliable piece of shit vehicle that I have ever owned.  I’ve had it in for repairs three times in the last six months (most recent one required a tow).   No crashes, no hoonery – just basic mechanical failure of various components after a whopping 15,000 miles driven so far.
    It makes me miss the comparative reliability of my old rusted-out ’89 Buick Electra.  Caveat Emptor, sir.

  • avatar

    Peter’s e-mail highlights the key issue for Toyota-haters.  These cars have no soul.  What he is lamenting is the appliance experience the Toyota offers, especially when compared to a quirky car like a Saab.

    To answer the questions of fun to drive and reliable in the under $20K category:

    1)  Pontiac Grand Prix GTP or GXP 2006, 2007 or 2008 – flame away – the GTP version is bulletproof, mechanically simple, very reliable and you can buy them for next to nothing – close to 30 MPG highway if you play nice on the GTP version, 18 city.
    2)  Not sure if you need a “car” or just want a fun toy by MX5, Saturn SKY Redline or Pontiac Solstice GXP, all can be found in newer model years in the $20K range
    3)  Mazdz RX-8.  Where’s the torque?  Where’s the gas mileage?  Still an absolute blast to drive.
    4)  V6 Honda Accord Coupe with manual – enough said
    5)  Lease return Hyundai Genesis 3.8 – figure you could find one for $20K
    6)  Subaru WRX if you can get past the boy racer looks
    7)  New Scion tC – I’m not a fan, but its a Toyota at is soul, a stripper model is nice, and under $20K – getting pretty good reviews
    8)  Cadillac CTS with the 3.6 VVT specifically (early V models are under $20K but love to destroy their differentials).
    9)  Probably too Jersey Shore for you but Pontiac GTO with the LS2 engine
    10) Ford Mustang GT, with the 2011 being here recently gently used versions can be had in your price range.  Fox forever!!!  Live axle!  Live axle!  Live axle!

    I know, no Euro models on the list – you did say reliable (let the Audi and VW masses rage at that statement).

    All sorts of fun choices to drive from all different makes and models – especially at your price point of $20K.  The only new car I see that fits the bill is the tC, if you’re willing to stretch for $2K to $3K more you could get a base Mustang, a base Camaro, or a Hyundai Genesis 2.0T new.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      3)  Mazdz RX-8.  Where’s the torque?  Where’s the gas mileage?  Still an absolute blast to drive
      You know, I’m going to go out on a limb and support that one.  One of Fargo’s most flattering reviews was of a Mazda RX-8
      Yeah the mileage sucks, yeah it burns oil, but when you’ve got the hammer down trying to find the limits of adhesion and not finding them till you’re scared crapless, I say go for it.  Any other car that drives that good is going to be twice as fragile.  (Just ask Baruth about Porsches.)  Check CarMax, they’ve got RX-8s at prices that will give you $5,000 in your budget left over.
      BTW B&B I still haven’t bought a car since my own “New or Used” question but I’m seriously thinking about a used RX-8.  It’s my last chance to be insane before I get married again and have a 1/2 dozen kids.  I can always buy a luxury barge after the kids come.

    • 0 avatar

      They are fantastic cars and give you a great excuse to do track days, but as a daily driver, they are grating, unless you have long stretches of empty roadway between your home and work.  I have an ’06, which is paid-for, and can’t bring myself to sell it for the $12,000 I might get for it.  Luckily I don’t have to drive it every day.

    • 0 avatar

      I guess I am confused with all the torque stuff.
      There is a recent copy of CR’s Best and Worst next to my toilet, for obvious reasons, and it shows some strange numbers.
      I see the zero to sixty numbers for cars and I am surprised at some.
      The Mazda3 S s rated 8.3.
      The RX8 6.7.
      Speed3 6.4.

      ES 350 6.4
      Altima V6 6.5.
      Mazda6 S 6.8.

      Now, am I going mad?
      OK, Scratch that, but doesn’t something seem awfully wrong?
      If this is even close, WHY all the talk of the RX8 having no get up?
      Never drove one, so I have no experience.

    • 0 avatar

      Most people that complain about the RX-8 not being fast enough don’t realize you’re not supposed to shift it until it beeps.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the RX8.  I had an ’04, regret selling it, and am considering getting another.  The lack of torque can make it a bit boring in traffic, but once free, wind it up to 9000rpm and it’s music to ones ears.

