2008 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Review and photos by Chris Chase
In its early years, Saab enjoyed a strong cult following based on its vehicles’ unique styling and interesting design features. General Motors’ purchase of the Swedish brand in 1989 should have been a good thing, but as GM moved to position Saab as a competitor for European luxury brands like Audi and BMW, much of that Scandinavian uniqueness was lost.
In 2010, GM sold Saab to Dutch supercar builder Spyker, a company that has high hopes for reinvigorating Saab with new designs that, we can hope, will live up, quirk-wise, to the cars that made the brand what it once was. (At the time of this writing, Spyker’s finances lend some doubt to how long it can keep Saab propped up.)
That’s not to say that there was nothing good about Saabs built under GM’s stewardship. Take the last generation of the entry-level 9-3. Introduced in 2003, it did away with one of Saab’s most enduring – and some would say endearing – features, the hatchback body style.
2008 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD (top); 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi (middle); 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X (photo by Brian Early). Click image to enlarge
The 2003 9-3 was offered only as a sedan (the 2003 convertible was carried over from 2002), with a redesigned convertible arriving in 2004.
In 2005, the 9-3 became Saab’s mid-range model, with the Subaru Impreza-based 9-2X taking up the entry-level slot.
The 2006 9-3 line-up added a station wagon, called the SportCombi, and the whole line got a redesigned interior in 2007. Also, the 9-3 once again became Saab’s entry level model in 2007, with the elimination of the 9-2X.
Saab redesigned the 9-3′s exterior in 2008 and added an “XWD” all-wheel drive system, as well as a top-line Turbo X model with unique styling cues. The Turbo X was discontinued for 2009.
The 9-3 was originally offered in three trim levels – Linear, Arc and Vector; the Vector trim was changed to Aero in 2004. In 2006, the Linear and Arc trims were merged into a single “base” model, while Aero remained as the uplevel trim.
Early 9-3s were powered exclusively by turbocharged four-cylinder engines; a 175-horsepower version was used in the Linear model, while Arc and Vector/Aero models got 210 hp.
The 175-hp engine was dropped in 2006, and a turbocharged 2.8-litre V6 with 250 hp was added as the uplevel engine.
2008 models with the V6 got a five horsepower boost in 2008, and the Turbo X model got a 280-hp version of the V6. This engine was made standard in Aero-trim cars in 2009.
Transmission choices were five-speed (Linear) and six-speed (Arc and Vector/Aero) manuals, and a five-speed automatic was optional across the board.
The V6 engine added in 2006 could be paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and in 2007, the six-speed manual was made the base gearbox across the line.