By KBB.com Editors
Saab claims a whopping 2,157 changes and enhancements for its premium compact 9-3 series in 2008, but only a handful of them are discernible to the ordinary viewer. Redesigning of the sport sedan and SportCombi wagon keeps their basic prior profile, but lays on distinctively fresh styling that was influenced by Saab's Aero X concept car. A new Cross-Wheel Drive (XWD) option will be available later in the 2008 model year on Aero sedan and SportCombi models; the four-cylinder 2.0T group gets XWD a year later. Saab's 9-3 sedan and SportCombi compete against the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Volvo S60, Audi A4 and the Volvo V50 wagon. Saab also continues to offer a front-drive 9-3 convertible with a fabric roof.
Some shoppers gravitate toward the Saab 9-3 partly because of its "stealth" personality; it delivers more in performance and handling than its straight-forward appearance suggests. Others simply like the car's solid, tight Eurosedan feel, which is likely to be enhanced further yet when the XWD option arrives.
Even more than their Swedish Volvo cousins, Saabs used to be known for various quirks and idiosyncrasies, which fans adored but some others disdained. Things like the console-mounted ignition—a long-standing Saab hallmark—can still prove too peculiar for some. Eccentricities are minor nowadays, but perception tends to outlast reality.
XWD is the big news this year. In addition to slightly more power from the Aero's V6 engine, the 9-3 intensifies its Eurostyle appearance, newly evolved from the Swedish company's show car. Saab advises that the 9-3 has all-new bodywork ahead of the windshield pillar.
Driving Impressions Each 2008 Saab 9-3 exhibits a serious Eurosedan personality. Confident handling is the rule, especially in Aero trim. An Aero SportCombi exemplifies what the modern wagon experience should be: Well-behaved...under all conditions. The 2.0T steers with a rather light touch, but one that's sure-footed. Spirited reaction from the 2.0T's engine, even with the automatic, exhibits little turbo lag but suffers a bit of downshifting delay and a slight hesitation on light acceleration. The Aero's V6 feels more effortless, and you immediately notice a difference in handling and roadholding. Aeros can be pushed vigorously into curves, remaining impressively flat and centered, and they ride more taut than 2.0Ts, but not uncomfortably, overcoming most pavement imperfections without fuss. Harsher bumps produce sharp body motions, but only for a moment. Saab's manual gearbox ranks among the best for easy shifting.
Sport button (with automatic):
For those occasional moments when energetic driving proves irresistible, the Sport button keeps the transmission in each gear long enough to boost responses smartly. Surprisingly, it works better with the 2.0T. Sport operation in the Aero is more stern, and high engine revs get rather raucous.
As a front-wheel-drive car, the 9-3 is often left out of conversations that include the BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G and other rear-wheel-drive sport sedans. A new performance-enhancing all-wheel drive system should have more people talking about the 9-3.
Sedans and SportCombis have seating for five passengers, versus four for convertibles. Designers have substituted a black interior for the prior gray. Straightforward in layout, the instrument layout was clearly developed for easy and helpful reading. A big center speedometer is accompanied by relatively large fuel and temperature gauges and a sizable tachometer, but the optional navigation system's screen is rather small. Aero seats, in particular, are seriously sporty, keeping you in place and well-supported as well as comfortable and bolstered—though not excessively snug. Getting used to the console-mounted ignition key doesn't take too long.Exterior
Influenced by the sleek Aero X concept car, the redesigned 2008 Saab 9-3 wears a reworked face with a semi-wrap-over hood and curtly-tapered three-hole grille, reminiscent of front ends in notable previous Saabs. Restyled wraparound headlamps can incorporate a headlamp cornering feature, which is standard on Aero models. Aeros have a unique front bumper, plus air intakes and brawny exhaust outlets that "really accent the power," according to Saab. Flared side-sill extensions and rain-sensing wipers are now standard. SportCombis are a few inches taller than sedans or convertibles. According to Saab, 70 percent of the sedan's body panels are new.
Several features have joined the standard-equipment list, including XM Satellite Radio, GM's OnStar communications system, rain-sensing wipers, a tire-pressure monitoring system and Saab's "quiet tuning" package. On 2.0T models, 14-spoke alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires, whereas Aero editions roll on 17-inch five-spoke alloys. Buyers of Aero models are entitled to a session at the Aero Academy, to learn to drive their Saabs safely and effectively. Both engines are available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or an automatic transmission, and automatic Aeros may be shifted using steering-wheel paddles.
