T'WAS A TIME when I called Saab owners silly old bohemian snobs. I was wrong. They are smart people. A 300- mile run in a used, three-door Saab 900 sedan proved that.

Used? Try 16,634 miles at delivery. Try a car operated by many different drivers -- some of them of the bash-it, trash-it variety -- while the mileage accumulated. Try a car that had only two service checks during that abuse, but still ran factory fresh when it moved to the next driver on the schedule.

Sweden's Saab-Scania Group calls it "the most intelligent car ever built." A rather snobby thing to say, no doubt. But even snobs can be right.

Outstanding complaint: Minor. The three- door, five-speed-manual, front-wheel-drive model is the "basic" car in the Saab 900 series. As such, it comes without rear stereo speakers. You get two little boomers mounted on either side of the instrument panel. The sound is bland. Tut, tut. Considering everything else that could be "wrong" in a car, this is hardly worth worrying about.

Outstanding praise: Begin with the seemingly insignificant -- that is, insignificant to those who've never had to lift bags of groceries up and over the rear ridge of a hatchback to get the stuff into the car. The 900 has no back ridge. The tail end of the cargo bay -- the carrying space created when the rear seat is collapsed -- is even with the rear bumper. You just slide the packages in.

The 900 is a construction masterpiece. Everything fits. Nothing rattles. The car also gets commendable acceleration from its two- liter, four-cylinder, overhead-cam, fuel- injected gasoline engine. The speedometer is marked at a maximum of 125 miles per hour. (Why? I don't know. The manufacturer says that the real top speed is 99 mph. Suffice it to say that the car does all of the legal speeds quite easily.)

Handling is superb. No body sway in 40- mph turns. The car goes where you point it. There is a feeling of control and security -- the latter enhanced by the three-point seatbelts front and rear.

Notable find: Small but usable storage space under the rear seats, of all places!

Head-turning-quotient: Everything from smirks to kudos on this car's stubby looks. Some folks think that the 900's appearance is reason enough to call Saab owners SOBS (silly old bohemian snobs, remember?). Others praise the car's exterior lines for being classy enough to rate a buy, but different enough to keep them from looking like other upper- income types who would really rather have a Mercedes-Benz.

Mileage: About 22 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, mostly running lightly loaded and without air conditioner in use. Unleaded fuels only. Regular unleaded preferred.

Price-as-tested: $12,139, including air conditioning and electrically heated front seats as standard equipment. Some "basic" car.