The Knowledge: The Saab 9000 is a big, boxy, warm, comfy, safe – and fast – bargain barge
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
Classic Saabs are just cool, aren’t they? Whether it’s a 96 hammering sideways along an icy rally stage, or a 99 Turbo with its integrated boost gauge and bright orange interior, an old Saab is a thing of joy.
There’s one that doesn’t get quite as much of a look-in yet, though – and it’s the Saab 9000. Whether it’s because of its slightly mixed ancestry – it was developed in conjunction with Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo – or because it looks a bit big and boxy by comparison with the more svelte 900, fans of the 9000 seem fewer and further between.
Yet the 9000 is fast becoming a cracking modern classic – one you can easily use as a daily, or as a cheap weekend toy in which the whole family can come along for the ride.
For sure, no 9000 is going to whip up a frenzy in your nether regions when spanked along a twisty road. It’s just too big and heavy for that, and even the performance models are somewhat roly-poly when pushed hard.
Don’t write it off just yet, though, because what the 9000 does instead is cruise. Impeccably. Silkily. And, in some cases, very quickly indeed. The 225hp Aero model is the quickest of the bunch, and will punt you to 62mph in less than eight seconds. Don’t write off the earlier Carlsson and the V6-powered Griffin, though, which also trade in very respectable performance figures.
Even lowly 9000s feel quicker than they are; most models are equipped with a turbo of some kind, which gives them a big smear of mid-range punch that belies their workaday power figures. And every 9000 gets a lovely interior, beautifully built from big, chunky plastics and with gorgeously sculpted, fantastically comfortable seats. The boot’s huge, too, whether you opt for a saloon or the estate-rivalling hatchback version.
Why you should buy one now
Old Saabs tend not to rise in value, but interest in the classic 900 is starting to bubble prices up. There’s a chance the 9000 could follow suit, though if it does, it'll probably happen within years rather than months.
Nevertheless, it pays to make hay while the sun shines , so bag one while they’re still cheap. A tatty, post-facelift model with big miles and a short MOT can be yours for as little as £800, but spend a little more than that and it’s possible to get yourself a tidy runner with reasonable miles and a decent MOT – £1,500 should do the trick.
If it’s an Aero you’re wanting, expect to pay more than that, though even then, prices start at £2,000 for a slightly daggy example, and rise to £4,000 for a clean low-miler, or £5,000 for the very best.
What to look out for
Rust is probably the biggest issue to be aware of with the 9000 – check for it on both the front and rear wheel arches, along the roof edges beneath the rubber seal, along the front edge of the bonnet, and inside the filler cap. A frilly 9000 up top is probably frillier underneath.
Listen out for rattling from the timing chain, especially on start-up, and when you’re on your test drive, check the gearbox doesn’t whine. Meanwhile, wandering steering could suggest the front ball joints are on their way out.
Heater matrices can leak, leading to dampness in the carpet (also look for evidence of coolant spewing from the foot vents beneath the front seats). And inspect the headlights – the silver backing can corrode, making them dimmer when they’re turned on. It’s relatively easy to buy new ones or get them fixed, though.
Above all, look for a 9000 that’s been well looked-after, with evidence of on-time servicing and sympathetic maintenance, on which they thrive. Do this, and a 9000 should be a wonderfully cosseting – and very practical – bargain classic.