New or Used: No More SAAB Stories On The Bus

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used no more saab stories on the bus

TTAC Commentator Astigmatism writes:

Dear TTAC: After six months of commuting by bus from New Jersey to Manhattan, I’ve decided to treat myself by buying myself a car (my wife commutes with our 10-year-old RX300), getting a monthly parking space through my company and driving into work every day. Please don’t try to talk me out of this decision: the buses are routinely late, stop at every corner between my house and the highway, take me to the wrong part of town, and generally take at least twice as long all-in as driving in the few, blessed days when I’ve driven to the office.

Criteria: mid-sized (smaller than the RX, larger than, say, a Jetta), comfortable and quiet on frequent highway runs to see family in New Hampshire, either front- or all-wheel-drive (New Hampshire again), and of course decent mileage. No manual transmission given the commute, and I won’t be carving up back roads, but after slogging around in the RX I would love something less floaty and at least a bit more engaging to drive. Price: my plan was to spend about $10-12k in cash up front, and I could stomach either a small financing charge or occasional maintenance after that, but probably not both (I can afford it, just would feel irresponsible spending over $20k all-in over the next few years). I actually don’t need it to be the most reliable thing in the world, as we have a mechanic in the family who’s managed to keep the RX ticking happily at 270,000 miles, and if my car breaks I can always take the bus again while it’s in the shop.

Unfortunately used TSX’s seem to be holding their value a little too well, or I would have settled on one long ago, and leasing a new one won’t work because I’ll blow the mileage limits. I’ve considered a 2004-5 Saab 95 Arc or Aero (probably the current front-runner; my first car was a 9000, I love the seats, I think they’re a steal once they’ve depreciated) and a new Mazda6 (I’m shying away from the Sonata because of its ubiquity, and because I’m not convinced it won’t tank in the resale market). But I feel like I must be forgetting something. Am I? Or am I just being unrealistic? Please help!

Sajeev Answers:

As the part-time caretaker of a 2003 9-3 Vector, I’ve learned the unique pitfalls of buying a pre-2007 model with little to no service history. The later models have more reliable GM electronics, but look far less SAAB-y. Even some local gurus grudgingly admit that SAAB cut far too many corners on the older Epsilon-SAABs: the fragile plastic holding the parking brake assembly to the chassis is but one concern I learned during our last cold spell.

So go for a 2007+ SAAB 9-3, if you must. I love and completely mistrust these sassy Swedes, but I’m terrified by the lack of underhood access with turbo V6. For the sake of that “mechanic in the family” stick with a more basic I-4. With my rudimental understanding of the Epsilon-based SAABs in mind, they are still on the bottom of my short list.

Check out a nicely loaded Mazda 6, Honda Accord EX or Nissan Altima: these give better long term bang for your buck. If you need more style, an older Infiniti G35 (Jersey Shore references notwithstanding) or Lexus IS300 is a smarter move than the SAAB in terms of money and performance. Plus, rear wheel drive for more fun. And if it really snows that bad, you can always take the…ahem…bus.

Steve Answers:

Front wheel drive cars with excellent tires would be perfectly fine. I spent a lot of time in upstate New York and most folks get along perfectly well with this combination. The options for a good 10k to 12k vehicle with only front wheel drive are practically limitless. So I’ll just recommend that you find out what the actual owners have to say about a given vehicle instead of focusing on new car reviews.

As for AWD cars, there’s a lot out there and much of it is not nearly as popular as the conventional FWD models. I would toss in the 2006 Ford Fusion AWD as a potential commuter car. The Mercury Milan was also available with AWD and that may have a lower cost in the marketplace. Given your orientation towards the TSX, the Milan may be a bit too conservative for you. There is also the Subaru Legacy AWD which is a pretty good all around vehicle although it is also a bit pricey.

Among my top choices, the 2006 Saab 9-2X AWD and its Impreza kissing cousin are taut drivers but are probably closest to the TSX. Then there is also the 2006 Volvo S40 AWD (and the V50 sibling) which would be a bit more luxurious. If I were looking for AWD consider and didn’t have to worry so much about maintenance, I probably would opt for the Volvo’s first and foremost. They have the best seats and interiors of the group. Along with a sporting character and a fairly quiet ride compared with the others.

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

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2 of 56 comments
  • Amripley Amripley on Feb 22, 2011

    My parents have a 2005 Saab 9-5 2.3T wagon. It's the mid-range Arc model, but has been fairly highly optioned (with the visibility package, 17" Aero wheels, etc.) They bought it in 2009, off-lease, for $14,000. It had about 60,000 miles on the clock at that point. Since then, it's been completely reliable in the 30,000 miles it's driven. It's their fourth Saab (two 9000s and an NG900) and has been as dependable and enjoyable as the rest. If you're careful and do your homework, I don't think you can go wrong with the 9-5 (9-3 may be a different story.) Other considerations might include the Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ. It comes with AWD and is a little less ubiquitous than the Fusion. You can get a good one in Canada for under $12k, not sure what the market is like in NJ.

  • Jerseydevil Jerseydevil on Feb 23, 2011

    I feel your bus pain. I really dislike busses. I have compensated by sound isolating earbuds. Best 50 bucks i ever spent! Especially since I can't read on busses, I get motion sickness. Where I am, I can drive, or take busses and subways - i truly hate the subway. Nevertheless, its quick. I can also take the train, i like the trains. The train as a little out of the way, tho. What I should do is drive to the train, but alas... i start out in the car on the way to the train, then i just drive anyway. Mostly I drive, stupid I know - it works ok most of the time. I need to keep a lid on the road rage, and the wondering what in the world i was thinking of! i'd be HOME now if I braved all the snarling locals and rode the subway., instead im in this STUPID traffic jam. A free parking space would be the clincher for me. But I would wonder if it was worth it if instead of that, they gave me the cash instead. I dunno. Good luck. Be happy that you live with mutiple transportation choices. Most folks I know do not. PS. Avoid flat tires on the jersey approach to the Lincoln Tunnel. Ask me how i know. Arg.

  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.
  • Morley Wasn't that the war where the Brits came down from Canada and burned the White House to the ground?
  • Master Baiter I'll wait for the actual driving reviews. User interface quality and range are big question marks.
  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.