Saab 9-3 Saloon review (2002-2011)
The Saab 9-3 saloon is good value but is feeling its age.
The front-wheel-drive 9-3 does not feel state of the art from behind the wheel. It was facelifted in 2007, but as the company points out the 9-3 has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, there really was no need to change its underpinnings. However, although it is comfortable enough, there’s no disputing the fact that rivals offer great handling and better body control. Mechanically though, there is a highlight – the twin-turbo 1.9-litre TTiD. The smaller turbocharger minimises lag and provides great throttle response, while the larger one helps it produce 400Nm and 178bhp. It’s smoother than the single-turbo 1.9-litre TiD, but can still get raucous when pushed hard. As with all Saabs, the manual gearshift is rubbery, too. The four-cylinder petrol alternatives are feeling their age now, but the 2.8-litre V6 turbo is an impressive performer.
The facelifted 9-3 is very much of the nip and tuck variety. The biggest changes came at the front, with a distinctive eyebrow light across the top of the main lamp. Elsewhere, there’s a cleaner look, and the new ‘ice-white’ tail lamps are stylish. Offered in saloon and Sport Wagon estate guises, the Saab offers a less expensive premium alternative to a BMW 3-Series or Audi A3. A line-up of fleet-focused Airflow, Linear SE and Vector Sport models are easy to follow, but while there’s a large range of engines, it’s the TiD 120 and 150 units that sell most strongly.
A new interior in 2006 still didn’t raise quality levels to the standards of rivals, and while it did reduce the button-count, some of the switchgear still appears dated. The soft seats offer excellent long-distance comfort though, and ergonomically, the safe Saab is intuitive to use. Furthermore, while rear legroom is not particularly generous, the saloon’s boot is decent and the Sport Wagon’s cargo area is well thought out. Cleverly, the middle section of the floor can be folded upwards and used to prevent shopping bags from sliding around. Equipment levels also impress, and the 1.9-litre diesel variants prove economical – more so than the slightly thirsty petrol units. Where the Saab’s sub-premium status shows is in retained values, though. They’re simply not as good as those of its German competitors.