2003 Saab 9-3 Vector; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
By Chris Chase
The original Saab 9-3 was introduced in 1998 as a re-named version of the 900, a car which served as Saab’s entry-level model since the late 1970s. The second generation 9-3 arrived in 2002 as a 2003 model, sporting all-new styling and the elimination of the hatchback body style that had been a Saab hallmark for many years.
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.
2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T convertible (top), 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi (bottom); photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge
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 lineup 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 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge
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.
In early cars, fuel consumption ratings were 11.5/7.8 L/100 km (city/highway) for a 2004 9-3 Aero with the six-speed manual. With the automatic transmission, the same car was rated 11.5/7.3 L/100 km; those numbers are fairly representative of ratings for later four-cylinder models. In the later years, the thirstiest 9-3s were the V6 models, with ratings of 13.2/7.7 L/100 km for a 2007 model with the manual transmission, or 14.0/7.7 with the automatic. Adding all-wheel drive to a 2008 model didn’t affect the car’s ratings significantly, but real-world fuel consumption might be markedly higher.
2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X; photo by Brian Early. Click image to enlarge
In crash testing, the 9-3 earned “good” marks in frontal offset and side impact tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn’t test a 9-3 until 2007, when the sedan earned four stars across the board (driver and passenger frontal-impact protection, and front and rear passenger side impact protection), and the wagon bettered that with a five star rating for front-seat side impact protection. The 2007 wagon’s rating applies to all subsequent models. The convertible was never tested.
Consumer Reports gives the 9-3 an average used vehicle rating, noting a number of trouble spots, mostly with electrical/electronic systems, and minor transmission issues in early (2003 and 2004) models; I did find one vague reference online to transmission troubles in 2003 9-3s, but nothing more specific, unfortunately. Read on for some specifics I did find.
The 9-3’s front suspension coil springs are well-known to 9-3 owners posting at SaabCentral.com as prone to breaking, which is a potentially dangerous thing to have happen, especially while the car is being driven. Interestingly, there are no technical service bulletins about this at SaferCar.gov, and no related recalls issued by Transport Canada.
The 9-3’s wiper motor and windshield washer pump are failure prone. Here’s one handy thread detailing how to replace the wiper motor/wiper transmission assembly, and another can be found here. Note that, apparently, the windshield washer’s function is tied into the wiper motor, so that if the motor goes, so does the washer, though replacing the wiper motor fixes it all.
It’s common for the climate control blower motor to corrode and seize up, which, not surprisingly, leads to no action from the climate control system. Here’s a handy write-up at SaabCentral.com on how to remove the blower and lubricate it.
A stutter from the engine at full throttle/high revs/full turbo boost suggests a need for new spark plugs, suggest posters at Saabnet.com.