We set off to test the standard Saab 9-3 convertible but actually ended up with the Limited Edition 2008 Saab 9-3 Lynx Yellow Convertible – not a bad turn of events. As the name implies, the limited edition package includes a bright Lynx Yellow paint job, but also adds unique 17 inch wheels and a rear decklid spoiler. Although the package is far from being on the same level as Lamborghini’s Superleggera, the Yellow Edition promises to be almost as rare with only 140 examples earmarked for the North American market.
Saab has a tradition of offering yellow drop tops in limited quantities in the U.S. The first time those crazy Swedes swathed a topless Saab in bright yellow was in 1991 and the automaker has offered two other limited edition “bumble bees,” as the bright convertibles are known to enthusiasts.
With a starting price in the low-$40,000 range, the 9-3 Lynx Yellow convertible competes with the same group of vehicles familiar to its four-door counterpart – namely the roofless versions of the Audi A4 and the BMW 3-series, but also the Volvo C70. However, once the option boxes begin to get ticked, the 9-3 convertible starts to have more in common with the A4 cabriolet and C70 than it does with the drop top Bimmer – which retails for about 6 grand more than the 9-3 when comparably equipped.
Although on the lower end of things, it’s possible to lump Toyota’s Solara convertible in with the list of 9-3 competitors.
Other than setting a new standard for how bright an automotive paint job can be, not really. Although the 9-3 convertible was updated for the 2008, most of that effort was put into tweaking the car’s exterior styling. The interior got a modest facelift in 2007.
That said, the 9-3 convertible isn’t exactly low-tech. Our tester featured most of the bells and whistles you’d expect to find on a premium convertible, including satellite radio, rear parking sensors and Xenon headlamps. However, the standard 9-3’s optional in-dash navigation system is not available with the Lynx Yellow package.
Like the 9-3 sedan, the 9-3 convertible inherits most of its looks from the Aero-X concept that made its debut at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show. However, if you decide to bring home the yellow edition of the 9-3 convertible, the car’s styling probably won’t be the first thing people will notice. The package’s Lynx Yellow paint job is bright enough to light up a moonless night and is just a bit too flashy for our tastes.
But the Lynx Yellow package isn’t just limited to its bright paint, and also includes sporty 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and a rear decklid spoiler. Although subtle, the rear spoiler gives the car a better overall look as it seems to tone down the convertible’s ‘eyes to the skies’ upward-facing rear taillights, which we weren’t particularly fond of.
While the design of the rear lights might be up for debate, we absolutely fell in love with the 9-3’ sleek looking headlamps – an emotion not usually reserved for a lighting fixture. When the car’s parking lights are switched on, a light tube illuminates at the top of the headlight fixture, giving the car a futuristic look during twilight hours. While not a make or break selling point, it’s a nice touch of detail that gives the 9-3 a unique look.
In profile, the 9-3 convertible starts to get a bit bulbous aft of the doors – a seemingly classic trait for Saab convertibles - but an upward-sweeping beltline, fender flares and built-in headrest humps help to keep everything looking sporty.
Keeping in line with the 9-3 sedan, the 2008 9-3 convertible soldiers on with the same interior changes made in 2007. The first thing we noticed when slipping behind the wheel of the 9-3 convertible was the height of its dash. It seems artificially high and had us thinking we were a couple of inches shorter than we really were. That being said, the dash is well laid out and has classic Saab touches, such as unique air vents a silver surround accent piece, albeit mixed in with clear fingerprints of Saab’s GM ownership – like the corporate parts bin radio.
Gauges are equally laid out – including the always welcome turbo boost gauge – and the 9-3 convertible retains Saab’s signature center console ignition.
The quality of materials used in the 9-3 convertible don’t seem to be quite up to snuff with its German rivals, but the 9-3’s cabin is a nice place to spend some time, nonetheless. Seats are comfortable with an adequate amount of bolstering for a car with this level of sportiness, and we really like that Saab designers tied the car’s exterior color into the design of the top of the doors, even if we aren’t crazy about the color.
One thing that really surprised us about the 9-3 convertible was its level of quietness with the top up. Whether it was around town in noisy rush hour traffic or humming along the interstate at 70 mph, the 9-3 Convertible returned noise levels you would expect to find in a luxury sedan. Even with the top down, the 9-3 allowed for conversations at freeway speeds.
As with most convertibles, the 9-3’s canvas top does obscure rear vision when the roof is up, but Saab’s rear parking assist system makes backing out of parking spaces virtually worry-free.
With Saab’s 210-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder underhood, the 9-3 convertible has more than enough power to zip around town. The 9-3 convertible’s hefty curb weight (about 3,800 pounds) and hint of turbo lag will never make it king of the drag strip, but there’s enough on tap under your right foot to confidently merge into highway traffic or have a little fun on the back roads – the latter made all that much better by putting the top down to hear the turbo at full song.
And the 9-3 convertible’s suspension will gladly let you have some fun on the twisties. Not only does the 9-3 absorb bumps and road imperfection far better than we thought it would, it continues to overachieve even in sporty driving. You won’t confuse the 9-3 convertible with a true sports car, but it holds its own up until about 7/10. There is a touch of body flex from the removal of the roof, but it’s hardly noticeable, even over rough patches of tarmac. Although not quite up to BMW standards, we were thoroughly impressed with the 9-3 convertible’s suspension setup.
While our 9-3 convertible tester shared the same engine as our 9-3 sedan test car, the burden of the convertible’s extra weight was noticeable at the pump. We averaged just over 25 mpg during our week with the 9-3 convertible – albeit with a healthy stint of highways driving – but still fell short of our 9-3 sedan’s average. However, our 25 mpg bested the EPA’s ratings of 18/24 mpg city/highway.
Why you would buy it:
You’ve got a sweet spot for limited edition European convertibles but don’t really want to break the bank to get one.
Why you wouldn’t:
You hate bananas, lemons, sunflowers and generally all things yellow.
2008 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible, $39,590 As tested, $46,425.
Premium package, $1,695; Lynx Yellow convertible package, $2,495; Cold weather package, $550; Automatic transmission, $1,350; Destination, $745.