Saab 9-3 Review and Specs

Saab 9-3 Review


  • Excellent layout
  • Plenty of rear legroom
  • Sumptuously comfortable ride
  • Reliable


  • Soft steering
  • Unexciting engine choice
  • Poor recent residual values
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Overview, Look, and Feel of the Saab 9-3

Saab’s 9-3 is an executive compact car that first hit the streets in 1998 and was in production until 2012. It shares its GM Epsilon platform with the Opal Vectra and Cadillac BLS. The stylishly curvaceous car that finished the range is far removed from the boxier body shape that it started out with in 1998. Over time, the 9-3 went from a conservative non-descript shape to a stylish family hatchback.

The 9-3 was conceived as a replacement for the Saab 900 and meant to be a more comfortable ride, safer, and contemporary looking. It was available as a three- or five-door hatchback and a three-door convertible. The cabin was well insulated against outside noise, and all occupants were guaranteed a comfortable ride.

The first generation 9-3s also feature the innovative ‘Night Pane’” which allowed the dashboard to be subtly lit, highlighting only the most important information. The gradual rounding of the 9-3 came with the second generation when they also introduced a number of safety features.

In 2008, there was a facelift where it was claimed that over 2,000 changes were made to the shape, style, and equipment in the 9-3. These came with new panel doors, clamshell hood, new front end, and frosted rear lights. The style updates in 2012 included ice-style headlights, new bumper, 3 spoke alloys, along with internal changes to the glove box and gear knob, and the inclusion of a graphite fibre effect.

Saab 9-3 Engine Specs and Performance

The earlier Saab 9-3s had a large selection of 2.0L engines with the pick being the 2.2L turbodiesel, linked to either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual. The second-generation engines ranged from 1.8L ecotec to the 2.2L turbodiesel 16-valve; these were linked to a choice of 5- or 6-speed manuals and automatic Sentronic gearboxes.

The pick of the engines was the 2.0L ecotec, which put out 154kW and produced a torque rating of 300Nm; the engine was fitted to the front-wheel drive, second-generation hatchback SportCombi. These also had additional safety features such as ReAx, a passive rear wheel steering, and Saab Active Head Restraints.

One of the better amendments came in 2009 when the Saab 9-3 was given 4WD. At this time, there were also additional tweaks that gave the car an improved level of performance and handling.

The standing/start acceleration from 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds produced an emissions level of 151g/1km. The suspension gives a comfortable ride but does provide sufficient feedback from the road, so you can better sense the conditions.

Standard Equipment and Options for the Saab 9-3

The Saab comes as a well-equipped vehicle for its time. The 2005 standard kit had climate control, leather upholstery, remote door locking, rear fog lights, remote audio controls, Bose stereo system with a 6-CD changer, and electronic front seats. It also had a trip computer that calculated average speed, fuel consumption, and range.

The safety features on the Saab 9-3 have led to it receiving the top-level, 5-star ANCAP rating. With safety belts, duel front and side airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, and active head restraints, it is a safe place to be if there is an incident.

In addition to the previous models, the later models have standard trim that includes comfortable electronically adjustable driver’s seat, dusk sensor, daytime running lights, steering wheel mounted controls, and rain sensors. The luxury trim had wood grain dashboard, leather gear knob, and alloy trim doors.

The top-level Turbo X range includes rhomboid exhaust pipes, 18-inch alloys, thick-rimmed steering wheel, premium level leather seating, and swish turbo gauges.

Saab 9-3's Competition

The Saab 9-3 competes in the very popular compact saloon class and faces some big rivals. It sees itself set up against the Audi A4, Ford Mondeo, Alfa Romeo Guiletta, Holden Insignia, Toyota Avensis, and Mercedes C-Class.

Saab went from being one of the best cars for residual values to the bargain basement within a couple years. As questions continue to surface about its future, financial liquidity, and possible buyout options, their car values have plummeted.

Cars like the Saab 9-3, that would have held their price well, were suddenly losing money overnight. Worries over parts, servicing, and availability has led to some great bargains on high-quality Saabs at car auctions. While Saabs may not be holding their value at present, they have done well previously and have a great reputation for good quality construction and driving performance.

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