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2012 Audi A4 Avant (Audi)
2012 Audi A4 Avant (Audi)

Best of the Lot

What car can replace a Saab for a loyal owner? Add to ...

I am on my third Saab, a 2005 9-3. (My first two were 9-5s – even better.) But now even I, eternally loyal, have given up hope that Saab will ever be born again. What do you recommend for a Saab clone? I drive from Toronto to Nova Scotia and back at least once a year, and to Collingwood virtually every weekend. Aside from handling, mileage, etc., among other things, I love the dashboard configuration of the Saab. – Barbara in Toronto

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Vaughan: I sob for Saab.

Saabs were always an enthusiast’s car, but General Motors bought a 50 per cent stake in Saab in 1989, bought the rest a decade later and drove the company right into the ground.

Cato: In GM’s post-bankruptcy world, Saab had the most tortured termination of all.

Spyker’s Victor Mueller took a run at saving Saab with the help of taxpayer money, but the end inevitably came and Saab left us. Without a whimper.

Vaughan: Saabs arrived in North America from Sweden in the late 1950s as odd-looking, front-wheel-drive cars with noisy two-stroke engines. They developed a cult following, particularly in New England, where you can still find old Saabs spewing blue smoke as they head for the ski hills.

In Canada, Saab’s best years were in the early 1990s when it was selling a sporty European car to people who didn’t want a BMW. That’s when GM stepped in and starved the company. When SUVs became popular, Saab didn’t have one, so it lost customers who went off to buy other brands. Extinction was at hand.

Cato: Actually, Saab did have an SUV at one point: a rebadged GMC Envoy. A travesty. A joke.

Here’s the irony: GM was created out of a collection of brands and became a powerhouse so big that, in the 1950s, one in every two cars sold in North America was a GM of some sort. But in modern times, GM is clueless about acquisitions and alliances.

GM wasted, for example, $4.5-billion (U.S.) on a failed investment in Fiat. Even worse, if you trace that money back through degrees of separation, you’ll find that Fiat used at least half of it to rebuild its product line. Those actions made Fiat a viable saviour for a Chrysler that is now the most profitable part of the Fiat. To sum up: you can make the argument that, by financing Fiat’s product renaissance in the 2000s, GM helped to pay for a Chrysler revival managed by Fiat.

But enough of Saab and GM history. What’s Barbara to do?

There is that other Swedish car company, Volvo. Sort of. Volvo now has Chinese ownership – Geely – and Geely seems to be driving the last Swedish car company into the ground, though not quite yet. Barb, look at the Volvo S60. I love it.

Vaughan: I feel sorry for Volvo dealers; they need more new products to sell, but in the meantime they’re loading incentives on the S60 with what looks like thousands for starters.

Barb, you’ll like the S60’s firm, smooth ride, accurate steering, tight chassis – very Saab-like. However, the instruments and controls are not Saab-like. They’re a jumble of little buttons and functions.

Cato: What? A jumble? Not at all. I have no trouble with the S60’s controls and instruments. You may struggle with simple technology, but not me.

As for discounts and pricing – wow, this is an interesting story.

The 2013 base all-wheel-drive model with its five-cylinder turbo lists for $41,550 and comes with minimal discounts. Leftover 2012s with AWD list for $45,450, have an inline-six-cylinder and I see discounts as high as $7,000. Babs, go for the 2013. More car for about the same money.

Vaughan: I would also suggest Barbara test-drive the Infiniti EX37 ($39,900). It has car-like handling as it’s based on Infiniti’s G-cars. But I think it’s too big for Barb after the Saab sedan. This is a tall, 325-horsepower crossover on great big 18- or 19-inch wheels.

The full-time all-wheel-drive system through a seven-speed automatic will do the Collingwood run or the Nova Scotia trip in all types of weather. The interior is luxurious, maybe too luxurious after the spartan Swedish interior of the Saab.

Check it out, Barb, but I think you’ll find it too big and SUV-like. My suggestion is the Audi A4 Avant with all-wheel-drive – er, sorry, I meant “quattro.”

Cato: What are you talking about? The EX37 is not particularly big and I love all the technology here. Lots of it, including an around-view display that is fantastic. This is my pick for you. Barbara.

Vaughan: Barb, the Audi A4 Avant is your Saab replacement ($42,800, base). It’s another enthusiast’s car.

You’ll be switching nationalities here, and you will notice the differences between your quirky Scandinavian car and the brash Bavarian, but I think you’ll adjust. If you miss the Swedish-ness too much, you can always drop into an IKEA store for a plate of those dreadful meatballs.

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HOW THEY COMPARE

 

2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD2013 Infiniti EX37 AWD2012 Audi A4 Avant 2.0T quattro

Wheelbase (mm)

277628502808

Length (mm)

462846314703

Width (mm)

186518031826

Track, front (mm)

148415891436

Engine

2.5-litre five-cylinder, turbocharged3.7-litre V-62.0-litre four-cylinder, torbocharged

Output (horsepower/torque)

250/266 lb-ft325/267 lb-ft211/258 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel driveAll-wheel driveAll-wheel drive

Transmission

Six-speed automaticSeven-speed automaticEight-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

160018151730

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

N/AN/A10.0 city/7.0 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$41,550$39,900$42,800

Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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