Only a handful of options are offered, including a moonroof (for 2.0T models) and a DVD-based navigation system. Semi-aniline leather seat trim, with sport buckets, also is available. The 2.0T's Premium Package includes such extra as high-intensity-discharge headlamps, foglamps, memory for driver's seat and mirrors, rear park assist and walnut wood interior trim.
In the base-model 2.0T, a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 210 horsepower, driving a six-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic. A 255-horsepower, 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 engine goes into Aero models, with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower has increased by five. Each automatic includes a manual-shift provision, with a Sport mode that holds gears longer during acceleration and alters the shift points for braking. The V6 engine that will be fitted to the XWD models will develop 280 horsepower. Saab also is planning to introduce an environmentally-friendly 200-horsepower BioPower 2.0-liter engine in the 2009 model year.
2.0-liter in-line 4 Turbocharged
210 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
221 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/29 (manual); 19/26 (automatic, sedan), 18/24 (automatic, SportCombi)
2.8-liter V6 Turbocharged
255 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
258 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/26 (manual); 15/24 (automatic)
By Gary G. on Wednesday, July 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 125,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, great weekend car"
Cons: "Must find a competent mechanic as dealers closed."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"A bit expense to maintain, much like a BMW. Great handling car, fun on the road. Unfortunately parts are getting harder to obtain especially on older models. Great looking vehicle, get comments continuously as our vehicle looks like new."
16 people out of 26 found this review helpful
By CaliSaaber on Thursday, July 10, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 130,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Can sure take a hit and fun to drive"
Cons: "maintenance, electrical issues & finding parts"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"I had my 03 Saab 9-3 Linear Sports Sedan for almost 6 months now. Since I purchased my Saab I have replaced the Secondary Air Pump, Smog Pump, Spark Plugs, Gas Gauge, and Break Booster. I originally purchased the car at $3,000 and since the purchase I have spend $2,500 on repairs. Although It runs better then ever now and extremely fun to drive I would not recommend this type of car if you can not keep up with its pricey maintenance. I spent $97 on my first synthetic oil change for example. Don't get me wrong its an amazing car with only minor electrical issues but Saab is actually quite reliable and can sure take a hit. I was in a fender bender the other day colliding with a BMW that hit me from behind. I chipped and loosened his bumper although my Saab didn't even have a scratch on it."
11 people out of 14 found this review helpful
By Best Car I have ever owned on Monday, July 07, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 220,000overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "Excellent exterior, great gas mileage 28-32 mpg"
Cons: "Needs electronic sensors to be replaced."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"Engine has seen regular synthetic oil changes from 18k every 8000 miles. It has never burned a drop of oil. Gas gauge sensor, and rear wheel electronic sensors need replacing. AC is intermittent. Local mechanic is working on the issue."
8 people out of 13 found this review helpful
By Diesel on Wednesday, June 04, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 26,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I have had many vehicles in the past 40+ years, but this is the best by far that I have owned. Very comfortable for long trips, excellent sound system, plenty of power for merging onto interstate highways, very large trunk, and I have no problems with the car mechanically. A delight to drive and to own!"
20 people out of 28 found this review helpful
By Eric on Thursday, May 08, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 105,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "True Sport Sedan, great puch, with sure foot stops"
Cons: "No longer made, parts are expensive"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"Awesome in the snow, the Saab 9-3 Aero, has plenty of punch and can stop very well. It's sure footed, with large 17"tires, and is a solidly built sturdy vehicle. The car is mediocre on gas, but how you drive makes it a big difference on how much it will sip. The car has many high end nice features as automatic wind shield wipers, heated front seats,fog lights, awesome windshield cleaning system with high volume 3 spout output.Transmission is a 6 speed automatic that is fluid and smooth at the same time. The car has terrific high output head lights, that really light up the road.The only drawback is now that Saab is out of Business, parts are expensive and repairs are costly, plus time consuming."
13 people out of 17 found this review helpful
By Moose64 on Friday, April 18, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 164,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Excellent power, great gas mileage, solidly built"
Cons: "Minor cosmetic flaws, plastic dash"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My husband suggested this car and I am so thankful he did. Absolutely the most fun to drive of anything I have ever owned. Bought with 134000 miles and now 164000 and still going strong. Owned now for almost 3 years. New tires, new front springs and a thermostat are the only things replaced. Too bad they aren't making this beauties anymore. I will seek another Saab for my next vehicle if this one ever stops."
9 people out of 16 found this review helpful