Saab 9-3 Vector 1.8t

If you're someone who wants to be different from the pack but not considered weird or eccentric, expect a call from your local Saab dealer.

The 9-3 1.8t is the most sensible petrol model in the range, and with its saving over a 2.0t it looks an attractive choice, especially given its high spec levels. It's an excellent cruiser and few rivals can match its refinement, but the fit and finish and dynamic abilities still lag behind some competitors.

If you're someone who wants to be different from the pack but not considered weird or eccentric, expect a call from your local Saab dealer.

The Swedish firm is marketing the new 9-3 as a refreshing alternative to Mercedes' C-Class and the BMW 3-Series, with its distinctive styling and narrow track. But to woo buyers out of their German execs, it needs to offer keen pricing and generous equipment, as well as top build quality.

That's where the 1.8t comes in. The entry-level petrol engine develops 150bhp and isn't really a 1.8 at all, but the same 1,988cc turbo unit as in the 2.0t, minus 30bhp and with a five-ratio box rather than a six-speeder. It is offered with the same trim levels as the 2.0t, but is a huge £1,100 cheaper.

Although a second slower to reach 0-60mph, its 9.5-second time is still respectable, and peak torque of 240Nm at a relatively lowly 2,500rpm means smooth and responsive power delivery throughout the rev range. That, coupled to a slick gearchange and refined cruising abilities, makes the 9-3 a superb motorway cruiser. Neither does it disgrace itself on more involving routes, although it lacks the poise and feedback of a 3-Series. Its Vauxhall Vectra chassis offers good grip and remains neutral when pushed, although the suspension is more geared for comfort than press-on driving.

Inside the Vector trim level are some of the best seats in the business, with excellent lateral and lumbar support, but the rest of the cabin is disappointing. The handbrake - integrated into the centre console - is fiddly and irritating, while some of the interior plastics are badly finished and have harsh edges. The mirrors, too, are inadequate for a car of this size, with a nasty blindspot behind the passenger B-pillar. We also encountered a few technical gremlins with our test car - not the first we've experienced with a new 9-3.

The Saab remains an intelligent buy if you want to be different. But if you're happy to follow the flock, there are better choices.

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