KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
After a rather rough year, Saab's future seems secure for now. With a new owner and a new lease on life, the Swedish manufacturer continues to offer a small but competent line of luxury sedans, convertibles and wagons. The bread and butter of the lineup remains the 9-3, a car whose unique styling, quirky peculiarities and distinctly European driving dynamics endear it to a small but loyal group of driving enthusiasts. For 2010, the Sedan and SportCombi models with the four-cylinder 2.0T compete nicely when placed beside the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Volvo S60, Audi A4, as well as the Volvo V50 Wagon.
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. The 9-3X SportCombi offers the rare combination of a turbocharged engine, six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel-drive in wagon body.
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 2010
For 2010 the V6 turbo is dropped from the line up, while a new, all-wheel-drive variant of the SportCombi is added. A reduction in the standard equipment list allows for a slight price reduction across the 9-3 range, and the overall model count is reduced from 14 to 9.
Each 2010 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. Aeros can be pushed vigorously into curves, remaining impressively flat and centered, and they ride more taut than front-drive 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.
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. Straightforward in layout, the instrument setup 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 doesn't take too long, but still seems odd.
Influenced by the sleek Aero X concept car, the 2010 Saab 9-3 wears a sweptback face with a semi-wrap-over hood and curtly-tapered three-hole grille, reminiscent of front ends in notable previous Saabs. Aero-style wraparound headlamps can incorporate an optional cornering light feature. 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 standard. The 9-3X SportCombi is 1.4-inches taller than the 9-3 Sedan.
Notable Standard Equipment
Standard equipment includes rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, dual heated power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with CD and auxiliary audio input, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, leather seating surface and a power driver's seat. Standard safety features include traction and stability control plus front, front-side and full-length side curtain airbags. On 2.0T models, 14-spoke alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires, whereas Aeros and SportCombi XWD editions roll on 17-inch alloys. The 9-3X SportCombi adds front and rear skid plates, 17-inch wheels and fog lamps. The 2.0T, Aero and SportCombi trims can be had with a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions, while XWD trims offer a six-speed automatic.
Notable Optional Equipment
Only a handful of options are offered on the 2.0T trim including an automatic transmission, Bose audio, OnStar with Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and SIRIUS/XM Satellite Radio. The Comfort Package adds a power moonroof, heated front seats, garage door opener, headlamp washers and "Express Up" power front windows with remote control. The Premium Package adds a memory driver's seat, a power passenger seat, Rear Park Assist, HID cornering headlamps, Bose audio and power folding auto-dimming outside mirrors. A DVD-based navigation system is also available.
Under the Hood
The 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 (six-speed auto with XWD). Automatic transmissions include a manual-shift provision, with a Sport mode that holds gears longer during acceleration and alters the shift points for braking.
2.0-liter in-line 4 Turbocharged
210 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
221 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/31 (manual, FWD Sedan); 19/28 (automatic, FWD Sedan), 21/31 (manual, SportCombi) 19/27 (automatic, SportCombi), 20/29 (manual, XWD), 17/27 (automatic, XWD)
The 2010 Saab 9-3 2.0T Sport Sedan has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $30,000; that's a bit lower than most competitors. The 2.0T SportCombi wagon stickers for closer to $31,000, while the Aero sedan goes for about $36,000, versus $38,000 for the 9-3X and Aero SportCombi wagons; all-wheel drive adds about $3,000 to the 9-3's bottom line. The Fair Purchase Price, which represents what consumers are actually paying, is likely to be moderately lower. Be sure to click on Fair Purchase Prices to check what a 9-3 is currently selling for in your area. Resale value is average but falls short of Audi, BMW and Volvo levels.