War Of The Noses – Conclusion

So the votes are cast, the verdict is in. Sort of.

I hope no-one’s looking for some momentous enlightenment here. I had a theory and wanted to see if other people agreed. That’s all.

My theory was this:

Nasal Theory
In all but a few cases, Saab actually made their cars look less attractive when they updated them.

That’s it.

The theory started as I pondered the Saab 9-5. I’ve long said that we’ll look at getting a Saab 9-5 wagon when our 9000 bites the dust. But which 9-5?

Saab steadily de-contented the cars after a time, either through directly removing some items or through declining material quality. Cars from the early 2000’s seem to be best equipped as standard and with the highest quality finish when new. But you have to balance that equipment level against the age of the car and with the age comes the nose difference.

As I looked at the two noses, I came to the conclusion that I really liked the earlier 9-5 nose a bit more than the later one. There’s something very composed and elegant about that silver grille that looks good to me from all angles. When I see the later nose, with it’s color-integrated grille surround, something fails to click with me.

I think the 9-5 Aero looks good with the later nose, but the lesser models look like they have their chin poking out, like they’ve made a funny face for a photo.

Then I got thinking about other models.

The Saab 96 is an obvious one where the first iteration was the best. This is the only one for which I showed three generations. In fairness, I should have just made it a question between the second and third generation and left the bullnose out. Why? Because the second and third generations shared the V4 engine. The bullnose didn’t. The V4 necessitated a longer nose so if you want a V4, you don’t get a bullnose to choose from.

I think the Saab 99 looks much more elegant in it’s earlier form. I can understand people favouring the later form because that’s where the 99 really made its name. But the earlier form looks so clean.

My ideal Saab 99 would be an early-form body with a turbo engine, just like this one! It’s owned by a friend in Sweden named Anders S (his brother Peter has a red one just as nice! 🙂 )

When it comes the 900, I’m a little biased. I owned an early version of the Saab 900. It was one of the first 16V cars with the oxblood leather interior and the flat-nose version of the car had me from day 1.

In fairness, though, I also owned a later slant-nosed model in Sweden. I actually had a much better ownership experience with that car, but still prefer the look of the earlier flat-nose versions.

As an aside, I do wonder how much people’s personal ownership experience influenced their vote(s). I also wondered whether people voted just on the nose, and how many on their opinion on the whole vehicle. Did the wheels influence you, for example?

The 9-3 SS and the Saab 9000 are probably the two exceptions to my own theory that I would agree with.

I thought the 9-3 SS vote would be closer but I understand the later nose winning by a large margin. I reckon Dan P summed up the problem with the early 9-3 SS quite well:

I think the original design is great, timeless from many angles and just a beautiful organic shape. What I’ve never liked and puts me off buying one a little is the front lights. They don’t wrap around enough and sit too square on the nose, and it’s out of character compared to the og9-3 and the 9-5.

The overall shape of the 9-3 SS is nice but the front seemed un-finished. The later nose on the 9-3 gave the car more purpose, more aggression IMHO.

Same with the 9000. I like the earlier front but the later nose gave the car a more distinct identity. In comparison, the earlier front looks a little bit generic.


None of this is to say that people shouldn’t like one version or the other. The Saab 99 is a prime example. If you’re going to buy a Saab 99, buy a 99EMS or Turbo and love what is a magnificent front face. The earlier one looks more elegant to me, but the later cars are still beautiful to look at and a much better mechanical package.

Did my theory match the popular vote? Not really.

Saab 9-5 – I picked the early nose. The vote was close, but the majority picked the later, more integrated nose.

Saab 99 – I picked the early nose. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the later nose by a margin of 2 to 1.

Saab 900 – I picked the earlier nose. A lot of people agreed with me, but the vote was still firmly in favour of the later, more slanted nose.

Saab 96 – We all picked the early nose on that one. Despite there being three entries, the bullnose got 61% of the vote. I’m surprised it didn’t get more, to be honest.

