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    Sometimes our office car park makes you feel as if you’ve fallen through a hole in time to wind up in the early ’90s and last week two of our project cars provided the perfect retro composition: the shot needed only a monochrome filter adding to look for all the world like the directors’ parking spaces, circa 1992 . Who says you need a De Lorean for time travel...?

    / #Saab-900 / #Saab / #Mercedes-Benz-190E / #Mercedes-Benz / #Mercedes-Benz-190E-W201 / #Mercedes-Benz-W201 / #1992
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    TURBO TWOSOME #1985 #Citroen-CX vs. #Saab-900-Turbo

    How do the #Citroen-CX-GTi-Turbo-Series-1 and #Saab-900-Turbo-16S shape up now they have extra firepower?

    Less than a decade ago turbo-charging spelt high performance and exclusivity, but it was also synonymous with dubious reliability. The few models around came with a degree of turbo lag that had to be experienced to be believed. But while the early turbos may have been raw and unrefined they were also highly exciting cars to drive, and as Saab discovered with its classic black-only 99, there was a tremendous amount of prestige associated with the turbo badge.

    Now everybody is turbocharging and the reasons are easy to see: for a relatively small investment an existing engine’s power output can be dramatically increased, in the short term bypassing the need to build a new engine, and. because of the amount of development which has gone on over the years, the turbo is now perceived by the buying public to have sufficient reliability.

    It’s arguable that few other cars could be as well suited to a turbo adaptation as the two we look at here. Both cars, in normally aspirated form, rely on four-cylinder engines which must surely have very nearly reached the end of their development potential.

    Saab in particular have done an excellent job in developing turbo technology on an existing engine. From a slanted single overhead camshaft engine of 1.85 litres which once powered a rear-driven Triumph the Swedes have produced a front-drive two-litre intercooled, turbocharged engine which in 1982 gained the benefit of automatic performance control, an ignition system allowing it to run on any grade of fuel.

    But even more exciting than this was the recent introduction of the same engine with double overhead camshafts plus four valves per cylinder, increasing the already respectable power output of 145 bhp to 175 blip at 5300 rpm. and marginally improving government fuel figures in the process. Torque is a healthy 201 lbs ft at 3000 rpm.

    Citroen do not have the same turbo experience as #Saab , but this hasn’t stopped the French company making a supreme effort to freshen up the look of the #Citroen CX.

    The big four-cylinder 2.5-litre engine (which sits transversely, unlike the Saab's) nevertheless bears some similarity to the Saab in having a #Garrett-T3 turbocharger bolted on, plus an intercooler and #Bosch fuel injection, and produces 168 bhp at a slightly lower 5000 rpm. Torque is marginally more than the Saab: 217 lbs ft at 3250 rpm. Both cars employ five-speed transmissions.

    There are three different versions of the Saab 900 Turbo 16-the three-door, four-door, and the exceptionally racy- looking three-door 16S, which we test here. Its running gear is the same as other 900s wishbones at the front and a dead axle on coils at the rear - though springs are tougher and alloy wheels are shod with fat 60series tyres. Steering is by a power-assisted rack and pinion system.

    Extra equipment also includes side “skirts” integrated with a front spoiler, plus a rear deck spoiler. Inside there is cruise control, central locking, electric windows, and a sunroof. All this results in a £14,090 price tag an extra £600 over the normal Turbo 16 three-door.

    The Citroen’s running gear is the usual hydropneumatic suspension and Vari-power steering ( #DIRAVI ), though for the turbo model bigger anti-roll bars are used and damping rates are changed. The high pressure hydraulic brakes now have larger front air scoops, and the 55-series tyres run on alloy wheels. In its appearance the Citroen looks positively low key alongside the Saab. Only the wheels, a rear bootlid spoiler, and some discreet badging sets it apart from other CXs. But inside there has been a pretty drastic change by Citroen standards - the adoption of a conventional facia panel bearing six round dials. The much praised fingertip controls remain, however. Central locking and electric windows are included in the specification. The #Citroen-CX25-GTi-Turbo is £12.990.

    By just about any standards the performance of both cars is utterly thrilling; abundantly quick for even the still unrestricted German auto-bahns. and providing acceleration which remains breathtaking no matter how often sampled.

    Yet neither, we feel, can go all the way to five marks in this category. Essentially, the Saab’s performance edge is flawed just a little by that age-old turbo characteristic - the lag before power pick-up. The engine has to be working at around 2500 rpm before too much happens in the way of boost, and although the new double cam unit feels more flexible than either the APC eight-valve or the predecessor to that, there’s still a very slight hesitation before the needle on the boost gauge hurls itself into the all-systems-go sector.