    • 0 avatar


      I guess that’s my question.
      Looking at the cars I show their times.
      So the RX8 seems fast.
      I have always stayed away hearing it was slow.
      The 0 to 60 of 6.7 ain’t bad!

    • 0 avatar

      0-60 times don’t tell the whole story though.  Being RWD helps the RX-8 out immensily from a standing start and that’s why you get respectable 0-60 times.  However, from a roll the difference in mid-range torque vs a car like a Mazda Speed 3 or even any of the modern V6 family sedans is much more noticable.  You’ll get walked everytime.  However, you definitely don’t buy an RX-8 for straight-line performance!  The curves is where this car shines.  Take an off ramp at 9/10 and watch any of those family sedans and hot hatches try and keep up. 

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, lack of torque doesn’t equal slow, it wasn’t what I meant.  If an engine lacks torque you need horsepower and to wind it up to compensate for the lack of torque.  The RX-8 and S2000 are two great examples of cars that bow at the altar of horsepower.
      In contrast the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP I recommended on the same list bows at the altar of torque.  With 3.8 liters of displacement the 260HP horsepower output, even with a supercharger is very light; there are 3.8 liter engines that produce 300+ HP a plenty without the benefit of a supercharger.  But if memory serves me torque is 285 or 295 pound feet.  That’s all low end grunt, and where the Grand Prix GTP gets gaspy as you break over 5,000 RPM (you’re in the horsepower band) the RX-8 and its horsepower oriented answer to acceleration is just getting started.  They are both about the same 0 to 60 (6.7 seconds for the RX-8 and I believe 6.8 seconds for the GTP) but one uses torque to motivate it along the line, the other uses horsepower.
      If I bought an RX-8, I would never buy an automatic.  That engine needs to be wound up to get the most fun, and a manual serves that best.

  • avatar

    “On the other hand there’s a reason why Saab and Yugo are the last four letter words of automotive brands.”
    I’m sure there are even more.

  • avatar

    Crazy lease deals (in a good way) on ’11 Mazdaspeed3s these days:  $228/month/36-mo with $3000 out of pocket at signing.  That’s a lot of HP for the money.

  • avatar

    Don’t get a MS3: chances are pretty good the car has been beat on and suffered for it.  It’ll also ride more poorly, get worse mileage and generally seem kind of mundane (in that damn near everyone has one).  Believe me, as a former member of the Saab Self-Abuse Group, I know where you’re coming from, but the Mazda (or at least the 3 or Speed3) isn’t the answer.  The old 6 hatch maybe, but not the 3.
    Consider—wait for it!—-a PT Cruiser GT or Saturn Ion Redline if you’re looking used.  Both are fun, a little odd, and won’t cost a mint when things break.  If you go new: Mini Cooper or Scion tC: the latter of which is a dead ringer for the NG900.  There’s likely a TRD supercharger in the works.
    …you can finally ditch the Corolla’s lame-o solid rear axle

    The NG900/9-3 the same lame-o solid rear axle.  So do a few cars that handle quite well.

    • 0 avatar

      The HHR SS could be another possibility. 0-60 in the low sixes, EPA highway of 29mpg and it will carry a fair amount of stuff. It does, however, look like a hungry, hungry hippo…

    • 0 avatar

      You didn’t just say a PT Cruiser GT….. did you?
      Your enthusiast and man cards are here by revoked!!

    • 0 avatar

      (in that damn near everyone has one)
      Not so in the United States. I have no idea why they are so popular north of the border, but down here the 3 is not anywhere near as ubiquitous as Corolla/Civic (actually, I even see more Cobalts and Focii than I do 3s).

  • avatar

    After owning three BMWs and two Saabs, I really have no idea why Saabs have such a bad rap and BMWs don’t.  I had far more issues with my BMWs than with my Saab 9-5s.  Saab dealers are certainly fewer and farther apart than BMW in most parts of the country, though finding a good independent mechanic is key to having any older European car anyway.  BMW factory and dealer customer support and service has to be the worst I’ve ever experienced.  After my 5th repeat service visit for my 5-series, I was craving my old $14,000 Saturn SL2 back.

