Weekend Edition – Spring in Beaterland: 1993 from two directions

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Last spring, not quite a year ago, I juxtaposed my then-cars on the same parking lot you see here. The 1990 Mitsubishi Sapporo and the 1995 BMW 518i were two roughly similar sized sedans, and their combined value at purchase was somewhere south of three grand. This year, I again parked two of my cars face to face, but both the Sapporo and the 518i are long gone, in their place the 1997 Xantia Break and the 1990 Saab 900S. And what do you know, three grand would easily buy you these two as well.

But while the Sapporo and the 518i weren’t exactly hewn from the same block, the cars I now have are even more drastically different. Right now, I’m shuffling both the Citroën and the Saab, as they easily suit different uses, both being able to show me their respective strengths. What the other does well isn’t far from the other’s reach, but there’s plenty of justification to run both. Let’s reiterate some of the characteristics.

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The elephant in the room is the Saab’s fuel consumption. Equipped with the auto trans, the Saab requires somewhat more fuel than a manual one would. The worst reading I’ve gotten is 18,9l/100km, or 12,45 mpg. That’s dire. But if I take the Saab for a highway drive with minimal start-stop driving, it’ll reward me with 8,25l/100km or 28,5 mpg. Or that’s what I got out of today’s highway stint according to the amount of fuel I got in the tank: it’s probably bullsh*t but I’ll believe it.

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But with that fuel consumption comes an air of solidity. The Citroën can’t match the sound of the Saab’s doors closing. And while the Citroën seems like a featherlight exercise in 1990s aerodynamic design, it’s actually heavier than the Saab, and shorter.

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There are creature comforts and gadgets. The Citroën’s stiletto key gives me remote central locking, but the rear doors don’t do what it asks them to. The Saab’s central locking opens all doors, but I have to use the key.

As switchgear comes, I prefer the Saab’s feel. The indicator stalk doesn’t self-cancel due to the Momo Saab Sport steering wheel being fitted, but switching main beams feels a lot more positive and sturdy than using the Citroën’s stalk which feels like it could more easily snap off in my hand.

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And when I indicate left and go for an overtake, the Saab gives me the shove I need, going all the way to [SPEED REDACTED] without as much as a hiccup. The Citroën requires a stern grab of a smaller gear, and I have to eke out all of the 110hp the 1.8-litre 16-valve engine gives me, but it’ll get past what I ask it to, I’ll just have to use better judgement when choosing my opponents. What both cars do, however, is remain steady when changing lanes on a windy highway. The BMW had an unnerving lurch I could never eradicate.

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Where the Citroën shines, in addition to getting further with less juice, is on our horrible post-winter streets. The potholes, the grooves, the scarred roads everywhere near bring out the thumps and the jitters inside the Saab. It’s a constant source of annoyment, and I have to pay extra attention and keep out of the grooves to not get the trembles in my fingers. Inside the Citroën, there’s sweet, sweet detachment from worldly matters. I don’t even care it still rolls on studded winter tires, as they feel less roary than the dried-up Pirellis on the Saab’s Sunburst wheels.

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But the directness the Saab’s solid suspension and steering offer is infinitely more rewarding on a twisty, well-surfaced back road. The Citroën is not a bad steer, but the weight and feel aren’t in the same league as the Saab. The thick sports wheel in the Saab feels super-secure to grab and direct into the corner, while the more rolly Citroën feels more of a hustler, not a point-and-shoot machine.

On long drives, the Saab’s seats are just so much better than the Citroën’s part-Alcantara jobs, even if in the latter you get adjustable lumbar support. And the rear seat has a 60/40 fold, while the Saab’s rear seat goes down as a whole.

The Saab’s heater is such a sauna-specification one, that it cannot be left on anything other than just a touch up from cold, or it’ll just get stuffy inside it. I generally enjoy the Saab’s dashboard more, but the Citroën’s stereo comes with an AUX jack, while the Saab’s Blaupunkt just gives you FM radio and cassette. I could more easily upgrade it, as it’s 1DIN and the Citroën’s is half a head-unit taller, but I just like the period-correct looks.

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Reliability-wise, I’m in the clear right now. The Citroën has had the starter replaced, and the CEL the Saab threw was gone the next day. Sure, the Citroën sags its ass quite quickly after parking, and the Saab sometimes bogs down and stalls when started warm, but these aren’t even close to being big deals.

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Which one do I like best? It’s clear I need both. The Saab is too vintage, too eager to rust to be used all year long, too thirsty and clumsy in town traffic. The Citroën isn’t as quirky as it could be, blending amongst all the other burgundy wagons, but it withstands road salt and bad roads better. Of the two, it hauls stuff while the Saab hauls ass. It’s that simple.

The crucial bit of context, the gist of the matter is that in 1993, the classic shape Saab 900 “OG” was phased out in favour of the GM soya NG900. And in the same year, the Xantia was unveiled, putting the BX into history books. Put roughly, it’s always 1993 between these two cars I own. I’ll just stand in the middle, choosing the direction I want to look.

[Images: Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

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