2011 Saab 9-3

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First Drive Review: 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X

This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2012.
By K.C. Colwell of Car and Driver

The 2008 Saab Turbo X, the first 9-3 model equipped with all-wheel drive, eclipses the Aero as Saab’s top-of-the-line 9-3. A limited run of 600 will be sold in the U.S. as a four-door sedan and five-door wagon. And in homage to Saab turbos of yesteryear, the Turbo X comes in just one color: Jet Black Metallic.

At the heart of the X is a more powerful version of the Aero’s turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6. It makes 280 horsepower in the X, 25 more than in the Aero, by increasing its turbo boost from 8.7 psi to 11.6 psi. The suspension is stiffened — almost rigid when compared with the base car — and the body is lowered nearly a half-inch. Brake-rotor diameters grow to 13.6 inches in front and 11.5 inches in the rear, an increase of 1.8 and 0.1, respectively, over the Aero. The interior has some carbon-fiber-looking trim and a retro boost gauge. We especially liked the thicker, leather-wrapped steering wheel. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; the optional six-speed automatic costs $1350.

The all-wheel-drive system, called XWD, primarily drives the front wheels; when necessary, a wet-clutch pack engages the rear axle. The Turbo X is also fitted with an electronic limited-slip rear differential (eLSD) that actively manages the torque split side to side. XWD is currently optional only on 9-3 Aeros; it will be optional on all 9-3s for 2009. Buyers wanting all-wheel drive in the step-up 9-5 model must wait until fall.

Although the Saab’s front-drive architecture is usually a recipe for understeer, the XWD and the eLSD do an effective job of masking this trait. Playful oversteer is easily invoked with simple throttle modulation.

Turbo X sedans start at $42,510; add $800 for the SportCombi wagon. At those prices, the Turbo X is by no means the deal of the year, especially with faster cars such as the $41,575 BMW 335xi on the market. But exclusivity always carries a premium, and Saab loyalists will likely snap up the whole lot.

Performance Data:

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST, 6-SP MAN):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec

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BB03 - 7/10/2014 6:24:26 PM