Saab 900 T16S Driven

In the 1970s Saab showed the world that you could have a car that was both practical and as quick as a Porsche 911 making savvy Dad’s everywhere look cool. During the 80s that trend continued with this 175bhp Saab 900 T16S, a car that demonstrated to anyone who drove one exactly how good a Swedish car manufacturer could be.

The thing is, in the UK at least, you had to be slightly left of centre to even find yourself in a Saab showroom. Fleet sales were dominated by Ford and Vauxhall before Rover finally got their eye in during the early 90s with the 600. Private sales were spread between the same major players plus everything else from Japan and Europe. Saab existed only as a small player in this crowded market, albeit one with a dedicated and committed following.

If you did buy a Saab you probably taught at a university, or were an architect, either way you wore polo neck jumpers, a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and piloted yourself, your wife and two daughters to France every year on your annual touring holiday. The thing is if you did step up to the full fat Saab 900 T16S you also did so with a huge smile on your face. Torque steer, what’s that, poor fuel economy, sorry I don’t understand what you mean, and as for an uncompromising ride, no I’m just not getting you at all.

Saab 900 T16S
T16S made Dad’s everywhere cool once more.

The Saab 900 T16S was and still is today absolutely brilliant. After all Saab was if nothing else a superb engineering company and that was reflected 100% in their cars. At the top of the range they took even more care. From double wishbone front suspension to a rear beam axle connected to the underside of the body by no less than two Watts linkages, one either side, plus a Panhard rod. Now that really is tied down, by any standard.

The torquey nature of the turbo engine works well with the five speed gearbox to pull the Saab 900 TI6S quickly off the mark and being particularly impressive in the mid-range. A fast pace can easily be maintained with very little effort, and as a benefit of the relatively tall gearing motorway speeds despatched with just 2-3000rpm dialled in with the rev counter occupying the lower green ‘Eco’ end of the scale. This means hardly any turbo boost is being generated and therefore fuel economy rises well up into the thirties.

Saab 900 T16S
900 model had a longer nose than earlier 99

Of course depress the right hand pedal in any gear at any time and the turbo soon spins up, revealed by the needle on the pressure gauge moving up into the orange band, and decent acceleration is immediately available on tap. This makes overtakes easy and stress free without the need to drop down a gear. Your passengers are therefore also not alerted with the engine note only hardening a small amount. Then in true 80s turbo style the horizon gets closer and closer almost exponentially. Truth is, whatever your requirement this car has got the lot.

Quirky design is a distinctive Saab feature and in the 900 as well as the ignition key being mounted on the floor, the bonnet opening in a bizarre forwards and tip motion, there are also apparently no sills. The doors simply wrap around the lower part of the body to help prevent the ingress of water and the inevitable corrosion that brings over time. Saab not only wanted you to enjoy your new purchase but for it to be passed down generation to generation. The added bonus is that entry is made easy with no leg stretch required whatsoever and to exit you simply open the door and step down.

Saab 900 T16S
Superb dash layout means you always know where to look

Why the ignition key is mounted where it is and why the car has to be in reverse with the clutch depressed before being started is unclear to this reviewer at least. It does however leave the dashboard area nice and clean with the absence of the usual jailer’s key ring most of us seem to end up with jangling around underneath. The keys instead rest on the floor next to the handbrake, a very convenient space to stow them.

About that dashboard as well; one that Saab would have you believe came straight from a fighter aircraft. Whether it really was inspired by a military jet or not doesn’t matter, regardless it is still very well designed combining nicely with the wrap-around windscreen. As you would expect visibility is excellent and there is a light and airy feel inside the cabin. In fact the only oddity is the two four-way remote mirror controls located either side of the steering wheel, when the more usual arrangement of just one with accompanying L-R switch would have sufficed.

Saab 900 T16S
Wrap around screen helps with visibility

Then there is the way the 2.0litre OHC slant four cylinder engine sits directly above the centrally mounted gearbox meaning the drive shafts are exactly the same length to eradicate torque steer in this potent hot hatch. In fact the hydraulic power assisted steering is left with such purity that it brings to mind Alfa Romeo’s Alfasud or even early Porsche 911s, testament indeed. Not a particularly light car at a little over 1300kg there is also a real premium quality feel including an interior that boasts comfortable leather seats with plenty of room in the back, ideal for those family getaways.

Driving the Saab 900 T16S is pleasurable on many levels; from the 80s laggy style turbo delivery and accompanying soundtrack through to the premium quality feel, pure steering and precise handling. This is a car equally at home cruising up the motorway as it is on a B-Road blast. That range of ability reflects the excellent quality and engineering that has gone into all key aspects of this car. The fact it won’t kill your wallet from frequent garage forecourt visits either is a very nice surprise, call it bonus material. For instance we travelled roughly 200 miles on half a tank and that included exploring this entire car’s capabilities.

Saab 900 T16S
Leather and space extends to the rear

In the market for a 80s hot hatch, appreciate good automobile design and engineering as well as a desire to keep performance on the QT, the Saab 900 T16S might just be for you. Better still your better half and offspring can come too. Now where’s my moustache and jacket, got to look the part after all.


How does this car make you feel?

In one word: Smug

As a favourite meal: Prawn cocktail, steak and chips followed by black forest gateau.

Anything Else: Perfect.

Key Ingredients: Chassis, interior, dashboard, wrap around screen, clean steering feel, absence of torque steer, power and acceleration whilst on the move, cruising capability and economy.


With thanks to Great Escape Classic Car Hire


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  1. Nice review. It’s good to see the 900 get the attention it deserves. The 900 and 9000 are massively under appreciated cars. Hope the market wakes up to how good they are if they have been well looked after.

  2. Nice write up.

    I had three of these back in the day although I’ve never owned a polo neck.

    I’m still hankering after another all these years later (despite having two modern day Aeros in the driveway) so articles like this are bad if they make other people want one too….

  3. Thanks. Sounds like I owe you an apology for raising interest in this car, sorry. Great car though, whoops there I go again. Matt.

  4. I have worked in all departments of Saab dealerships from bodyshop, parts then sales for a period spanning from 1975 unti the sad loss of this wonderful brand. Having lived through some incredible developements with Saab and experienced them all including corporate days and numerous ice driving trips to Sweden I can honestly say that that day in 1975 when I walked into my local Saab dealer having just left school and looking for my first job was the best decision I ever made!!I currently own a 900 T16s but a very rare version being a 2 door saloon of which only 263 were ever produced solely for the UK market. Incidentally, the reason for the floor mounted key near the gearshift was designed as an anti theft device, the key only removable once the car was in reverse gear leaving the car firmly locked in reverse! My other current Saab is a 9000 Aero in black which is just the most incredibly comfortable high performance 5 seater you can buy as a classic, and deemed by many as the best built Saab car ever!!

  5. Martin – Great to hear from a dedicated Saab fan, I have to agree with everything you say and must admit do look at Saab’s now in a very different light. I’m also grateful that the mystery of the key location is resolved, from my perspective, without any real insight, I just couldn’t fathom it. Martin you are a top person, thanks for sharing your inside track and knowledge, keep it up, Matt.

  6. Martin is correct about the anti theft ability of the centre trans lock as early steering column locks were awfull to release the position also means any passenger can switch of the car in an emergency if the car had been driven during the day and any slush etc accumulated under the car at night with temperatures going down to minus 30 or less(i also have been ice driving) the handbrake can be left of with the car still secure with no worry about not moving I worked for SAAB as a product training instructer gor many years.

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