Superior Handling, Thanks to Front-Wheel-Drive, Refined Suspension, Precise Steering, and Husky Tires and Wheels
Saabs, besides being practical, versatile, sensible answers to today's need for efficient transportation, are also fun to drive. America's automotive press has been singing the praises of the Saab's refined road manners for years, comparing it to some of Europe's best high-performance sedans.
Lately, Saabs have been proving their superior driving qualities in the Sports Car Club of America's Showroom Stock class. (Showroom Stock cars are required to compete in "as-delivered" condition, which means that they must race exactly the way they come from the dealer -- not so much as a muffler can be removed.)
In 1978, Saab captured the Showroom Stock Class B National Championship and in 1979 both the Showroom Stock A and B championships, in the B Class beating such respected sports sedans as the Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce, BMW 3201, Volkswagen Scirocco, and Mazda RX3; and in the Showroom Stock A Class, Saab Turbos vanquished such formidable foes as Datsun 2807, Porsche 924, Alfa Romeo Spyder Veloce 2000, and Chevrolet Monza Spyder V-8. What makes Saabs so good on the road or race track? The Basics of Good Handling
A car's behavior is a complex interplay of numerous variables, including such things as ride, responsiveness, stability, steering feel, and road holding. Each of those are in turn dependent on virtually hundreds of large and small engineering and design elements. Saab believes in active as well as passive safety, so Saabs are designed to give the driver safe, secure, predictable, and responsive handling with which to avoid accidents. Those same basic traits are what make Saabs so satisfying and confidence-inspiring to first-time buyers as well as seasoned enthusiasts.
The Advantages of Front Wheet Drive
A key ingredient in the Saab 900's superior road manners are the effects of its front wheel drive powertrain. Front wheel drive puts the weight of engine, transmission, differential, and drive axles -- about 60 percent of the car's total weight -- over the front wheels. This acts like the weight at the tip of an arrow to give the Saab strong directional stability and resistance to crosswinds.
This forward weight bias also gives the Saab a natural tendency towards "understeer," which in simple terms means that the front tires shoulder more of the cornering work load than the rear tires. Understeer provides stability during quick changes of direction, and increases a car's resistance to skidding during high-speed lane changes or in accident-avoidance maneuvers. In slippery conditions, understeer helps keep the car from slewing sideways or swapping ends when power is applied, as in passing situations.
Even when a 900 is fully loaded with passengers and luggage, it still retains more than 50 percent of its total weight on the driving (front) wheels, so its basic handling characteristics remain largely unchanged. The smooth, stable cornering behavior that results from understeer is one important factor that helps to make Saabs comfortable and encouraging to drive under any circumstances.
Of course, front wheel drive is only part of the story. The 900's suspension which consists of unequal length control anus and coil springs in the front, and a rigid, lightweight axle with four links, a Panhard rod, and coil springs in the rear -- has been carefully developed to provide the optimum balance between smooth ride and responsive, stable handling.
Generous amounts of suspension travel, 6.5 inches in the front and 7.1 inches in the rear, enable a Saab to soak up the most severe bumps without bottoming, while firm shock absorber control keeps unwanted body movement in check. The front springs are mounted on a pivoting base, an especially refined design that allows the springs to act evenly and smoothly without deflecting or binding throughout the suspension's full travel.
In the quest for the most precise possible handling, Saab engineers used computers and specially designed advanced electronic measuring gear to locate the optimum mounting points for the 900's rear suspension control arms. Thus, Saab was able to virtually eliminate "rear roll steer," the tendency of the rear axle to deflect and steer the tail slightly as the body leans into a turn -- a problem common to many current production cars.
Nowhere is accuracy more important than in the steering system. That's why Saabs use rack-and-pinion steering, generally considered the most direct and play-free design available. (It can be found on virtually all Formula 1 and Indianapolis racing cars.) In a Saab, every movement of the steering wheel produces a change in the car's direction, creating a direct, reassuring relationship between driver input and the car's response.
Saab engineers have also paid special attention to steering "feel." Thanks to a high caster angle, Saab steering is strongly self-centering. And the effort required to turn the wheel is high enough so that when the front tires reach their limit of adhesion -- as they would in an extreme high-speed bend or on an icy surface -- the steering effort lightens distinctly to warn the driver that he is on the verge of losing traction. Also important is the system's drag link location, which minimizes the effect of body lean and bumps on the car's direction. These design features enable Saabs to corner accurately, and the driver need not correct for every irregularity in the road surface -- all of which adds to the feeling of control and enhances the car's handling.
An added measure of safety is provided by the Saab's slightly positive steering radius. In the event of a tire blowout, the steering wheel will turn gently in the direction that the car pulls when braked. This aids the driver in making the proper spontaneous corrective steering action.
Husky Tires and Wheels
Safe, enjoyable road behavior starts with a sure grip on the road. That's why the smallest tire on any Saab is a 165-SR1S radial. The more performanceoriented models are properly shod with more aggressive, low-profile tires for even greater adhesion.
All Saabs, you'll note, ride on 15-inch diameter wheels, though many of their competitors are fitted with 13- or 14-inch wheels. The Saab's larger wheels provide more ground clearance, better ride, and allow room for larger brakes.
The Saab Combination
So what, then, makes a Saab handle so well on the road or race track? An artful blending of front wheel drive, a 60/40 percent front-rear weight distribution, a well-located rear axle, accurate rack-and-pinion steering, pivotmounted front springs, generous suspension travel, and husky wheels and tires.
They add up to a sedan that combines superb ride with surefooted road holding, and result in a car that behaves consistently, predictably, and above all, safely -- regardless of speed, passenger load, or the condition of the road.