Saab 900 exterior

Saab 900


Saab 900 Review

Quirky in both both looks and engineering, the Saab 900’s jet fighter-inspired styling and turbocharged engines are as appealing now as in its ’80s heyday…

What Is It?

The automotive landscape is a less interesting place for Saab’s departure from it, though the cars live on and, of them, the iconic 900 is maturing into a definitive modern classic. Evolved from the 99 and launched at the end of the 1970s, the 900 matured into an ‘80s icon thanks to its early adoption of turbocharged engines and determinedly single-minded looks heavily influenced by a long-standing overlap between Saab’s automotive products and its aerospace engineering.

This found its perfect expression in an advert by Tony Scott indulgently comparing the 900 Turbo to the Saab Viggen fighter jet, this stylised celebration of speed and technology later finding its full expression in the original Top Gun he went on to direct shortly after.

Back in the real world the stereotype of Saabs being the choice of architects and other free-thinking creative types was a perfect match for the brand image, the 900 shared the Scandi cool of fellow Swedes Volvo but with a more dynamic and performance-orientated twist, thanks to the focus on aerodynamics and forced induction.

Corrosive Areas

Bodywork behind plastic cladding

Boot floor

Front valance/crossmember


  • The 900 was based on the 99 and inherited many traditional Saab quirks, such as the inclined ‘back to front’ longitudinal engine driving the front wheels, double wishbone suspension with unusual multi-linkage beam rear axle, handbrake operating on the front wheels and early adoption of turbocharging
  • The 2.0-litre engine at the heart of all 900s (expanded to 2.1-litres in some models) traces its roots to a Triumph design and was available in eight- and 16-valve forms with fuelling by carburettors or fuel-injection and in naturally-aspirated and turbocharged form with or without intercooling; turbos are referred to both ‘Low Pressure Turbo’ and ‘Full Pressure Turbo’ depending on trim – you’ll often see these abbreviated to LPT and FPT
  • Identifying which engine variant you’re looking at isn’t always obvious, though the early naming convention of GL for single-carburettor, GLS for twin-carb, GLI for injection and Turbo is relatively straightforward; later LPT models used an ‘S’ designation to differentiate from the full, Turbo-badged FPT models
  • The original ‘B’ engine was replaced by the much improved ‘H’ engine in 1980, though confusingly both carry the B prefix to their official designations; a naturally aspirated 2.1-litre version was added later
  • While the turbo installation and badging will be obvious enough, one quick signifier you’re looking at an FPT model is the boost needle above the fuel gauge that LPT versions missed out on
  • More powerful FPT and 16-valve turbocharged cars are prized but given even an LPT or early eight-valve version had around 145PS (106kW) from new performance is strong on all forced-induction 900s
  • While the definitive bodystyle is the three-door hatchback the 900 was also available in five-door form, as well as two- and four-door saloons and, later, a four-seat convertible
  • The 900 received frequent and detail updates throughout its life, including a new grille and bigger rear lights in 1980 and a more far-reaching facelift in 1987 with the introduction of fully integrated bumpers and various technical changes, including a conventional rather than front-wheel handbrake
  • Aero models arrived in the mid-1980s, the wind-tunnel honed bodykit actually making a meaningful difference as well as looking cool; limited edition Carlsson models with uprated 185PS (136kW) output are rare and beaten only by the Ruby edition run-out version for desirability
  • Engines are considered very tough and capable of racking up huge mileages when properly cared for, though look out for the usual signs of overheating, blown gaskets and unusual rattles; blue smoke may indicate a failing turbo
  • Automatic Boost Control – APC – was added to the Turbo in 1982 and adjusts boost according to fuel quality to prevent knock; it can fail and cause running issues in later life, though
  • The unusual transmission arrangement of a transaxle gearbox integrated into the front of the engine is considered a weak-spot, manuals coming with four-or five speeds while automatics should be a bit sturdier
  • Interiors are generally tough and long-lasting but beware sagging headlinings

How does it drive?

Saabs are as quirky to drive as they are to look at, thanks to both the unusual mechanical arrangement and the distinctive, aircraft inspired ergonomics. Overall there’s a sense of confidence-inspiring solidity, informed by the typically safety-focused Swedish ideals.

But thanks to Saab’s long traditions in rallying and a more performance-orientated mindset there’s also an emphasis on sharp handling, the sophisticated front suspension meaning better than expected steering response and predictable balance.

True, the general vibe is fairly described as nose-heavy and less exciting than the BMW 3 Series you might also have considered at the time, but that’s more than compensated for by the distinctively boosty rush of power on the turbocharged models, especially the more powerful 16-valve versions.

 What’s good?

Saab’s independent thinking has always had huge appeal to both the aesthetically and technically curious driver. And the 900 rewards that engagement from the moment you open the door, drop into the driver’s seat, appreciate the visor-like sweep of the windscreen, the carefully considered ergonomics that prioritise controls according to those you use most and quirks like the ignition barrel in the centre console behind the gear lever.

Some might consider the styling somewhat odd, and it’s true the long front overhang can look ungainly from some angles. But few cars have made three-spoke alloys look good, and the more the years go by the better and more distinctive the 900 looks.

They’re also built tough and, looked after properly, can go on for ever. The huge boot and excellent long distance comfort and refinement also make them very usable, and as appreciation grows and numbers dwindle the good examples are likely to get increasingly sought after.

What’s bad?

While superficially similar on the outside, once you start delving into the intricacies of the different engine, trim and model year differences the 900 range quickly gets very confusing. And that’s just the turbocharged ones. Refining your search is one thing, but finding one will likely then prove nearly as big a challenge, given how few there seem to be around these days.

As such it’s probably best to narrow your search down to a few key must-haves but accept choice may be limited and you’ll just have to go with the best you can find. Mechanical toughness is a blessing and a curse as well, given many will have limped on with minimal care to the point that restoring them to proper condition will now be an expensive and complex business.

The desirable models like the 16-valve turbos and rarities like the Carlsson and Ruby special editions are also getting very expensive now.

Which model to choose?

While the naturally-aspirated cars shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand there’s little doubt a turbocharged 900 of some form or another is probably the way to go if you want the full Saab experience. In terms of bodystyle the convertibles have a following but it’s fair to say the five-door hatch and saloon versions are less desirable than the three-door most consider the definitive shape for the car.

Narrow that down to the super desirable Aero models with their wind-tunnel honed bodykits and iconic three-spoke alloys and you’ll quickly find your choices limited and prices rising.

The heart says one of these – or at least a 16-valve ‘Full Pressure Turbo’ – would be top of the wishlist. But your money may go further if you’re willing to broaden the search to less overt Low Pressure Turbo or eight-valve models, given they still have plenty of performance and the necessary character to put a smile on your face.

Specifications – Saab 900 Turbo 16S (1987)



2.0-litre four-cylinder, petrol


175PS (129kW) @ 5,300rpm


273Nm (201lb ft) @ 3,000rpm


Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Kerb weight

from 1,265kg


8.7 seconds

Top speed


Production dates

1978-1993 (total production)

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