Saab Turbo X media event
by, 12 November 2010 at 04:15 (3297 Views)
This took place in April of 2008 but I thought it would be nice to post it here as well. I attended this media event for trollhattansaab.net (now saabsunited.com) where the Saab 9-3 Turbo X was introduced to a select group of journalists. The idea was to have some competitor cars at a race track and see how the Turbo X would compare.
Full picture set on Flickr: link
Originally published here with comments from readers: link
Here is my report from that day.
When you get an offer to attend a Saab event and there are hints of driving a unique and fast car, there isn’t a whole lot to think about in terms of whether or not to attend. Thanks to TS, I had the opportunity to attend one of the first testing events of the Turbo X in the USA. It was at Gingerman Raceway in Western Michigan and it was a day to remember for a long time. There were several other cars at the track (Subaru STI, Audi A4 3.2 Quattro, BMW 335Xi and M3) which were put through their paces by Pratt and Miller, who also run the Corvette Le Mans racing team.
One of the last snowstorms of the season blew through Michigan on Saturday but we were treated with a clear blue sky and a reasonably comfortable temperature this Monday. I was met by Jan-Willem Vester of Saab USA at the track after a quiet drive downstate on this Monday morning. The Turbo X was sitting next to a race trailer waiting to show someone a good time. Like many of you, I have seen many pictures of the car at glitzy auto shows before, but it is a different experience when you meet the car in person. And especially at a race track where there are no beautiful women draped across the hood, the car is not immaculately clean and the wheels are coated in a nice layer of brake dust. This day is not about show – it’s all about business.
I need quite a few hot caffeinated beverages to get me going in the morning and coffee and donuts were readily available. But right after the first sip, Jan Willem introduced me to Jan Magnussen. The Turbo X was ready to go so I jumped in the passenger seat next to him. Let me tell you, a few laps on the track in the Turbo X sitting next to this guy wakes you up faster than 20 MochaJocaLattis (or whatever fancy drinks they serve at Starbucks). If you have been on a racetrack before then you’ll be familiar with screaming tires, a howling engine and the smell of rubber in the car. This was one of those experiences.
It would have been nice if someone had told me before the ride that Jan is a professional race driver (originally from Denmark) and he was assisting Saab in evaluating the Turbo X today. I felt a bit helpless and questioned his experience in making the next turn while I was grabbing the door handle and hold on for dear life. The laps were over with pretty quickly and I noticed my heart rate was quite a bit faster compared to when I first got into the car. This is much better than coffee!
It turned out I was in really safe and experienced hands because Jan Magnussen has had an impressive racing career already. He has won Le Mans several times and more about him can be found at his website www.janmagnussen.com. Jan-Willem told me Jan was very impressed with the performance of the Turbo X and it was faster than the rwd BMW M3.
The 1985 SPG Turbo from the Heritage Collection was on-site as well. Greg Mull from CAS explained everything about the restoration that was started in October of last year and finished before the auto show in Boston. They really did an amazing job and it almost looked like a new car. I haven’t driven any of the older Saabs before (I am quite a Saab noobie) and it was a real treat to have my first drive in this Saab 900. I was actually quite terrified driving it through the parking lot because I didn’t want to mess anything up. There is a saying “You break it, you buy it” and I probably would have to give up my house to cover the cost of this Saab. Greg took over the wheel after a while and put the SPG through its paces. Very impressive performance for a 23 year old car.
Previous reports indicated this was the first production Turbo X in the USA but it was a pre-production model also used at the press event in Marseille. There were still a few glitches in the electrical system of this pre-production model, which occasionally caused a cut in engine power. The real production cars are still somewhere in between Europe and the USA but should arrive stateside soon.
There was an opportunity for me to take the Turbo X for a few laps in between the professional tests. John Libbos was kind (and perhaps crazy) enough to sit in the passenger seat when I took the car out to play. While I have driven on a racetrack before and was taught a few techniques from professional drivers, I am certainly not a pro at this.
The first thing I noticed about driving the Turbo X was that it is a car that is very easy to drive fast. Almost too easy to get in trouble fast. Taking it through the turns went very smooth and you have to look at the speedometer to see how fast you’re really going. Of course the saying “You break it, you buy it” was still in the back of my head so I took it easy with the Turbo X and didn’t make the Pirelli Zero Nero’s scream too much.
I used to have a 2006 9-3 Aero SC and was always very impressed with its performance. This Turbo X is another step up, though, and can easily get you in a lot of trouble if you don’t pay attention. The few laps were over much too soon but it was an incredible experience being able to drive this car.
Another few testers were not so lucky today. One of the journalists did something to the car it didn’t really like, which resulted in a failed clutch. But considering the previous duty of this car at the Marseille event and at Gingerman Raceway today, this was probably bound to happen sooner or later. This was bad news for the program because this Turbo X was supposed to go to the Milford Proving Grounds for additional tests over the next few days.
The day ended with a few laps in my own car. It’s fun to drive someone else’s car on a racetrack but it is even more fun to drive your own. I was actually curious to find out how the heavier and FWD 9-5 would compare to the smaller and lighter XWD 9-3.
The 2005 9-5 Aero was very stable and fast through the turns. It was actually much too stable, until I realized I forgot to turn the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) off. This system really works very well because I was not able to spin the wheels, break out the rear or do other irresponsible maneuvers. Hitting the ESP switch on the dash awoke the beast within and let me do things you should only be doing on a closed track. Front wheel drive, more weight and less power is no match for the Turbo X, of course. It was fun though to see what the car actually could do when driven hard. I really should take up auto crossing with the SCCA again some day.
There were many dedicated employees from Saab USA at the track this Monday who made it a great success. John Libbos – Product Manager for the 9-3 and 9-5, Roger McCormack – Marketing Director, Jim Hunter – Group Product Manager and of course Jan-Willem Vester – Manager Public Relations. I also had a nice chat with Jim Laman of the Great Lakes Saab Club and I am sure I will participate in some of their events in the near future. I want to thank Swade for this fantastic opportunity to hang around this great car and friendly people all day and feel very fortunate to experience the Turbo X.