Saab 9-3 Review: 2007 Model | 9-3 | Car Buyers Guide

2007 Saab 9-3 Review

Saab makes the ageing 9-3 a little sexier and a little greener. Is it enough?

I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little sick of seeing the same old executive cars dominating the sales charts. It’s getting a little bit dull, boring and predictable. Having said that, I suppose you can’t really blame buyers for being cautious with their money and it is for that reason that we find BMW with its 3-Series and Audi with its A4 dominating the class in Ireland.

The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class should take a slice of that action too but it’s not a cheap car, even by class standards, so it’s unlikely to change the status quo much. And some of the new offerings – such as the Alfa Romeo 159 and, er, Cadillac’s BLS – haven’t really made much of an impact on the market, either. Saab was well on its way to becoming just another ‘also ran’ too and up to recently it was looking like the forgotten child of the General Motors Group. The number of architects and people wanting to be ‘discreet’ was diminishing and sales were in freefall, while some of GM’s shockingly bad decisions, such as the America-only Saab 9-2x and 9-7x, did little to help the brand or its sales. But the current vogue for bio-ethanol-powered cars has meant that Saab is enjoying another spell in the limelight – its cars are ideally suited to the E85 onslaught thanks to the firm’s penchant for small capacity turbocharged engines that suit E85 very well.

The result is that the firm enjoyed its best ever year in 2006, up 11 percent on 2005, and this is in no small part down to its range of bio-fuel vehicles. Saab was an early adopter of the technology, pandering to its domestic market customers, who demanded bio-fuel cars long before it became as mainstream as it is today. The timing could not have been better. It even managed to revive sales of its antiquated 9-5 by selling a BioPower version. Here in Ireland, it is subject to a generous VRT rebate that has made it pretty good value. Despite this, Saab’s 0.57 percent market share could get a boost with the arrival of a new Saab 9-3 this September.

There are, according to Saab, 2,157 changes to the new 9-3. Some, clearly, are more obvious than others, but the most obvious is a new front-end, the addition of BioPower versions and a new high-performance diesel version. Visually, the new 9-3 range is distinguished by all-new bodywork forward of the A-pillar, with new bumper mouldings and light assemblies front and rear, as well as new doors and handles for the Sports Saloon and Sports Estate. Flared side sill extensions also become standard across the range. In the case of the Sports Saloon, 70 percent of the external body panels and parts are new. The front end was inspired by the Aero X concept car, a stunning looking two-door coupé that was shown at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show (that ran on pure ethanol and produced 400hp) and this new nose does give the car a more imposing and aggressive look. However, the same can’t really be said for the rear, where the new smoked-white light clusters are a little Max Power for an executive.

The engine lineup for the new 9-3 will now include new BioPower versions, capable of combining turbocharging with the use of E85 fuel, which is the fuel made from 85 percent bio-ethanol to offer a blend of performance and reduced CO2 emissions. The new engine is the 2.0t, which, when running on E85, will produce 200hp, which is 14 percent more power and 13 percent more torque than it will on regular petrol, where it manages 175hp. There is also a 1.8t version – this has been available in other markets for a while but is new to us, and it will produce 175hp while running on E85 fuel, compared to 150hp when running on regular unleaded. The car will burn more of the E85 when it is using it, but since the fuel is less expensive, this tends to even out for the user. And if, like the Saab 9-5, the 9-3 BioPower is allowed the usual VRT break for cars such as this, the entry-level BioPower car could become incredibly good value. Also new is a flagship diesel model. The 1.9-litre TTiD uses a two-stage turbocharging system to produce an impressive 180hp and 400Nm of torque.

This engine is incredibly smooth and lacks the frantic thumps of power of some of its rivals. 0-100km/h takes a mere 8.5 seconds with a maximum speed of 225km/h, yet with fuel economy of 5.9 l/100km and CO2 emissions of 159g/km. In terms of driving dynamics, Saabs have always enjoyed poised and predictable handling, and the diesel 9-3 in particular felt like a decent package. There really is nothing to distinguish the BioPower versions from the regular turbocharged petrol versions and this is the beauty of them – you get more power while using a fuel that is manufactured using renewable sources in a car that doesn’t feel one bit compromised.