    My wife still talks fondy about our Saab 9-5 Aero… claims it was by far the most comfortable car we’ve ever had and I can’t disagree, though I thought the ride was a bit harsh.  I think a base-model 9-5 with the normal turbo 4 and a five-speed manual is the one to get used… better ride, decent handling, and far cheaper replacement tires… oh, and a front spoiler that doesn’t scrape the ground at every turn.  Their horrendous depreciation makes them great bargains for second-hand buyers.  Even better, a 9-5 wagon with a stick if you can find it.  Get what you want and keep some money in the bank for repairs.

  • avatar

    Sasbs are over rated and over priced 4-cylinder FWD cars. Get a Honda Accord and be done with it.

  • avatar

    And the answer is: 2007/2008 Acura TSX with 6-speed manual– under 30K miles, under $20K. (Ta-da!)

  • avatar

    Okay, you get from my username where I am coming from! Probably I am just lucky, but I don’t understand all the stories of SAAB troubles. My ’94 NG900 had numerous new-car teething problems – unacceptably so, but I put it down to being version 1.0 of a cobbled-up GM rush-to market. From 40k miles to 145k, it was flawless. I replaced it with an ’01 9-5 wagon which went 210k almost on maintenance alone (oil and filter every 5k, otherwise by the book). The current ’06 9-5 wagon is plasticier, decontented, generally rougher, but at just over 100k, runs great. My daughter has a 2000 9-3 which did need the famous ignition cassette a few years ago, but other than tires, brakes, and shocks, nothing else has gone wrong, although she only has 112k on the clock.
    The other daughter has a 2004 Mazda6, 2.3 liter, 5-speed with 80k, and it is a delight.
    So, I have no problem wanting a SAAB, although the more recent 9-3 is an unknown quantity for me. If you disagree, a Mazda certainly is way more SAAB than that Corolla will ever be.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Audi A-4 2.0T Quattro.  In the sedan.  With the Black Leather.  Run!

    (2007’s are under $20K)

  • avatar

    “Excellent fit and finish with crappy component quality”? Reminds me of Tandberg… beautiful audio gear made in Norway but with the lousiest switchgear and components… they met the same fate as Saab in 2000.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe I’m saying this but….Nissan Juke?  Price is about right, and it sounds like it’s a  hoot  to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      This preposterous creature only serves as an example of what drugs do to one’s imagination. And car designers are heavy on this stuff recently, as it seems.
      As for the Nissan Junk – it should come with a vomit bag as standard equipment.

  • avatar

    Look for a used MINI Cooper S Clubman.  You get the torque steer, good mileage, and some useable cargo room with the seats folded.  Don’t buy into that crap about there being back seat room unless all 4 people in the car are under 12 years old.
    There’s a lot of these around off-lease, and they are much more affordable than a new one.  They aren’t the problem-free cars that Toyotas are, but if you’re pining away for a SAAB, you’ll still be better off.

  • avatar

    VW GTI… sure, its not as reliable as some Jap cars, but it has Euro soul and styling, FWD turbo torque steer, excellent handling that feels even better than a Saab.  Its not THAT unreliable, just needs a bit of extra care and feeding.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Yep – second the GTI.  I have a Mazda 3 and MKV GTI.  Definitely get the GTI if you’re looking for a fun car and miss the SAAB.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      And I’m not sure the MKV or MKVI GTI is actually less reliable than the Japanese cars. That may be true of the Mexican built VWs but the GTI is from Germany and the build quality appears excellent.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the MK5 is still a bit too new to really speak to the reliability.  VWs generally have always been excellent while under warranty.  They dont get really crazy expensive to fix until they top 100k miles.  We hear constant whining from owners of the MK4 Golf/Jetta/GTI of how craptastic they become.  I had my own MK4 horror story, it didnt end well.  But, I loved that car, I loved my old Scirocco (another one that didnt end well!), I loved my friends’ Rabbit Convertibles, MK1 and MK2 GTIs, etc etc.  I researched the hell out of cars before buying my MK5 GTI, and from what I could tell, they are fine up to at least 80k.  After that, its a gamble.  I keep it extremely well maintained, I have a good friend who is a European car mechanic, and I figure at worse case, I can upgrade any major component that fails.  I have my eye on the APR S3 conversion kit!

    • 0 avatar

      My German built MKV GTI had 10+ unscheduled dealer visits in just over 3 years of ownership.  I loved the car, but it left me furious due to failures at inopportune times.  First was an AC compressor failure in July.  Second was the cruise control failing 300 miles into a 5000 mile roadtrip.  Third was the AC failing again 2 summers later.  VW still has a terrible habit of skimping on electronic components and using cheap/undersized plastic bits that take a lot of abuse.

