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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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