The impressive looks of the new Saab 9-3 Convertible are elegantly packaged with a Scandinavian design flair that ensures the lines are clean and flowing, but never cold or clinical. It is an open top car that looks like a unique model in its own right, free from any awkward styling compromises.
As it was developed in parallel with the 9-3 Sport Sedan, the Convertible's design team were able to evolve a frontal styling treatment that could be shared by both models, although from the A-pillars rearwards every external panel on the Convertible is different.
Compared to its predecessor, the new car gains 51 mm in overall width and 70 mm in wheelbase. Reduced front and rear overhangs mean the overall length, at 4635 mm, is slightly shorter.
The well-balanced proportions and more purposeful stance endow the car with a strong, sporty character that echoes its fun to drive appeal. In profile, the clean wedge line is typically Saab and, top down, the shape is no longer interrupted by a tower to mount the front seat-belts.
The styling of the rear deck is particularly neat. The pop-up roll bars and retractable rear head restraints are beautifully streamlined with twin fairings, giving a subtle hint of the Convertible's sporty character. The innovative CargoWing accessory rear spoiler, which folds out to carry skis or a snowboard, is also designed to add surprising functionality to the rear deck.
A new feature, never seen before in Convertible styling, is the introduction of a distinctive, mono-colored Surround Trim , highlighting the transition zone between the car's exterior and interior. It is a U-shaped line that extends rearwards from the base of each A-pillar, incorporating slim panels along the top of the doors and rear side trims and most of the tonneau cover. It integrates the front and rear passenger areas, protecting and visually uniting the only top exterior surfaces that 'come inside' when the top is up. The Surround Trim is picked out by a 'crackle', matt black paint finish but can also be specified in an exterior color, steel gray or lime yellow.
The new Convertible's soft-top and tonneau mechanism features three innovations: CargoSET automatic storage well retraction, a two-step tonneau action for quicker soft-top deployment and a light-colored interior headlining. It is undoubtedly one of the car's most impressive features.
The 'one touch' soft-top operation, requires no manual involvement beyond pressing a button. The roof is hydraulically-powered, with automatic self-latching to the header rail, and deploys fully in just 20 seconds while the engine is running, making it comfortably the fastest in its class.
The materials for the triple-skinned soft-top are also improved, with the addition of thicker, fleece middle layer for good heat and noise insulation. A small gutter has been sewn into the side of the fabric to prevent water droplets dripping down on to the seats when a door is opened. There is a color choice of black or blue.
To save weight, the soft-top's frame, the swivelling braces and the large, padded front rail which, connects to the windshield header, are all made from magnesium.
The new soft-top has a much tauter and smoother appearance, more like that of a fixed roof on a coupé. This has been achieved by the use of six, instead of five, swivelling braces (or bows) on which the fabric is mounted. The whole soft-top is tensioned by locking braces at the rear, instead of the front, which helps stretch the fabric even tighter
The operation of the tonneau cover - made in aluminum to save weight - is a Saab 'first'. Automatic soft-top systems have previously required the tonneau to be hinged at the rear. For quicker roof deployment, the Convertible's tonneau has a unique two-step cycle, being completely raised horizontally and then moved rearwards, parallel to the top of the trunk. . Pulling the tonneau down flat, instead of hinging and clicking it closed, also contributes towards improved reliability and better seating and sealing.
Another innovation is a more practical feature: raising the roof automatically raises the capacity of the trunk. The CargoSET (Self-Expanding Trunk) directly links the soft-top's rearmost hinge mechanism to the flexible, 'concertina' storage well in the trunk. When the roof is in position, the well is fully retracted, releasing useful storage space.
Aerodynamicists at Saab focus on optimizing performance for real world conditions, in the same way as Saab has developed its 'real life' safety strategy.
The Convertible's roof-up drag coefficient is a class competitive 0.34, but probably more important, the team made major strides in improving high speed stability by keeping rear lift forces low and minimizing fluctuations.
The team naturally focused their attention on the behavior of the Convertible's roof, particularly its effectiveness in resisting 'ballooning' at speed and in its seating on the side windows. As there is no monoside upper door closure for the Convertible, the team had to minimise the effect of the windows being 'sucked' outwards by the difference in outside and inside air pressure, with undesirable consequences for wind noise.