Saab 9000 – I think the later nose was an improvement and the people agreed, but only just. The later design won….. by a nose. 87 votes to 79. There’s a lot of love for the early nose there, which maybe supports my theory, even if I wouldn’t have voted for it.

Saab 9-3 SS – I figured this one would be close, but it was an 83% vote for the later nose.

The bottom line

Saab has always had a strong design ethic and it’s no surprise that both their early designs and their refreshed designs are popular with the Saab faithful.

How to explain the discrepancy in the votes? Well, we’re all individuals. We all think differently. There might be something in the fact that some of the later designs that I dislike involve moulded rubber bumpers (Saab 96 and 99). Maybe I’m just into older cars.

Whatever the explanation, I’m happy with my theory and happy to know that all of Saab’s front-end designs are appreciated by the fans.

Thanks for playing.

You may also like


  1. It’s not just a Saab thing – so many manufacturers’ facelifts lose the purity and integration of their initial designs, I think. I find it’s rare to prefer a facelift – generally only in the increasingly few designs where there’s a *really* radical change (the 2000/2004 Audi A4, for example, or the 9-3). More minor changes only seem to make the car look consciously tweaked – whether through needless bling or whatever. To me, the MkI (European) Ford Focus, most recent Citroëns, and indeed many recent Renaults (including all three generations of Mégane) fall foul of this.

    Is it because a facelift will be designed by a different team than the original, three or four years previously?

    In the context of this, my preference for the slant-nose 900 over the flat-nose is something of an aberration. Dunno why.

  2. That was an interesting exercise, Swade.

    I feel like you’ve messed with my mind: I’ve just ended up deciding I like them all!

    But you could get a lot of mileage out of this, you know.

    Best seats.
    Best wing mirrors.
    Best steering wheels.
    Best mudflaps.
    Best emblems.
    Best cupholders.
    Best ignition switches.


  3. The early 99 nose was very resemblent of the chrome grilled Renault16; nothing against that car per se but a SAAB shouldn’t look like a French car.
    Funnily enough you could also draw a comparison between the rear window/ boot lid angle of a 2 door 99 and the Renault 12. Hmmm maybe I should have said a French car shouldn’t look like a Swede!

  4. OK, you need a “Best Bootie” to make it even. The bootie is what people see, the nose is always seen in a mirror.

    Maybe it’s this olde lecher always wanting to check out some ladi…..errrrrr….car’s backside. You can gaze much better at the bootie and without (much) in the way of repercussion(s).

    And no I’ve never been married! But, maybe that’s the reason………

    1. I agree. I suggested the same thing on one of these first nose polls. 🙂 Some makes have quite controversial changes in that part of the design (e.g., the infamous BMW “Bangle butt” models).

  5. I guessed your theory after the second entry because I thought those were the ‘best’ examples that supported that bent. Then you posted the 96, which I hadn’t thought of — it’s the most obvious of the bunch.

    As I said, the 9000 is the counterexample, for sure.

    Here’s my theory as to why the first-is-best phenomenon is probably/possibly true: Initial designs have the freedom to adjust all of the angles and shapes to integrate the whole look and feel. Updates have to settle for adjusting only a limited number of parts to make the newer design work. That leads to some form of compromise that’s not there in the beginning.

  6. I think you summed it up best with your “we’re all individuals” remark. I was shocked to see the later 900 win. That slanted nose with the god-awful flat, huge headlights are painful to look at for me, but others love it. I think my tastes run similar to yours.

    1. Love the comment. I like the later C900, but it’s not a clear-cut winner. To me it was a huge improvement over those bad plastic bezels around the US-mandated “everyone uses the same headlamps” insanity we had back in the early years. The ‘bullnose’ with Euro-spec headlamps is a close second for me.,

  7. I think I’m generally inclined to agree with the premise.

    That said, I think the C900 in the US is going to be an outlier. The thing is, the early nose cars in the US came saddled with sealed beam headlamps, with ghastly grey plastic surrounds.

