900's Across the Pond

They might be made in the same factory, but there were lots of differences between Saab 900's sold in the US and 900's sold in the UK:

Engine and trim permutations

900's available in the UK market
3 door 5 door Convertible
2.0 4cly Base,S Base,S,XS S
2.3 4cly S S SE
2.0 Turbo S,SE S,SE SE
2.5 6cly SE SE SE

900's available in the US market
3 door 5 door Convertible
2.0 4cly Not available in US
2.3 4cly S S S
2.0 Tubro SE SE SE
2.5 6cly - SE SE

2.0 4cly engine: This engine is only available in the UK, it has 130hp output instead of the 150hp output of the 2.3 litre engine. Cars with the 2.0 engine are £2000 cheaper than the equivalent 2.3 engine, so there is quite a premium for the small increase in performance (9.5 sec 0-60 instead of 10.5 sec 0-60).
base trim trip computer/temperature displayCars are available in S trim level, or super-frugal "Base" trim which drops things like radio, rear wash-wipe, passenger airbag, black panel, painted bumpers (although the unpainted plastic bumpers don't show scratches so easily). Also the two line dot matrix display is replaced with a budget LCD affair (shown left).
There is also an XS trim, which is an S trim with air conditioning and alloy wheels.

2.3 4cly engine: Only available in S trim in both markets. I thought of buying a 2.3S and adding the things you would get in an SE model, but by the time you've done that you may as well go for the 2.0 turbo SE.

2.0 turbo engine: In the US this is only available in SE trim, but the UK (and Canada) get a S trim version as well.
In the UK Saab 900 turbos are available with optional Sensonic transmission, this is a manual transmission with no clutch to pump, it is controlled by a computer. It is not sold in the US yet.

2.5 6cly engine: Always SE trim in both markets, although in the US it is only available with automatic transmission. In the UK all 900's come with manual transmission and automatic/sensonic turbo are optional.

To confuse things some more, at the same trim level, US cars come with a lot more than UK cars, enough to make US-S the same as UK-SE. All US cars come with alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise, heated seats, things only fitted to UK SE trim cars.
US SE trim adds things like power seats, sunroof, auto climate control and Saab Audio System 3 (see my Audio Guide for full details of this), in the UK these things are not standard on any model and must be ordered as extras.

Warranty and servicing

900's in the US come with a bumper to bumper 4 year warranty, 900's in the UK come with a one year bumper to bumper warranty and a very limited warranty for years 2 and 3 which covers just the major mechanical parts. The warranty can be turned into a three year warranty for an extra £100 or so (but still not bumper-to-bumper).

The service interval for UK models is 12,000 miles. The service interval for US models is 10,000 miles. Perhaps the difference is due to the more extreme winters/summers in the US compared to the milder UK climate.

Other features

There are lots of little differences between cars sold the two markets, some are due to market expectations (Cruise control is very rare in the UK, but very common in the US) and others due to legal reasons (The split normal/wide angle drivers mirror is illegal in the US).

sensonic gear leverSensonic Transmission: All the control of a manual, but no clutch to pump! I borrowed one of these for a day, they make driving in town traffic really easy since there is no clutch and you just crawl along in first with just the accelerator (gas pedal), but you have all the fun of a manual transmission for scooting round country lanes. To change gear, just ease off on the accelerator and move the stick !!

Driving the Sensonic for the first time is very strange, you must make a conscious effort to keep your left foot on the floor. There is a great temptation to do something with your left foot, especially the first few times when getting into the car. With luck you will stamp the floor, stamping on the brake pedal when you want to change gear is not recommended !!

Also you still have to use the handbrake when starting on a hill otherwise the car will roll back. Also if you leave it in gear without moving forward, the dashboard will chime and you will get a polite "DISENGAGE GEAR" warning.

I didn't go for it in the end because I don't do much city driving, but I would have otherwise (£750 option)

wide angle drivers mirrorWide angle drivers mirror: The UK models have a drivers door mirror where the outer edge is a special wide angle section, so that you can see cars right next to you when changing lane. Starting in 1998, Saabs in the USA have this type of mirror on the passenger side, but they are still illegal on the drivers side (where they are most needed !!)

Click on the mirror for a bigger picture.

Cruise, Air Conditioning, Alloy Wheels: Standard on all US models, only the UK SE trim versions get these. Generally cuise is very rare on UK cars the roads and higher speeds are not really suitable. Air Conditioning is also rare and is extra on most cars even in the BMW/Mercedes class.

hot seats !!Heated Seats: Standard on all US models, but is an extra on all UK models. Last year there was an option for heated rear seats, but not enough people took up the option. There were many chuckles around the office when I announced I was getting a car with heated seats, most people in England think things like air conditioning and heated seats are unecessary extras ("well there's just more to go wrong isn't there", this argument is even used against electric windows !!!).

