Rover 75 2.5 V6, Saab 9-3 2.0 Turbo, Side view 23 Photos Zoom

Rover 75 and Saab 9-3: Strong characters from Sweden and the UK

The Rover 75 and Saab 9-3 are true characters, albeit very different characters. They could do with a few more fans - they deserve it.

Everything could have been so beautiful with the 75, redeveloped from the ground up, as a strong start to a shining Rover future. With BMW, from 1994 the brand finally had a strong partner by its side, one that understood cars. But one year after the launch of the kingsize mid-size engine car in notchback clothing and after six years of losses, the Bavarians had lost the desire, pulled the rip cord and handed the sceptre over to the Phoenix Venture Consortium. With this, the car was well accepted by British fans and dealers reported promising sales figures: just on e week after the market launch, 10,000 had found buyers. Here in Germany the handsome Rover became known primarily among rental car drivers – at the end of the 90s fleets were full of the model. It was never meant to be a mass-produced car, after little more than 200,000 units, production came to a close. There is now to be a reunion after ten years, and the German-British exotic creature is well on the way to becoming an extravagant classic-to-be. And it's a pleasure, after so long, to once again start up a six-cylinder that has already put in its service in the car's predecessor, the Rover 800. Strictly speaking, the 75 also replaces the Rover 600 series. The V6, which appears in two-litre form in the top-of-the-range model is a textbook engine, which blends as smooth as butter with the drive train and fits well with the not particularly precise, but easily switching five-speed transmission.

The Rover 75 with DOHC-V6, 4-cylinder turbo in the Saab 9-3

The other character, the Saab 9-3, contrasts with the majority of the Rover's characteristics: it is a classic saloon, but drives with the self-assurance of a notchback, seems more compact in all areas, offers less comfort and now denies itself the six-cylinder engine. Prior to the facelift, when the Swede, which did not suffer so greatly among lovers of the brand, was still called the 900, GM tried it out with the 2.5-litre engine from the Calibra and Vectra. This was presumably too much for the fans, who in any case couldn't get the Opel mid-size with which the Saab 9-3 is related out of their minds. But he engine is a Saab institution. The engine block, with its concise 1,985 cubic centimetres of volume has been around since the 99 model series from the early 70s. The short-stroke engine, initially still with Triumh genes, was used until well into the 2000s and powered countless versions of the distinctive Swedish car – sometimes with and sometimes without turbo-charging and even in the form of an advanced and gutsy four-valve model in the early 80s.

With the 182 Turbo HP in our comparison model, it tries to be an equal partner to the Rover 75, but it doesn't quite manage it. Granted, on paper the Scandinavian packed more punch, but the even-then antiquated four-speed automatic put a stop to this. So it has punch on paper – the undoubted voracious acceleration also requires better traction. It certainly does put the front tyres to the test as you put your foot down, but the compact Swede doesn't feel like it is producing almost 200 HP.

Rover 75 is the superior gentleman

The Rover on the other hand feels no need for wild acceleration orgies. It is the superior gentleman, with a kind-natured chassis. As such it eliminates even aggressive bumps with astonishing thoroughness, whereas the Saab distributes noticable bumps to its passengers when driving over frost buckling. And even with more than 180,000 km on the clock, the islander still provides that firmness that really gets new car drivers excited. Were we simply lucky, seeing as the experts warn of worn out cardan shafts and transverse link bushings? That said, the often criticised water penetration has caught our blue V6 with the culturally conscious Union Jack on the boot lid out. The mouldy insulating mat on the boot lid is one indication. And the belt of the our model, which has clearly lain stationary for some time, could also do with being intensively cleaned.

The Saab has just over 230,000 kilometers on the clock and doesn't seem worn out either. The only creaks now come from the direction of the dashboard, but we can allow the old four-door car, with its ever-gelaming paint, this. Incidentally, neither of the two candidates perform miracles when it comes to space. In the back of the Rover, which was continually criticised as being too narrow, there is a touch more room – as the 14 additional centimetres of wheelbase simply make their presence felt. In both case, the interior architecture is unconventional. The Rover 75 polarises opinion with retro dials, which fit well with the luxurious interior. The leather, complete with generous padding, in combination with the sophisticated burl wood inlays, would excite even Jaguar drivers. The Saab 9-3, on the other hand, contradicts itself in a few places: the sporty seats with embroidered turbo lettering, which don't really go with the leisurely four-speed automatic, being one example.

Both have what it takes to be serious classics-to-be

However, the charging pressure gauge is a must, and of course the typical ignition switch in the centre console. So why do Saab fans so often criticise the relationship with Opel? Inside there are no clear traces of Opel - this is something that the designers in Trollhättan managed to resolve, lending the desired unique touch to the Saab 9-3: from the air vents to the switches, the brand could hardly be any more authentic. Both characters still have a little maturing to do before they are considered a serious classic-to-be. They have what it takes to do this. Buy now is the best recommendation.


Beate Jeske


7 August 2015
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