COMING up with the right balance of old and new was the biggest challenge facing Saab in designing the new 900. In order to compete, it had to show technical and aesthetic maturity, but it was also important to retain the design edge that has won the Swedish manufacturer half a million owners worldwide. The result, the new 900SE, which recently arrived in Swedish Motor's showroom, would appear to travel that narrow line rather well. While new in look and mechanical sophistication, the new car feels unmistakably Saab from the moment you settle behind the familiar narrow wrap-around windscreen and reach for the ignition key. In terms of modernising the car's characteristic profile, Saab stylists have done so in a manner that pays dividends in the wind tunnel and in the minds of those who felt the previous model was just too different to have widespread appeal. The streamlined freshness of the new design will bring the venerable 900 series comfortably into the next century, but in the minds of those who grew to love the previous models the more mainstream body may take some getting used to. The first models coming into the territory have the 170 horsepower 2.5-litre V6 developed in conjunction with General Motors and manufactured in Britain. The engine is a 24-valve design with a narrow angle of 54 degrees between the cylinder banks. A 2.3-litre 16-valve four-cylinder model, producing 150 horsepower, can also be ordered and eventually the market will see a 185 horsepower two-litre 16-valve turbo. The test car, with the V6, was fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission. In the cabin, the new 900 has much the same feel as its predecessor. Instrumentation is carried over virtually unchanged, although some new switchgear and a serious looking entertainment control panel have been added. Standard on the SE model are dual airbags, leather upholstery, electrically operated front seat adjustment, electric windows and door locks, air conditioning and an audio system with a CD changer. For an extra $11,000, a two-way electric sunroof can be factory installed. Like the old 900, the interior feels quite snug and cocoon-like, but in reality there is quite a bit more room, particularly in the rear. Split seat backs drop down and the seat bases can also be folded forward to enhance the considerable cargo carrying capacity. Saab has long had an excellent reputation for addressing concerns over occupant safety, and like previous models, an invisible but important part of this is the carefully-designed rigid steel safety cage surrounding the cabin and side impact bars. Saab explains that despite six cylinders and impressive horsepower, the SE's power delivery is designed for comfort rather than tyre-shredding performance. Peak torque is developed higher up in the rev range, but the engine pulls strongly throughout. The result is effortless acceleration, adequate to satisfy all but those who are determined to hold out for the turbo. Pushed harder and the engine becomes a little noisy and chassis rumble can be heard when the road surface becomes particularly uneven. The transmission shifts smoothly and the sports setting works well to instil some spirit to the 900's performance. Precise steering and strong suspension make the 900 comfortable to drive at speed and it remains well-balanced and sure-footed. Pushed closer to the limit, varying degrees of understeer appear, but this is served up in bursts that are easy to digest. Four-channel ABS braking is strong and fade-free. The price of the new V6 Saab 900SE is $348,000 and the 2.3-litre four-cylinder 900S lists at $298,000.