    Possibly the slight lag is exaggerated by gearing which is a shade high for a car of this performance potential, (or third and fourth gears necessarily keep the engine around 2000 to 3000 rpm at normal road speeds. If, for example, you want to blast away from 25 mph, a quick change down to second is advisable.

    But as soon as the Saab gets into its stride, it's just unbelievably quick. Once the boost gauge is in the go section the eerie turbo whistle can be heard rising in pitch, and the ensuing quickening of pace makes everything in the rear view mirror shrink away rapidly. And there seems hardly any top end limit to the rocketship acceleration; even at 90 to 100 mph in top full throttle sends the Saab surging forward, the steering momentarily lightening as it does so.

    It should be clear by now that the Saab’s performance is at its best on motorways. Working at higher revs - than would be used around town, say 3500 to 4000 rpm in fifth, a mere brush of the shoe on the accelerator pedal is sufficient to produce enough passing power for virtually any circumstances.

    On paper the Saab’s figures can-not fail to impress: a standing 60 mph is reached in 8.2 secs, while 100 mph comes up in 24.3 secs. The eight-valve APC turbo achieved 0-60 mph in 8.9 secs when we tested it in May 1983. Even though there is still a slight degree of turbo lag. pick-up times are excellent: in fifth 50 to 70 and 70 to 90 mph come up in 8.5 and 6.0 secs respectively.

    Back down to earth, the Saab dis-plays no sign at all of any temperament, and the improved breathing of twin cams and more valves reduce the slight harshness of the normal turbo when revved. The gearchange is acceptable rather than sporty; it has a reasonably precise movement but a dead feel to it.

    Despite the CX's extra three cwt over the #Saab-900 , plus a marginal power j disadvantage, it provides acceleration figures which are broadly similar to the Saab, and at the crucial 0-60 mph time it actually beats the Saab by a fraction.

    By giving the GTi slightly lower gearing, Citroen have managed to almost completely disguise any turbo hesitation, and the result is an instant pick-up not available from the Swede. Add to this that the turbo begins to spin well below 2500 rpm, and the overall effect is that Citroen's turbo installation is arguably a more usable one for most road conditions.

    Performance is certainly tremendous compared with any other CX we have tried in the past; 60 mph is covered in only 8.0 secs, and 100 mph is seen in 22.3 secs. Fifty to 70 mph and 70 to 90 mph in filth are covered in 7.9 and 7.4 secs.

    As with the Saab, the CX is in its element in high-speed motorway dashes. Again only the slightest pressure on the throttle is enough to provide all the acceleration one could wish for. and the high speed at which the CX responds swiftly to instructions from the right foot is impressive. What the CX’s turbo also does is to disguise the rather tired and asthmatic note of the big banger’ four-cylinder engine; the rousing note of the turbo induction mostly covers the harshness which is present at high revs. Another welcome effect is that because the turbo tap starts to run at low revs, the engine feels immensely torquey - second gear becomes virtually redundant m town-speed traffic.

    But at very low speeds the CX begins to shed marks left right and centre. The gearchange has a stiff, notchy movement which can be described as good only in comparison to previous CXs.

    The respective top speeds of these cars are somewhat academic, so we have left them to the end of this category. But for the record, the Saab will achieve 125 mph, and the Citroen 131. Few owners will attain such speeds, but nevertheless they cannot fail to impress.

    SAAB ••••
    CITROEN ••••

    SAAB ••••
    CITROEN •••

    The two cars could hardly be more different in this respect: the Saab is firmly sprung with a taut feeling at all times, whereas the CX is more luxuriously compliant. Considering just how old is The Saab's heritage, there's a surprising amount of road- holding in its chassis. And in this uprated version. Saab engineers have wrung even more grip out of it. The low-profile tyres cling to every corner with stubborn grip and the big car really is a joy to hurl through a series of tight bends.

    What’s more, the Saab always feels very safe indeed; there is no sting in the tail if the driver goes too far, for the amount of understeer simply gets more and more marked. The rear beam axle defies the usual front-drive trait of sliding out of line if power is taken off midway through a corner. It's a pity, though, that the steering does not have more weight to it, because while taking speedy bends the system feeds back little of what is happening under the front wheels. This latest Saab has more weight to the steering than previous 900s, but a little more still would be welcome nonetheless.
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