Saab 9000 Aero | Hemmings Motor News

31 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Saab 9000 Aero | Hemmings Motor News

Saab 9000


Feature Article from Hemmings Sports Exotic Car

Sport-Utility Vehicle. What comes to mind when you encounter this term? Likely a high-riding truck-based vehicle covered in rugged plastic body cladding; it probably has a big, gas-guzzling six- or eight-cylinder engine, and a cargo hold that, while voluminous, is restrictive comparable to the vehicle’s massive footprint.

While utilitarian in function, most fall short of the car enthusiast’s definition of sport. Today’s Saab lineup includes the 9-7X, a vehicle that fits this traditional definition of a Sport-Utility Vehicle, but one decade ago, General Motors’ most left-brained division sold a premium vehicle that created its own, entirely different definition: the 9000 Aero.

When Saab debuted their new large car, 1985’s upscale 9000 five-door, it was the culmination of 11 years of planning and international collaboration. The new 900 was still five years away when Saab designers and executives started planning to take the brand–then selling the 99 and Sonett III sports car–upscale with larger, more spacious and powerful vehicles. The 900 would be more powerful and prestigious than the 99, especially in Turbo form, but its longitudinal engine and transmission arrangement limited the amount of space available for passengers.

The 9000’s space-efficient transverse-engine/front-wheel-drive layout would be the result of an international alliance; a traditionally small company with a limited research and development budget, Saab Automobile partnered with Italian automaker Fiat to design a new Type 4 platform that would underpin the 9000, Lancia Thema, Fiat Chroma and the Alfa Romeo 164. The Swedish-Italian collaboration was limited to cooperating on structural analysis and sub-structure development, but the Saab did get a bit of Italian flair, courtesy of its aerodynamic styling, penned by noted designer and then-Lancia chief design engineer, Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Like the others, Saab’s version of this platform combined the aforementioned transverse drivetrain with a 105.2-inch wheelbase (versus 99.1 for 900s) and wheels pushed to the corners for maximum interior space. Following Saab’s 99/900 Wagonback tradition, the new 9000 debuted as a five-door hatchback with split/folding rear seats, offering station wagon capacity under a steeply sloping rear window; while the 9000 was physically shorter than its 900 stablemate, it was more roomy inside with 123-cu.ft. of interior space (23.5-cu.ft. in the trunk, 56.5-cu.ft. with rear seats folded), qualifying as an EPA-rated large car, a distinction shared only with the contemporary Rolls-Royce in America.

The 9000 had a performance slant from day one, as it was introduced with Saab’s then-most-powerful engine, the turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 160hp and 188-lbs.ft. of torque, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. An appearance upgrade and new twin-balance shaft, dual overhead-cam 2.3-liter turbo engine arrived in 1991, and these 9000 Turbo models upped the performance considerably with 200hp and 244-lbs.ft. of torque.

Saab was never an automaker to change for the sake of change, so it wasn’t until 1993 that the 9000 received a major overhaul; while similar to earlier models, the car’s central body was reinforced to meet upcoming side-impact standards, while the front and rear ends were redesigned, updating the looks with a sleeker form. New front fenders mated to a lowered grille and headlamp treatment, while the former three-glass-panel hatchback lost its side ports and gained a longer, more notchback-like rear deck. These redesigned 1993 models earned the CS/CSE designation, and mid-way through that model year, the 9000 Aero was introduced.

The new flagship of Saab’s lineup was a true luxury/sport vehicle, and it received a number of specific features to set it apart from the standard 200hp 9000 CSE Turbo. The Aero’s 2.3-liter four-cylinder was enhanced with a larger water-cooled turbocharger, recalibrated Trionic engine management system and Automatic Performance Control (APC), to adjust boost pressure based on fuel quality and octane (premium grade was recommended for peak performance); it made 225hp at 5,500 rpm and 258-lbs.ft. of torque at 1,950 rpm.

