Used Vehicle Review: Saab 900/9 3, 1994 2002 used car reviews saab luxury cars
1998 Saab 9-3 five-door. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

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Saab might be the quintessential car for those who love weird stuff. Remember the 99 and 900 models, with their upright windshields? Then there’s the ignition switch located on the centre console, where most Saab models still have it to this day. 

But behind those eccentricities were comfortable cars that owners say are damn fun to drive. In 1993, Saab launched its first new model since General Motors took a 50 per cent ownership of the Swedish company in 1990. That car was the then-latest 900 model, referred to by Saab-o-philes as the “new-generation” NG900. In its first year (1994), the 900 convertible remained on the previous-generation platform, while the NG900 was offered in three and four-door hatchback forms. A new convertible arrived in 1995. In 1999, Saab ditched its well-known 900 nomenclature for 9-3, and while Saab claimed more than 1,000 “improvements,” you’d be hard-pressed to tell the newly-named cars apart. 

Used Vehicle Review: Saab 900/9 3, 1994 2002 used car reviews saab luxury cars
1998 Saab 9-3 five-door. Click image to enlarge

Initially, the “new” 1994 900 was offered with either a 2.3-litre four-cylinder (150 hp) or a 2.5-litre V6 (170 hp); conspicuous by its absence was a turbocharged engine, which would appear again in 1995, and was rated at 185 hp. The V6 disappeared in 1998; in 1999, a high-output turbo motor was offered in uplevel SE models, offering 200 hp. That more powerful motor got another bump to 205 horses in 2000. The Viggen model arrived for 2001, with a turbocharged version of the 2.3-litre four-banger making 230 horsepower. Fuel consumption figures range from a little more than 11.0 to about 13.0 L/100 km (city) and between 8.0 and 9.0 L/100 km (highway), with the higher numbers generally going to models with turbocharged engines and automatic transmissions. 

Used Vehicle Review: Saab 900/9 3, 1994 2002 used car reviews saab luxury cars
1998 Saab 9-3 five-door. Click image to enlarge

Where reliability is concerned, many enthusiasts – as they tend to do – swear the NG900 and early 9-3 is a reliable car – more so, at least, than other European makes could claim. Based on what I can find on the web, that seems like it might be true. What’s certain is that a non-turbo model with a manual transmission would be your best bet for low(er) maintenance costs, if not better dependability. According to the used NG900/9-3 buyer’s guide at SaabCentral.com, things to look out for include oil leaking from the engine head gasket; a high-pitched whine from the engine indicates accessory belt idler pullies that are on their way out, and a rattling sound at about 3,000 r.p.m. that means possibly worn timing chains which necessitates removing the engine to replace them. In turbo models, the Direct Ignition module is known to fail but is easily replaced. Many Saab enthusiasts suggest simply buying an extra before you need it and keeping it in the car. Also, turbo cars in general require more frequent-than-usual oil changes, and it’s suggested that the engines in these cars are capable of running for many years with proper maintenance.