The base Aero convertible starts off at just over $37K -- a price that's not too difficult to swallow considering the powerplant and power retractable top -- but as some readers lamented in response to our post for Days 1-2, the options add up quickly. In our $47K Aero vert, most of these perks outfit the interior.

In the previous model year Saabs we've sat in, the interiors have been monochromatic and dreary. Not so in the 2006 9-3 Aero Convertible. The rich leather interior of our Saab is striking in its contrast between the beige and black, rounded out with silver metal accents. While differently appointed than some of the competition (we miss the stitched leather steering wheel present in the cockpit of many a 9-3 competitor), the hard places like the dash and controls don't feel plasticky or cheap by anyone's standards.

It's this color scheme that has us drooling -- the two-tone trend seen in many concept cars (Chrysler Imperial, MINI Traveller concepts) and some edgy, youthful production cars (MINI Cooper, Mazda 3) has made its way to Saab, and the vehicle is all the better for it. While ours is an attractive Parchment on Black, more conservative drivers are welcome to go with Saab's Slate on Black offering, which is still tasteful, if a little macabre. In the 20 Years edition (which has an electric blue exterior), the interior is Parchment with playful blue accents stitched into the seats and lining parts of the doors.

Looks aside, the creature comforts of the vehicle run aplenty. The 9-3's seats, for instance, are amazing. They're firm and supportive for quick jaunts and long hauls alike, with the adjustable lumbar support kicking in for extra comfort. The front chairs are also fully adjustable, giving drivers the opportunity to set the seat just “so,” and with the Touring Package (not equipped on our Saab, unfortunately), the vehicle can even store driver preferences. The headrests, in addition to being rather comfortable on longer trips, also employ an active safety feature to prevent neck injuries in the event of an accident.

 

 

For those of us who have struggled with manual convertible tops, the automatically retracting top is a godsend. At a speed of 20 mph or less, just press down on one little button and enjoy the show. Keep pressing down and it will even lower the windows for you automatically. With the top up, the Saab doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as most drop tops, a situation credited to the relatively ample back window and as-narrow-as-possible C-pillars. Outward vision suffers and a few extra decibels are hanging around thanks to the soft top, of course, but we’ve certainly seen and heard convertibles that've had it worse. Use your mirrors, turn up the killer sound system and you’ll be fine.

 

 

 The back seats don’t have a whole lot of legroom, but what convertible does? Getting into the back seat, however, is another story. Saab has seen fit to include levers in the shoulders of the front seats that one needs to yank in order to gain access to the back. They are a little cumbersome, and while she might not find much sympathy among car guys, this Autoblogger’s mother broke a nail trying to take up residency in the back seat. She spent months getting them to that length, which is an important point. If you don’t think that matters guys, then don’t be surprised if you end up driving this convertible all by your lonesome.

 

If any real complaint is to be made, however, it'd be that the center console's busier than the Swedish hockey team trying to fend off the Finns for Gold. While overall the controls are fairly intuitive, no medal can be awarded based on the sheer number of buttons that confront the driver. A number pad for the phone, separate switches for the various audio settings (why can't Saab's engineers just design one chiclet that you punch a few times to cycle through the options rather than giving everything its own attention-grabbing button?), several options for display settings, five million HVAC options -- per passenger -- and all that without even mentioning the navigation system, which takes us down another long and winding path of possibilities.

The nav system is a little more intuitive, though, and it comes in handy on unfamiliar turf. The vehicle has to be stopped in order to use it, which for those of us that have no problems multitasking is a little annoying, but it's for our own good. Like most navvies, it's operated by a scrolling knob that must be pushed in to make a selection. The lag in calculating the route is relatively quick, and any misguidance should be blamed on the driver before the pleasant female voice that offers instruction. Speaking of that voice, lest you forget this vehicle is European, it speaks with a British accent, instructing the driver to "mehrge onto the mowtahway" rather than "get on the highway." As pleasant as the sound is, however, we still haven't a way to turn her off and just let the arrows do their job. There's gotta be a button for that somewhere...


 

 

The aforementioned stereo system assaults the senses with 300 watts, 10 speakers, an in-dash CD player and a 6-CD changer in the luggage compartment (what's it doin' back there?). There's also an auxiliary jack for an iPod or other media player. One can control the system either via (yet more) buttons on the steering wheel, or from the center console. And, unlike some steering wheel-mounted controls, turning the wheel doesn’t cause an accidental departure from the latest episode of This American Life you were listening to.

 

 

So now’s the part where you say, “Fire up the engine and drive already!” In the interest of saving the best for last, however, we’ll wait and cover the fun stuff in the third and final installment of our test drive, scheduled to appear on Friday. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 


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