This full-boost engine garnered rave reviews; period advertising boasted, The 5-speed Saab 9000 Aero will streak from 50 to 75 mph faster than a Ferrari Testarossa or a Porsche Carrera 4. Writing for Automobile magazine, David E. Davis summed up its performance with the following: I look at the dry specifications I’ve written here and see that nowhere do they make your eyes pop the way the car does when you shift down to third and stand on it to pass somebody who thought he was driving pretty briskly. The 9000 Aero is an enthusiast’s car, period. It has more capability than you need, but it’s just what you’ve always wanted.

Because Saab’s four-speed ZF automatic transmission couldn’t handle the torque of the 225hp engine, auto-equipped Aeros used the standard CSE Turbo engine, with 200hp and 238-lbs.ft. of torque. Either way, they were surprisingly long-legged and fuel efficient, offering a rated 20/28 mpg (city/highway) with a 5-speed and 18/24 mpg with an automatic transmission.

Suspension tweaks included beefier front strut piston rods, front and rear anti-roll bars and springs, as well as a lowered chassis; the two-tone, three-spoke 16 x 6.5-inch Aero alloy wheels carried over from 1991-’92, but now mounted 205/55-ZR16 Michelin tires with five-percent taller sidewalls for more ride compliance. Ventilated front (11-inch) and solid rear (10.2-inch) disc brakes were aided by a standard anti-lock system.

Offsetting its black window trim and beltline molding, the Aero received body-colored aerodynamic components that contributed to a 10-percent reduction in lift force and its aggressive look; flush rocker panel extensions, wheel arch extensions, special front and rear bumpers and a deck-mounted rear spoiler were all part of the package. A special full-leather interior also set the Aero apart; the four-place Recaro seating featured aggressive lower and upper bolstering as well as specially treated non-slip leather inserts to keep occupants in place during hard cornering.

Matching leather was also used on the door panels, the steering wheel and manual gearshift knob and boot. A power moonroof was standard equipment, as well as heated power front seats, power windows, central locking and an automatic climate control system (ACC).

These first half-year Aeros are known for being unique, as a number of features are exclusive to that year; a non-defeatable traction control system was standard (a defeatable version was optional in 1994 and ’95, and discontinued altogether for 1996 and ’97), and the manual transmission is different from the ones used before and after. A passenger-side airbag took the place of the glovebox in 1994 Aeros, and fresh three-spoke Super Aero alloy wheels in the same size gave the car a sportier look. The aforementioned manual gearbox featured a redesigned synchromesh system for easier shifts, and reconfigured engine software changed the engine’s torque rating to 252-lbs.ft. at a super-low 1,800 rpm.

Further refinements made the 1995 Aeros even more pleasant; a burl walnut dash fascia, 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon CD/cassette stereo, telescoping steering wheel, locking center console and remote locking system were all new, as was a recalibrated suspension. The 1996 models featured reconfigured interior storage with rear-seat cupholders, storage pockets on the seats and a rigid compartment to store the document organizer in the passenger’s footwell; the only change for the car’s final season was a new 2.3 Turbo badge below the right taillamp.

The 9000 Aero was a complex vehicle in its day, but despite its complexity, many Aero lovers in the fervent Saab enthusiast community enjoy wrenching on their own cars, and there are a number of Saab specialists who love Aeros, too.

Points that careful prospective owners always inspect include the heater core (roughly 70,000-mile life span), Direct Ignition cassette (80,000), engine mounts (110,000) and head gasket (dependent on maintenance). The traction control system (TCS) available from 1993 to 1995 is a known weakness that can lead to chronic driveability problems, but knowledgeable 9000 specialists can bypass this system. If you like getting your hands dirty, there are a number of online technical resources with knowledgeable people who are happy to offer advice on any maintenance project; if you don’t have the tools or know-how, it pays to find an independent Saab specialist in your area who can keep your 9000 Aero in top condition; you’ll be rewarded by a luxurious, spacious car that hauls, as well as hauls.


I-4, dual overhead chain-driven cams, 4-valves per cylinder, cast-iron block and aluminum head, dual counter-rotating balance shafts, turbocharger and intercooler, 2,290cc (140 cubic inches)


225 @ 5,500 rpm [Automatic: 200 @ 5,500 rpm]

252-lbs.ft. @ 1,800 rpm [238 @ 1,800 rpm]

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