photos by Bob McHugh and James Bergeron
March 3, 2008
Surrey, British Columbia – Saab is a Swedish aviation and automobile company with a devoted following around the world and an acclaimed history in safety engineering and research. Saab cars are built in, and for a climate that’s not dissimilar to Canada’s, where winter’s worst can be downright nasty.
Saab was also a pioneer of modern front-drive cars. Concentrating the weight over the wheels that are used to both drive and steer the vehicle simply made sound Swedish sense. However, while front-wheel drive still dominates the Saab lineup, an all-wheel-drive version of the 9-3, called the XWD, will be available later this year.
Like any good sport sedan, the Saab 9-3 is built from "the driver outward." Cabin ergonomics, instrumentation, controls and seating position were all developed from the driver’s perspective, according to Saab.
Superior road manners are also a must in order to claim sport-sedan status. A key ingredient in the 9-3 is its unique four-link, independent rear suspension, which is tuned to provide a rear-wheel-steer response that enhances handling and stability.
The entry-level Saab 9-3 comes in three distinct models — a sedan (called the Sport Sedan), a wagon (called the SportCombi) and a convertible. Styling on the ’08 edition was inspired by the Aero X, a concept vehicle that did the auto show circuit not long ago.
All 9-3 models come in both a base and Aero trim. The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and the Aero comes with a 2.8-litre V6 that’s also turbocharged. The V6 has been modified to produce 255 horsepower, a modest five-horsepower increase over the ’07.
My test 9-3 was a 2.0-litre version ($35,950) with a six-speed manual transmission. Although the base version, it’s anything but basic, as it comes with leather upholstery, an eight-way, power driver’s seat, tilt and telescopic steering column, dual climate control, power windows and locks and more.
Options added were 17-inch wheels ($995), a sun roof ($1,600), a Bose audio package ($995) and a premium package ($1,590) that included xenon headlights, front fog lights, an eight-way, power passenger seat, wood trim and rear parking assist. The total as-tested price with Freight and A/C tax was $42,630.
The 9-3 comes with a basic warranty of four years/80,000 km and a powertrain warranty of five years/160,000 km.
The 9-3’s restyled front is more aerodynamic and features a larger grille, new headlights and a new hood – yet it still retains its "Saab-ness." Overall, its styling has cleaner, tauter lines and the front fog lamps are stylishly integrated into the bumper. At the back, there’s a new matte-chrome lift handle on the trunk lid, and frosted taillight lenses give it a more distinctive look.
However, even though it has had an extensive redesign, those not familiar with Saabs may find the subtle changes to the ’08 model hard to identify.
The 9-3’s new dash display isn’t as impressive at night as the previous generation 9-3, but it is easier to navigate with more user-friendly controls. It also retains the clever night-control switch that allows you to dim all but the primary gauges to lessen driver distraction. Another nice feature is a park-brake lever that cleverly blends into the design of the console.
The leather, front bucket seats were on the firm side, but very comfortable, with good back and side bolster support. The more time I spent behind the wheel, the more I appreciated how well the seat was constructed. A leather pouch on the front of the seat cushion is a handy and very European feature. And as in all Saabs, the ignition switch is located (for safety reasons) between the front seats.
Driver-focused features include a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, high dashboard and a big glovebox; a unique cupholder also spirals out of the dash when needed.
Rear-seat legroom is not great without some co-operation from the front-seat occupants. Then again, it’s comparable to a 3 Series BMW.
In addition to a full compliment of airbags, the 9-3 also comes with active, front-seat head restraints, rear three-point seatbelts with load-limiters and pretensioners on the outboard positions. An electronic stability control system is also standard.
I found that a child seat fits best in the centre rear-seat position, even though lower anchorages are not provided. Shingle-style head restraints and space limitations interfere with fitting them in the rear outboard positions, although it is still possible to install them there.
I do like the 9-3’s turbocharged 2.0-litre power package as it offers a nice balance of fuel efficiency and performance. It offers 210 hp and 221 ft.-lb. of torque available at just 2,500 r.p.m., but not enough to cause any torque-steer problems. If not for the giveaway boost gauge on the instrument panel, you’d have to listen carefully to tell there was a turbo under hood. Saab has improved the sound-deadening package on all 9-3 models and the sedan is particularly quiet.
The six-speed manual box has a nice feel and reverse gear is found on the left side (where it should be) of the shift pattern, with a pull up collar on the lever.
Energuide fuel consumption ratings for the 9-3 with the 2.0-litre turbo are 8.0/7.1 L/100 km (city/highway).
The 9-3 handles impressively well, has a tight turn circle and possesses a surprisingly well-balanced neutral feel for a front-drive car. And I was particularly impressed by how well it performed on the icy, slushy roads I traveled during the test period.
The 9-3 comes with an extra powerful windscreen washer system to remove winter grime. Three high-pressure twin-jet nozzles plus additional jets on the headlights blast washer fluid at the flick of a switch.
Stylish and cultured, the Saab 9-3 Sport sedan has unique attributes that tend to surprise and delight you the more you drive it.
Pricing: 2008 Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan
|(17-inch wheels ($995), a sun roof ($1,600), a Bose audio package ($995) and a premium package ($1,590) that included xenon headlights, front fog lights, an eight-way, power passenger seat, wood trim and rear parking assist.)|
|Price as tested:||$||
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