Powerful yet economical engine, Zippy handling, Nice price
CONS Too much tire noise, Flimsy cup holders,
Affordable European fun
Swedish automaker Saab started out building airplanes during World War II. After the war's conclusion, Saab shifted to building automobiles that sold mostly in Europe. In the '60s, a few models made it to North America, and the Scandinavian manufacturer quickly gained a reputation for building reliable, but quirky automobiles.
Today, Saab is owned by General Motors and its vehicles share some engines and platforms with other models in the GM family. Saab sells two sedans, the 9-3 and slightly larger 9-5, and a sport-utility vehicle called the 9-7X, which is based on the Chevrolet Trailblazer.
The current 9-3 was introduced in 2003. It sports compact-car dimensions and is aimed at entry-level luxury competition like the Acura TSX, Audi A4, Jaguar X-Type, and Volvo S40. It comes in four-door sedan, four-door wagon, and two-door convertible body styles. All ride on a 105.3-inch wheelbase and share chassis with the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6.
Each body style comes in one of two trim levels, each with its own engine. Both engines are turbocharged. The 2.0T is powered by a 210-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The Aero gets a 250-horsepower 2.8-liter V6. The four-cylinder comes with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. Aero transmission choices include the manual or a six-speed automatic. Both models are front-wheel drive only.
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T 4-door sedan
Base Price: $26,250
As-Tested Price: $31,265
Built in Sweden.
Front Heated Seats & Headlamp Washers
60th Anniversary Edition Package
Engine: Turbocharged DOHC 2.0-liter I4
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
Standard safety equipment on all includes antilock brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitor, and front and front side airbags. Sedan and wagon models get curtain side airbags, and convertibles get a pop-up support bar that deploys in the event of a rollover.
2.0T comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt-telescope steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, leather seats, split-folding rear seat, power windows, locks, and mirrors, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD player with digital-media input, and theft-deterrent system. Convertible models delete the split-folding rear seats but add a power folding top with heated glass rear window.
Aero models add to the 2.0T a sunroof, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, satellite radio, rear spoiler, high-intensity-discharge headlamps, fog lights, sport suspension, and upgraded wheels and tires.
For 2007 Saab gave the 9-3 a restyled interior that features a new instrument panel, made OnStar optional, and added a Bose stereo on Aero.
9-3 prices start as low as $26,170 for the 2.0T four-door sedan and rise to $42,375 for the Aero convertible. All models have a destination charge of $745.Get up and Go
Thanks to its deep-breathing turbocharger, the 2.0T has impressive acceleration at all speeds. Manual-transmission models move out best, thanks to smart gear ratios and the ability to mask turbo lag through quick downshifts. Automatic-equipped models trail the manuals off-the-line and in passing response, but not by much as the automatic is quick to downshift to provide passing power. Saab doesn't quote an official 0-60 mph time, but it's easily less than eight seconds with the manual transmission.
When starting, the engine has an unrefined gurgle and has a lumpy idle--both out of character for a luxury car. Once warm and up to speed, the four-cylinder is as quiet and refined as most competitors' V6 engines. The manual transmission shifts between gears easily and has a firm and easy-to-modulate clutch. In addition, the tall fifth and sixth gears make for relaxed highway cruising.
The tall gearing also helps fuel economy as the manual-transmission 2.0T is EPA rated at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Those numbers are comparable to the 9-3's four-cylinder competition. In real-world driving the 2.0T is likely to average close to 30 mpg in city/highway commuting and perhaps as high as 33 mpg in straight highway driving. On the downside, Saab requires more-expensive premium-grade fuel on the 9-3.
On the Road
In 2.0T trim the 9-3 offers a ride that's compliant over large bumps, but firm enough to feel sporty. The 9-3 also has a very rigid structure that imparts a solid feel as drivers navigate rough roads. Aero models come with larger wheels and a sport suspension that favors handling prowess over ride comfort. The ride isn't poundingly hard, but it's firmer than most competitors and grows tiring long trips.
The 9-3 is an easy car to drive quickly. Its compact dimensions, well-balanced feel, and firm suspension make it quite maneuverable around town and extremely tossable on freeway on ramps and twisty roads. It's the kind of car that shrinks around the driver, making them feel more comfortable each time they get behind the wheel.Around-town steering feel is lighter than most European-flavored sedans, but it's accurate and firms up nicely on the highway. Brakes are strong and sure, and the pedal is easy to modulate. With standard traction control, torque-steer is almost non-existent, but there's still a hint of wheel spin and a gentile tug at the steering wheel in hard acceleration on slippery roads.
Perhaps the 9-3's only over-the-road downfall is the amount of tire noise at highway speeds. On 2.0T models the 9-3's tires are noisier than most of its competitors and on the Aero tire noise borders on unacceptable. This is a shame because there's little wind noise and engine noise never intrudes in routine driving.
Behind the Wheel The interior's 2007 redesign is tasteful but still carries a lot of Saab character. For example, the ignition swtich is located in the center console, the dominant color is still black, the instrument panel has a "night" setting, which turns off all gauges except for the speedometer, and the vents still have quirky stepped adjustments. What's nice is that all of these features help the Saab retain its Scandinavian heritage without hurting the interior's functionality.
Gauges are easy to read. Controls are logically marked and placed within easy reach--something that can't be said for many competitors. Materials are improved, but could be better as too many of the plastic surfaces seem out of place in a European sedan.
Front seats are firm yet comfortable and offer excellent support in spirited driving. Leg room is adequate and head room good, even with the optional sunroof. The upright driving position is typical Saab and forward visibility is excellent. View astern is hampered by the tall deck lid and thick rear-quarter pillars.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2007 Saab 9-3
|Front Impact, Driver ||NA|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||NA|
|Side Impact, Driver ||NA|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||NA|
|Rollover Resistance ||4 stars|
Rear-seat room is adequate in sedans and wagons. It's not spacious by any stretch of the imagination but there's enough head and leg room for two average-size adults if the front seats aren't all the way back. Seat comfort is good and getting in and out is easy through the wide doors.
While the trunk opening isn't very large, the trunk itself is deep and long. There's plenty of room for four large suitcases and folding the rear seats expands cargo space even further. Interior storage is adequate with a large glove box and a few open bins in the center console. However, the center-console mounted cup holder is small and the dashboard-mounted cup holder is flimsy. Given that the interior was just redesigned, you would think more thought would have gone into the design and placement of the cup holders.
Bottom Line Taken at face value, the 9-3's greatest virtue is its reasonable price. It's less-expensive than many of its competitors and no less fun to drive. Still, there's a more to the story than just price.
The 9-3 is rewarding to drive, practical, and fuel efficient. Sure, there are lots of great Euro-flavored sport sedans on the market, the problem is the price of entry is almost always north of 30,000. With the 9-3, Saab makes the European driving experience affordable, and that's what makes the Saab so desirable.
|Specifications, 2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T|
Turbocharged DOHC I4
|Wheelbase, in. |
|Size, liters/cu. in. |
|Length, in. |
|Horsepower @ rpm |
210 @ 5500
|Width, in. |
|Torque (lb-ft) @ rpm |
221 @ 2500
|Weight, lbs. |
|EPA Estimates, mpg|
22 city / 30 highway
|Cargo Capacity, cu. ft. |
|Fuel Capacity, gals. |
5 years / 100,000 miles
|Front Head Room, in. |
5 years / 100,000 miles
|Front Leg Room, in. |
6 years / 100,00 miles
|Rear Head Room, in. |
|Free Roadside Assistance |
5 years / 100,000
|Rear Leg Room, in. |
|Free Scheduled Maintenance|