photos by Bob McHugh and James Bergeron

March 3, 2008

Photo Gallery: 2008 Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan

Specifications: 2008 Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan

The Guide: 2008 Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

Driving impressions

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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).

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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

Base price: $
Options: $
(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.)
A/C tax $
Freight: $
Price as tested: $


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