  • avatar

    Look kids, the Japanese ain’t all that anymore, the Americans never were, and the Europeans have gotten FAR better in the past decade. Everyone has pretty much met in the middle reliability wise. I think even Mr. Karesh can chime in that there is not THAT much difference between the very best and the very worst new cars anymore. So just go buy a Saab already! Especially given that you can buy a NEW 9-3SC for ~$10K off MSRP without even bargaining hard. Not perfect, but lots of character for the money. Best bargain going.

    I have had the following:

    ’85 900T
    ’92 900T Convertible
    ’95 900SET
    ’00 9-5 SE V6t Wagon
    ’08 9-3SC 2.0T 6spd Wagon

    All were bought used except the ’08, all gave excellent service. The ’85 was a moneypit, but it had 185K on it when I bought it. Went to over 300K as it was passed around my circle of friends! The ’08 has been superb, biggest issue in 28K has been a cracked side-marker light that let a little water in. 

  • avatar

    There’s a 2005 SAAB 9-3 Aero, 21,000-miles, listed for $16,599 with manual trans. near me….
    Another option would be a 2008 Acura TSX manual for around $20k?
    ….I would test drive the SAAB but so afraid of becoming bitten by the Swedish bug.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe I’m saying this but used Ford Fusion 6 – DEPRECIATION DEPRECIATION  and a real 6. Cheap to insure too and if you’re the safety swede Fusion sent NA fire depts scurrying for upgraded jaws-of-life like nobody else..

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Just bought a 2001 Saab 9-5 with 105k miles on it for $2355. Keep in mind that’s wholesale. I’ll probably be retailing it for $3900.
    Here’s the dirty secret about Saabs. The old ones used better quality interior parts and the cost of a well kept one will be about 10% to 15% on the new car dollar. The sweet spot are 2001 and 2002 models that have been extremely well kept. Even then, you better be willing to donate a four figured sum to a good mechanic.
    I am standing behind my prior rec. If you need the thrill of the road so much go buy a go kart or motorcycle and have at it. The Corolla should be a keeper.

    • 0 avatar

      So the newer ones with the refresh (2008<) have cheaper interior parts than the 2005 or so 9-3’s?

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, from the point of a buyer/user, rather than a reseller, the 2000-01 are sweet but with a hefty bitterness added. Unless there is a very long list of things that were corrected by the previous owner.
      But sorry, if you meant “sweet” for a dealer, then yep, they do look and feel much nicer and even still have those headlight wipers.

  • avatar

    Old SAABs (up to 9000 and 9-3 Viggen) are bad, quirky but hugely addictive beasts. I know this.  I had 6. That I guess, will probably make be the weirdo champ of the thread.
    Anyhow, right now there is a wonderful 35Kmile 9000 on EBay and by glancing at numerous pics I tend to believe. Current bidding is at 6K. And I strongly doubt it will move any further up.
    Now what piece of s… sorry, Mazda this much money buys? And as for Mazda3’s, they rust, their steel is less-than-paper-thin and they look and feel cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m falling behind!  I’m only on my fifth weird older Saab, can’t count the wife’s 9-5.
      If you don’t have a Saab mechanic, then don’t buy a Saab.  But the seats are still the best of any car I’ve ever sat in.  The closest I’ve come so far was the Ford Fusion, seats were about 70% of the comfort of a Saab 9000.

  • avatar

    I’ll suggest the car you should have bought in the first place over the Corolla: a first-generation Matrix XRS/Vibe GT.

  • avatar

    Hugely addictive indeed (the avatar is my new toy in addition to my new 3 series convertible – no kids, lol).
    If you’re a SAAB guy, get a SAAB… but get a real one and not a piece of GM!

  • avatar

    I must confess that I have never driven a Saab, so I can’t relate with that… BUT I have owned a Subaru STI, so I know what you mean by turbo power and once you know what that entails, then yes. Reliable and under 20k? Get a used (or certified used) Subaru Legacy, Subaru Impreza, or Mazda3. All three should offer a long life and easy maintenance.
    Depending on your timeframe, it’s possible that Ford may come out with a turbo’d Fiesta and hopefully at a decent price… that may be a good option too.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Depending on your timeframe, it’s possible that Ford may come out with a turbo’d Fiesta and hopefully at a decent price… that may be a good option too.

