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2008 Saab 9-3

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2008 Saab 9-3 Review

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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.

You'll Like This Car If...

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.

You May Not Like This Car If...

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.

What's New for 2008

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 the 9-3
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.

XWD availability:
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.

2008 Saab 9-3 Details
Interior

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
2008 Saab 9-3 photo

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.

Notable Equipment
Standard Equipment

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.

Optional Equipment

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.

Under the Hood

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)

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