What is it?
It’s probably a bit portentous to call this car a very important moment for Saab – wait for next month’s Geneva show to see the stuff that will really shape the brand’s future – but the Turbo X matters because it’s the first outing for GM’s new Saab developed four-wheel drive transmission, and it adds a dash of sports saloon interest to the 9-3 range.
So it gets a slightly tweaked 2.8-litre V6 with 276bhp and upgraded brakes, the 4x4 drivetrain which can split torque to each rear wheel via a new electronic rear diff, a smart bodykit with a set of very interesting optional asymmetric wheels and some interior upgrades including a thicker wheel.
Black’s the only colour and the UK is only getting 500, so it’s always going to be a rarity.
What’s it like?
At last, a hot Saab that can put down its power on the road rather than wasting most of it in a flurry of front tyre agitation. Front drive V6 9-3s are a handful and feel clumsy – by contrast this is so much more competent and efficient, and makes a better job of using the available power. It also means the steering isn’t utterly overwhelmed when you’re pulling away – the drivetrain sends most of power to the rear at take off – which improves the whole demeanour of the car. And that means you can work the smooth V6 with more enjoyment and efficiency.
Given the appalling ride of the 9-3 V6 we ran as a long termer, I was expecting the Turbo X’s 10mm lower suspension and 19-inch wheels to dole out an even less satisfactory experience. But it doesn’t - it rides reasonably well, and certainly no worse than a BMW 3-series on run-flat tyres.
But none of this is stand out stuff. It can get its power down, but that’s where you should start from, not get to. The steering is still vague and feels disconnected from the wheels, the steering wheel itself is far too large, the gearshift rubbery and the transmission still shunts and thumps at low speed in second and third like the car’s done 120,000 miles.
If only Saab had put the money it wasted on the daft Ready for take off message that appears in the dash when you turn the key towards sorting these problems out then Turbo X would be on the way to becoming a decent sports saloon.
Should I buy one?
Apologies for being predictable, but for the same money you can have a BMW 330i M Sport, arguably a much better engineered machine with better steering. There is something to be said for the Saab’s individuality and the fact that the badge still stands for taste and discretion – not everyone wants a BMW or an Audi. It looks good, tasteful and smart and tough enough.
But if you want a real sports saloon, one that you can thread through a road and one that’s going to reward, you’re going to be a disappointed with the Turbo X.