      (BTW I really like Ford’s products but I still have to say this.)  Oh, Awesome, I’ll hold my breath for that along with the 3-door Fiesta that’s sold in Europe.  Waiting…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
      (Passes out from asphyxiation.)

  • avatar

    I too have been badly bitten by the SAAB bug. Here was my car progression. 2001 GTI VR6 -> 2006 Mazda3 S hatch -> 2000 SAAB 9-3 SE -> 2000 SAAB Viggen. For the money, I just can’t imagine buying a more complete car than an older SAAB. Yes, have it looked at by a good independent mechanic that knows SAABs before you buy, but finding a well cared for example will put miles of smiles on your face.
    The GTI VR6 had pretty good power, terrible chassis. The Mazda 3 had fantastic chassis/handling bone stock, but it was a bit cheap inside and out. Once I drove the 9-3 SE I was hooked. Turbo rush, wonderful interior, ridiculously comfortable seats…and for how much??? Then I started keeping my eyes peeled for a Viggen. I came across a few that were a little too beat up to buy, but eventually I found my beloved 5-door lightning blue Viggen.
    It was a little rough around the edges but had great bones, and was had for a mere $5K. So I haven’t felt bad at all putting a few grand into it to help bring it back to its glory. Bar none, the best car seats I’ve ever sat in. Period.  You can tame the torque steer easily enough. The car boosts like a maniac from 3rd gear up (torque is limited in 1st and 2nd gear), and is even nastier with a bigger intercooler that recently went in. Nothing else on the road looks like it. It is can be as challenging to drive fast as it is fun. It is SAAB safe; built like a tank with airbags aplenty. And no other make of car will give you a “night panel” feature.
    Really the only complaint I have is the long, low nose on the car. It is simply impossible not to scrape the shit out of the bottom of the front bumper, especially on the steep Texas driveway and parking lot entrances/exits I deal with on a daily basis.

  • avatar

    I wholeheartedly agree with Sajeev’s recomendation. The Mazda3S (bigger engine) fits right between the GTI and all other (frankly inferior) FWD comers in the hatchback segment, and when specced up a bit, provides a very good car for your money. There’s also the Golf2.5, which the Mazda was clearly designed to compete against, and which is not, despite rumors from the late 90’s, unreliable at all. The Mazda will get you a nicer interior and the Golf 5 cylinder will give you a gruffer, stronger feeling engine and heavier controls, pick your poison. Both have good manual transmissions (and both are available used for far less than $20k).
    If a turbo is in your future I would recommend the CC with the 2.0T as a CPO purchase, it’s the closest thing to a Saab out there, and is really a nice car with all the potential of the GTI drivetrain wise. Six speed manual available.  The Mazdaspeed3 I wouldn’t recommend, I actually prefer the Mazda3S for some reason, and I shudder at the thought of what a first owner would do to one of these (same with GTI). There are also old 1.8T VW’s out there, and yes the problem issues have already been recalled, but you would need to chip one to get the power you’d likely want.
    Have you considered a Saab project? I know someone with at a 9-5 right now with near 200k on the odometer, mint condition. It’s maybe worth $2k, maybe, and is loaded up leather etc… If you go this route do try to get one that’s had the ABS module and ECU replaced already. This is one of those cars that current owners just don’t know what the hell to do with right now. Costs to much to own, yet worth more to drive than it is to sell. Bargains likely available.

  • avatar

    Just went through this dilemma when the reliable, ABS, good-in-snow Camry imploded. After much searching–and resisting the impulse–with help from members of the household–the decision was made to get something  similar, small sedan, new or used, 15,000 max. Took a long time but finally settled on—don’t judge me–a one year old Kia Spectra EX, for 13k plus 1,700 for the Carmax maximum warranty. It’s 2.0 L, Lotus tuned suspension, light weight, 138 HP and had more features, like sunroof, aux plugs, CD, fold down rear seats accessible via trunk and dash tire inflation display, plus of course cruise control and all that.. It reminds me of my old late 70’s Fiesta and my first car, a 69 Renault R10. It’s fun to drive, so we got the better mileage, better traction, more fun bits. It’s hard to argue with the Carmax warranty when you are buying new or used.

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