    So although I do tend to agree that the original nose is quite nice in most markets, the fact that nose never made it (in its pure form) to the US, makes the argument quick and one sided in favor of the late nose in the US.

    1. AFA the early c900 with the DOT mandated sealed beam, it is an easy upgrade to H-4 halogen lamps with e-code lenses. Selecting the proper wattage of the H-4 lamps (I prefer 90/130 watt) is simple enough if you know where to source. If you wanted the euro look in the early c900, you could pop the $300 for the aerodynamic e-codes. Hella rectangular e-code replacements were around $40 per lamp and another $15 for the lamp.

      The later headlights sucked, especially in the beam pattern.

      I rather liked the big black bumpers for the ability to smack something and have the self-restoring bumpers look good minutes later. Try smacking something with the later bumpers and not spend a couple hundred bucks repairing the cracked or destroyed bumper cover. If the big bumper got wrinkled beyond self restoration, quality time with a heat gun made the wrinkles go away.

      The later color matched bumpers are pretty in brochures and concours, but I have to live and work in the real world, where stuff gets scuffed and scarred.

      One reason I’ve appreciated Saab is the practical design for everyday use.

  8. My take is a little different. I pretty much universally like the 2nd gen of all Saabs. They somehow seem a refined version of the first to me. In the theory in my head, the designers were so busy getting all the various components of a new car sorted, it wasn’t until they had time post-launch to reflect and see their car out in the world that they fully realised the design. Its a question of practicality as much as design maturation. In most things, it is much easier to edit once the first pass is done. Clearly, some of you prefer the boldness or originality of a new design; I prefer what I think of as its ultimate iteration.

  9. Nice set up Swade and an interesting exercise. I’m also generally inclined to disagree with the theory – for Saab models post-c900. Agree it’s in the eye of the beholder, however here’s my thoughts for 1994 on..

    The 9000 really took hold of its identity with the skinny headlamps, there’s an Alfa-esque quality to the treatment. Perhaps not pushed quite far enough but it really helps defines the dynamic wedge shape.

    The og9-3 styling was far ahead of the ng900 thanks to the minor tweaks that beefed up the bumpers and fixed the rear lights. The proportions much better suited the car.

    For the 9-5, the second facelift with the headlamp washers removed and the more aggressive chin treatment gave the car a much more timeless look. 2001 models look old now, but cars from 2002 still look pretty fresh to my biased eyes.

    However I do agree that the integrated front grille can look a bit naff, particularly (perhaps primarily) on black 9-5s. It looks awesome on the lighter coloured cars. A lesson they ought to have learned for the Dame Edna.. which is clearly the exception to my rule! The DE in the right colour (almost always steel grey or that soft blue-grey, sorry to be boring!) can look fantastic square on, but any other angle it’s awkward and probably did a lot of damage to Saab’s rep..

    The 9-3SS we’ve covered enough – thanks for picking out my point re: the headlights. The only failing of the original other than perhaps not being adventurous enough. Oh – and not being a hatch.. whoops. And yeah I do think the ’12- Griffin was the best iteration yet. Too bad it didn’t reach us.

    We didn’t cover the Sonnett, but I’ve always been partial to the series III…

  10. Regarding the bullnose – you could have included the 92 variant and let the twostrokers compete against each other. As the 93/96 nose was actually a facelift of the 92.
    Thank you for a fun little game. 😀

  11. I owned a 2003 9-5 Aero Sedan, and liked the nose of it very much. It was improved in 2004 and beyond, with the small “lip” on the bottom of the 2003 nose that was a separate piece…and something VERY prone to being ripped off…being integrated into the entire front bumper assembly.

    I also owned a 2008 9-5 SC Aero with the “Dame Edna” nose, and did not like the looks of it one bit. Good thing was, I couldn’t see it whilst in the car. It was the ONLY thing about that car I did not like.