Special aerodyamic bodywork, low-profile tires and alloy wheels identify the new Saab 9-3 Viggen, a high performance variant of the 9-3 coupe and convertible. Viggen’s have a lowered, tuned suspension, improved brakes, a unique two-tone leather interior, and special exterior colour choices.
A wild, Swedish ride
A number of European automobile manufacturers offer limited edition, high-performance versions of their standard sedans and coupes. BMW has their ‘M’ series cars, Mercedes-Benz has their ‘AMG’ models, Audi has their ‘S’ series models, and Volvo has their ‘R’ models. Now Saab has their own high-performance, limited production model: the ‘Viggen’, a racy version of the compact Saab 9-3 hatchback.
The Viggen has a bigger, more powerful 2.3 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine, a tuned and lowered suspension, better brakes, low-profile P215/45R-17 inch tires, a unique interior, rear spoiler, special aerodynamic bodywork and four unique exterior paint colours: Lightning Blue Metallic, Black, Silver, or Monte Carlo Yellow.
The Viggen’s performance tuning is by TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing), a British specialty company that ‘tunes’ cars for a number of major manufacturers including Saab and Volvo. The name ‘Viggen’ was borrowed from Saab’s military jet fighter. The two share only the name, although the turbocharged Viggen car might give the Viggen jet a run for its money up to about 100 km/h…
Power To Spare
The 9-3 Viggen’s turbocharged 230 horsepower 2.3 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder powerplant launches the Viggen from a standing start in a blindingly quick, but somewhat disconcerting, manner. The action starts about 2000 rpm when the turbocharger’s boost kicks in and the Viggen takes off in a smooth, lethal rush of power..just hold onto that steering wheel though, because there is considerable torque steer. There’s so much torque that it’s easy to spin the front tires. Traction control would be a useful option (not available) but ‘human traction control’ is almost as effective. I just learned to squeeze the accelerator pedal with more respect.
While torque steer is not unusual in front-wheel-drive cars with lots of horsepower, it doesn’t occur in all powerful front-wheel-drive cars, so I think Saab has some work to do here.
To be fair, if the 9-3 Viggen was underpowered, I’d probably be complaining that it was just another torque-starved four cylinder import. The Viggen’s bounty of low-end torque – maximum 258 ft-lbs @ 2500 rpm – is unusual in a four cylinder engine, and makes most other engines of this displacement seem underpowered. Not only that, the 2.3 litre engine is very quiet and smooth, particularly at highway cruising speeds where, for example, it revs at just 2200 rpm at 100 km/h in top gear.
In addition, fuel consumption is good for a 230 horsepower car: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg) in the city, and 7.4 l/100 km (38 mpg) on the highway. It does, however, use more expensive Premium grade gasoline.
The Viggen’s standard manual transmission is a five-speed unit that offers slick, fluid, medium-length throws. True to its performance heritage, the Viggen does not offer an automatic transmission.
I found the steering well-weighted but sensitive to road imperfections and grid lines – the car would sometimes follow road ruts rather than the direction of the road.
The Viggen’s ride is smooth, quiet and well-damped on even pavement, but feels a bit stiff over bumpy surfaces, in part because of its low-profile 17 inch tires. Compared to the standard 9-3, the Viggen has revised springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, up-rated 16″ ventilated and grooved brake discs, and 17″ x 7.5″ unique 5-spoke alloy wheels with P215/45R17 performance tires. I found handling to be stable and steady with some intial body lean when entering a corner and some dive under hard braking.
Roomy Interior, Big Trunk
All Viggen’s offer a unique black leather interior with seat and side panels available in Charcoal, Blue or Ochre colours embossed with a Viggen symbol in the seat backrest, and a 4-spoke, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. A special ‘metal-look’ fascia surrounds the instrument panel.
The Viggen seats five passengers and has plenty of headroom and legroom, but access to the rear seat is hampered by a front passenger seat that does not slide forwards automatically when the seatback is folded. The front power sport seats offer plenty of lateral support, and have standard seat heaters which are very useful on cold mornings. However, don’t leave them on too long – they get quite toasty.
For safety, the front sport seats are designed to bend in a frontal or rear collision to reduce the risk of whiplash. All five seating positions have height-adjustable head restraints, and three-point safety belts.
A telescopic steering wheel is standard, but a tilt steering wheel is not available. Still, it’s possible to find a good seating position by moving the height-adjustable power driver’s seat and sliding the steering wheel in and out to an ideal position.
Like all Saab’s, the ignition key is between the front seats ‘on the floor’. To remove the ignition key, the manual shifter has to be put into Reverse gear – a rather unnecessary safety precaution in my opinion.
The dashboard features Saab’s unique flat dash panel with extra-large buttons and oversized letters and numerals – I found it very easy to see and operate. Instruments – including a speedometer, tachometer, turbo-boost gauge, coolant and fuel gauges – are simple and easy to see. There are also duplicate volume and ‘Seek’ stereo controls on the steering wheel spokes.
An illuminated display on the upper dash gives the time, outside temperature, and date. A single cupholder slides out of the upper dash area, and another one is located on the centre console. Interior storage space is limited: the center armrest/storage bin is quite small as is the glovebox.
However, the Viggen coupe has an enormous trunk (614 litres/21.7 cu. ft.) which can be enlarged to 1410 litres (49.8 cu. ft.) by folding down the split rear seatbacks. Access to the trunk is by a lift-up hatch.
The Viggen’s high rear trunklid has one disadvantage: visibility to the rear is poor when backing up.
Both the two-door and four-door Viggen models are priced at $49,900, while the Viggen convertible is priced at $63,500. That compares with the standard 185 horsepower Saab 9-3 Coupe at $33,500, the 205 horsepower 9-3 SE Coupe at $39,650, and the 205 horsepower 9-3 SE Convertible at $57,750.
Competitors for the 9-3 Viggen include the Volvo C70, BMW 323Ci, Mercedes-Benz CLK320, and Acura 3.2CL Type S.
More information about the Viggen can be found on the GM Canada Web site.