Saab 9-3 Turbo X

Limited-edition model trades on firm’s turbocharged history.

If there’s one car maker that needs a boost, it’s Saab. The quirky Swedish firm has seen its sales in the UK fall dramatically over the last two years as its ageing model line-up struggles in the face of newer competition.

So, in an effort to revive its fortunes, bosses are looking to the past with this special-edition Turbo X version of the 9-3.

The newcomer celebrates 30 years since Saab launched its first turbocharged car, and claims to be its fastest-ever production model. With its 276bhp 2.8-litre turbo V6 and hi-tech four-wheel drive, the 9-3 is a match for the Passat on paper. However, at £33,600 it costs £1,425 more than the R36.

So, can the charms of this charismatic Swede justify this price premium? In the metal, the 9-3 is certainly more striking than the VW. With its distinctive, shark-like nose, deeper bumpers, charcoal grey alloy wheels – available in 18 or 19-inch diameters – and rectangular twin tailpipes, it clearly signals its high-performance intent.

Sadly, the cabin doesn’t match the promise of the exterior, as the fit and finish lag behind the VW’s. Neat details include a turbo boost gauge and silver trim running around the upright dash – both of which are cues from the original 900 Turbo of the Seventies. But some of the plastics feel cheap, and while the seats are comfortable, they lack support during hard cornering. The 9-3 isn’t far behind the Passat when it comes to passenger space, yet the boot is smaller with the seats up or down.

In another nod to its 900 ancestor, the 9-3 aims to match the performance of larger-engined rivals by boosting power with a turbocharger. The Turbo X fell short of the R36 in terms of outright acceleration, but equalled the VW from 50-70mph, due to the 400Nm of torque. Both cars recorded a six-second time in fifth, while the Turbo X pulled out an advantage of one-tenth-of-a-second in sixth, with a figure of 7.8 seconds. This gives the 9-3 stunning overtaking pace, while the V6 sounds better than the VW’s.

Unfortunately, the rest of the driving experience doesn’t live up to the sporty soundtrack. As with its rival, the Turbo X has plenty of grip, but the steering is light and suffers from sharp kickback over mid-corner bumps, while the gearbox has a notchy shift. Poor road surfaces also highlight the stiff ride, which makes the Saab constantly fidget, even on relatively smooth tarmac.

So the dynamics fall behind the VW’s. The questions is whether the Saab’s sharp looks and strong real world pace compensate.

Details

Price: £33,600Model tested: 9-3 Turbo XChart position: 2WHY: A new four-wheel-drive system and more power aim to provide 9-3 with sporting edge.

Economy

On the face of it, the Saab appears to be at a severe financial disadvantage. At £33,600, it costs £1,425 more than the faster and roomier Passat. Poor fuel consumption doesn’t help its cause. With a return of just 18.6mpg, you’ll pay a hefty penalty at the pumps. Routine servicing will cost more, too, with three trips to the garage setting you back £768 – a premium of £158. But it’s not all bad news for owners of the 9-3. The desirability of the Saab badge means the Turbo X estate retains 39 per cent of its value after three years. So, come resale time, the Swedish car will be worth £2,808 more than the VW.

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