The cars still have the best seats you will find in any car, anywhere and that means one of these cars would be ideal for anyone doing high mileage. But remember, too, that the BioPower versions – and indeed any car that runs on E85 – will have shorter service intervals due to the more corrosive nature of the fuel. We get the first of these cars in September and while prices have yet to be confirmed, it seems likely that a continuation of the 50 percent VRT rebate for cars that run on bio-ethanol means that the 1.8t BioPower version in particular could end up being really good value. That means for a starting price of around €35,000 you could be in a car that could put out 175hp through the front wheels, which is significantly better than you will get from a basic-spec BMW 3-Series or Audi A4.  Debuting on the flagship 2.8-litre Sports Saloon and Sports Estate models (now with 280hp), but due to filter down to the rest of the engine ranges eventually, is Saab’s new all-wheel-drive-system. Saab XWD is a fully automatic, on-demand system capable of sending up to 100 percent of engine torque to the front or rear wheels whenever necessary.

The system works in conjunction with the car’s ABS and ESP to measure wheel speed, yaw rate and steering angle to improve stability and handling. In normal driving conditions, say on a motorway, only 5-10 percent of the engine torque will be transferred to the rear wheels. This is a fourth-generation Haldex system that is unique to Saab for now and there is an option of an electronically controlled, rear-limited slip differential, which in icy or wet split-friction conditions can transfer up to 40 percent of torque between the drive shafts, to whichever wheel has more grip.

We tested some early pre-production models with this system on a ready-made, low-grip course and the results were very impressive, with the intervention from the system pre-emptive and seamless. The word is that this system will pave the way for a high-performance 300hp+ version of the Saab 9-3 and we can also expect to see an Audi Allroad-style version of the 9-3 Sports Estate with an elevated ride height, reinforced underbody and jazzed-up exterior. Even with the ever expanding range, it’s clear that Saab will never dominate the sales charts but at least with its new look, some tax-busting engines and the prospect of an all-wheel drive version to follow, and there may be a rosier future ahead for this Swedish model.



Saab 9-3 

Selected Launch Models Saab 9-3 1.8

Engine 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 122hp,

167Nm torque 

Transmission 5-speed manual

Acceleration 0–100 km/h: 11.5 seconds

Top Speed 200km/h  

Economy 7.7 litres/100km

CO2 Emissions 183g/km

Boot Capacity 275 litres 

Weight 1,410kg

Base Price €37,000 (est)


Saab 9-3 2.0t BioPower

Engine 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 200hp,

300Nm torque 

Transmission 5-speed automatic

Acceleration 0–100 km/h: 8.9 seconds

Top Speed 225km/h 

Economy 8.0 litres/100km

CO2 Emissions 216g/km

Boot Capacity 275 litres 

Weight 1,500kg

Base Price €38,000 (est – incl. VRT rebate)  


Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD

Engine 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel, 180hp,

400Nm torque 

Transmission 6-speed manual

Acceleration 0–100 km/h: 8.5 seconds

Top Speed 225km/h  

Economy 5.9 litres/100km

CO2 Emissions 159g/km

Boot Capacity 275 litres

Weight 1,650kg

Base Price €43,000 (est)


Body styles: Saloon, Estate, Convertible


Petrol 1.8i 122hp, 1.8t 150hp, 2.0T 210hp, 2.8 V6 280hp BioPower 1.8t 175hp, 2.0t 200hp

Diesel 1.9 120hp, 1.9S 150hp, 1.9 TTiD 180hp

Specification Levels Linear, Linear Sport, Vector Sport,

Aero Base Price to be confirmed –€35,000 for the 1.8t BioPower

Availability in Ireland in late September, 1.9 TTiD late November, AWD early 2008


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