Daytime Running Lights: Standard on all US models (although you can take a fuse out to defeat it). Not fitted on UK models, I remember other drivers flashing my parents in their old style 900 which had DRLs, perhaps that's why UK models don't have DRLs.

headlamp tilt controlHeadlamp tilt motor: When you carry a lot of weight in the boot the car will tilt and the headlights will point too high and dazzle other drivers. UK cars have a control on the dashboard to tilt the headlights back down through four positions and keep the headlights from dazzling people. This is mandatory in Sweden, but I think it is illegal in the US.

Chassis/Suspension: UK and US turbos are available with sport chassis which is lower and harder suspension. In the US all turbos come with sports chassis, in the UK only the three door SE comes with sports chassis, on the other turbos it is a cost option. I was glad to have the choice of the regular chassis because the turbo I tried with sports chassis was way too hard for my tastes. I know that Ford fit firmer suspension in their European cars than the equivalent US version, so it is possible that all 900's in the UK have what is called "sports chassis" in the US and UK "sports chassis" is harder still !!

Headlamps: The american models have a different headlamp unit to European models, the European models have a very sharp cutoff to avoid dazzling other drivers and a little blip on the side to light up road signs and pedestrians. I have heard from several people in the US who have replaced their headlamps with Euro style ones, you can see the difference in this example.

shift up !!!US cars have an indicator on the instrument panel to show when to change up in gear, I think this is to make sure the EPA testers change up at low rpms and award the 900 good mpg figures. UK cars do not have this and most messages about it on Saab Network Digest are questions about disabling it !!

Fog lights: US and UK models come with one red rear fog light. This is unusual for the US where most cars don't have rear fog lights,. In the UK all cars must have fog lights and most cars have two, having just one makes it easier to distinguish between the brake and fog lights.

Winter/all weather tires: The winters are not cold enough to make these worthwhile, although that doesn't stop the whole of Southern England coming to a halt when there is half an inch of snow.

Front light cluster: The US models have a different front light cluster that gives side illumination when reversing. I think this is illegal in the UK, so is not fitted.

Paint and trim colours: In the UK you can have any model in any combination of 12 paint and 3 trim colours (2 paint colours are for convertible only). In the US there is a much more restrictive choice.

Test drives: I don't know if this is common in the states, but when choosing my Saab all the dealers were happy to give me a Saab for the day, I would drop my old car off at lunchtime and return the Saab the next day (after giving it a good try out on country lanes and motorways). There was no charge (except for any speeding tickets collected !!!).

Why the difference ?

Comparing the two countries there seems to be more choice in the UK, but higher prices, fewer luxury items and less servicing. Here's my spin:

Company cars: 75% of cars in the UK are bought by companies and given to their employees, this is a hangover from tax avoidance in the 70's although employees (and the employer) have been increasingly taxed on this benefit. This distorts the UK market a lot since companies do not care as much over the price of the car and negotiate a discount with the manufacturer which shows as artificially high list prices. Companies also like low maintenance costs which might explain the difference in service intervals and since companies replace the car every few years, they don't care about long warranties.

Local market conditions: Equipment and warranty expectations vary from market to market based on the competition from other manufacturers and existing expectations of consumers. Things like air conditioning are uncommon in the UK because most people think of it as a luxury item and car manufacturers know from market research that it will not be a major selling point. In the UK one year warranties are still common so a Ford Probe (made in the US) will get a one year warranty if sold in the UK, but a three year warranty if sold in the US.

Distribution: It is normal for cars in the UK to be held in a central compound and then shipped to dealers as they are ordered. I think in the US it is much more common for dealers to keep cars in stock for immediate delivery. This would explain the bigger choice of trim/engine/colours available in the UK.

No multiple dealerships: Car dealers in the UK usually sell one make of car only which reduces competition and any economies of scale for them in servicing and the like. US dealers seem to sell two or three makes which complement each other and give the servicing department plenty to work on.

Where else are you going to go ?: Almost everything is more expensive in the UK than the US, the market is smaller and for cars we drive on the other side of the road to the rest of Europe which hinders UK buyers from buying their cars elsewhere.

SAAB: Beyond the conventionalTarget customers ?: Saab in the UK is marketed much more seriously than the fun approach taken in the US. There are no wiggly graphics and "find your own road" slogan, here Saab is "Beyond the conventional". UK motoring magazines usually find room for the term "pipe and slippers brigade" when reviewing the 900, a bit annoying since I am 29 years old and own neither !!
The Saab UK brochure does not proudly announce that Saab is a 50/50 joint venture with GM Europe as the american brochure does. In the UK GM Europe is known as the mass market brand Vauxhall and it would be like Saab US saying they were 50% owned by Chevrolet.

If you have any corrections or suggestions, please email them to me

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