2007 Saab 9-3
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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
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.