2005 Saab 9-3

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2007 Saab 9-3

This 2007 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Accomplished European car that is a little different.
Pros:
  • Quick
  • Comfortable
  • Safety features
Cons:
  • Slight turbocharger lag
  • Rear roof pillars hinder visibility
  • Offbeat image

Saab has always designed its 9-3 model to be safe, solid and a little different.

The smoothly styled 9-3 has become more mainstream in recent years, but always has been proficiently designed partly because it comes from a company that long made aircraft.

Saab began building small, aircraft-inspired cars in the late 1940s. Although futuristic in some respects, they were too different for most Americans. Next to a Saab, other small European cars looked almost conventional in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many owners of older Saabs were individualists, not out to impress anyone, and Saabs have been especially popular in rugged New England states.

Aircraft Influence
Being from an aircraft builder, Saab interiors have had no-nonsense designs. The latest 9-3 has a redesigned interior with new automatic climate controls, a larger instrument cluster and new trim.

General Motors owns Saab. For the most part, it has left the Swedish automaker alone because it knows that distinctive cars are part of Saab's appeal.

The 9-3 is the top-selling Saab. Its prices range from $26,250 to $43,100. The base trim level is the 2.0T turbocharged 4-cylinder 210-horsepower sedan, which I tested. The 2.0T also is sold as a station wagon and convertible.

The 9-3 also comes as a higher-performance Aero sedan, wagon and convertible, which is the most expensive 9-3. Aeros have a turbocharged 250-horsepower V6.

Turbocharger Master
Saab is a master at getting lots of power from small turbocharged engines, and it made turbocharging popular among mass car producers with its late 1970s 99 Turbo model.

Engines for the 9-3 trim level come with a 6-speed manual gearbox and 5- or 6-speed automatic transmissions. My test 2.0T sedan had the manual, which shifted crisply and worked with a clutch that had a long-throw but a light action.

Comes Close
The turbocharged 4-cylinder provides lively performance despite some turbocharger lag. The 9-3 is no sports sedan such as a BMW, but it comes close to having such a description. Steering is quick, handling is sure and brakes are strong, with good pedal feel.

My test car's ride was comfortable, although I've found that the sharper-handling Aero versions have a stiffer ride with their sport suspension and wider tires.

Decent Fuel Economy
The 4-cylinder engine delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 30 on highways with the manual transmission and 21 and 30 with a 5-speed automatic. The figures are 18 and 28 with the more potent V6 and manual and 17 and 28 with that engine and 6-speed automatic. Premium fuel is recommended for all.

The 9-3's white-on-black gauges can be quickly read, and controls are easy to reach and work. Front seats provide good support in curves, but the split-folding rear seat has a hard center area best occupied by a fold-down armrest.

All 9-3's have Saab's traditional console-mounted ignition switch, which may initially seem odd to some but is easily gotten used to.

Attention to Detail
Windshield washers show attention to detail. Three of them with dual nozzles shoot six high-powered streams of washer fluid.

Storage pockets are found in all doors, but the center console bin doesn't hold much and a plastic cupholder that pops out of the dashboard for the front passenger seems rather flimsy.

Safety Features
Saabs always have had front-wheel drive and plenty of safety features. For instance, the 9-3 has an electronic stability control system, along with anti-lock disc brakes. Other safety items include front seat active head restraints to prevent whiplash injury, front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags.

My base 9-3 test car was decently equipped with comfort and convenience items. Standard are air conditioning with dual-zone automatic climate controls, leather upholstery, AM/FM/CD player, tilt/telescopic wheel, power driver's seat, cruise control, tire-pressure monitor and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry.

There's room for four tall adults, although knee room gets a bit tight for a rear occupant if a tall driver moves his seat back a lot. Rear windows roll all the way down, although rear roof pillars hinder visibility a little.

Large Cargo Area
The deep trunk is long, and rear seatback flips forward and sit flat to increase the cargo area. Seatback controls are in the trunk.

A large pass-through opening between the trunk and rear seat allows bulky cargo to be hauled.

The hood moves up easily via a hydraulic strut, and fluid filler areas can be reached without getting clothes dirty.

Saabs such as the 9-3 still aren't bought as status symbols. Rather, they're for folks who appreciate their attributes and still want something a bit different.

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BB03 - 9/21/2014 3:27:37 AM