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click above image to view more high-res shots of the 2008 Saab 9-3

The 9-3 received a mid-cycle enhancement for 2008 that's comprised mostly of tweaks to its exterior styling. The front end now wears a grille inspired by the Aero X concept that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2006. It's a handsome face for Saab, which in deference to tradition must always incorporate a three-part grille evoking the brand's heritage in aviation.

Read on as we report on our brief time spent behind the wheel of the new 9-3 at GM's Milford Proving Grounds last week.

All photos ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

The inside of our 9-3 tester was exhibited the stark contrast of light sandy beige leather set against the black dash. The shape of the instrument panel carries over, while we encountered a simpler interface with less buttons than recent Saabs we remember.

The 9-3 is still based on GM's Epsilon platform, which it shares with other cares like the Opel Vectra and Cadillac BLS in Europe. The Saturn Aura and upcoming Chevy Malibu are based on a stretched version of the same platform. As such, we weren't expecting anything exciting when we started off on the prepared four-mile test course that GM had set up for us. And we didn't encounter anything exciting. The 2008 Saab 9-3 handles predominantly like it did before, which is to say predictably and without much fuss.

The test course provided many different types of surfaces, including simulated pot hole-riddled roads and low- to high-frequency sin waves. The 9-3 felt solid over most surfaces, exhibiting no squeaks or rattles despite its suspension being tasked to the limit.

The 9-3 is, of course, driven by its front wheels, so understeer was predictably present. We don't imagine many 9-3 owners floor the accelerator when exiting turns around town, but if they did, they'd find their intended line would widen a bit. The car's brakes, as well, were adequate for their intended duties, and the pedal feel felt good.

Our particular tester was powered by Saab's 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, which was mated to a 5-speed "Sentronic" automatic. This engine mated to this transmission makes for an unexciting pair. The 2.0L feels too small for the 3,230 lb. car before the turbo kicks in, which makes a full-on acceleration run feel lazy at best. Even when the turbo spools up, the power delivered isn't impressive. As for the 5-speed automatic, we found the manual shifting capability to be as disappointing as every other we've tested. It's slow to shift when asked, and will often make up its own mind near redline before you have the chance. Keep this one in auto mode and forget about it.

We're sure the Aero model's 2.8L turbocharged V6 goes a long way in alleviating the lethargy felt in our 9-3 tester, but with mid-size family sedans from Honda, Toyota and others offering over 260 HP from larger 3.5L V6 engines, what's the point in buying a more expensive Saab? We imagine there are many happy Saab owners out there who can answer that question for you. Nevertheless, we found the 9-3 on hand at Milford excelled in its ability to be average at everything.

All photos ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I have had my 9-3 4-turbo for two years now and I have never had a problem,ever. My 21 year old son has the car now and just loves it. All of his friends love it to and it is pecfect in our cold winters. It has no rattles unless the seat belt is left loose when the pasenger gets out. I tink most people confuse rattles for pens and other items that get lost in the dash and doors (yes that is a problem with a lot of cars now) I think this car will drive forever if it is taken care of.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I like it, I'd take this car in a second.

      As far as why buy the Saab when you can get a Honda or Toyota with similar power for less.

      A Saab is not a Camry or an Accord.
      It's not ment to be one either.

      I'll have to quote an 80's Saab ad.
      "Somtimes the cost of being different is the price of being better".
        • 7 Years Ago
        Considering performance and refinement of the new 3-series, C-class, and A4 models, it would be more accurate to say, "Being different is at the expense of being better."
        • 7 Years Ago
        Well my Saab certainly isn't anything like the Accord I recently sold, the Accord still runs! 64,000 miles and I have an expensive (compared to the Accord) driveway ornament (grenaded turbo and an apparent case of oil starvation)! Keep your Saab, I will take a Honda any day!
      • 7 Years Ago
      I had to consciously stop myself from laughing after looking at the cup holder.

      ....but it works great. I just bought my '04 Aero convertible (20k miles) a few weeks ago - every day I love it more. I looked at the 325 and A4 as well. The features, the engineering, the fact that I rarely see the same car as mine on my daily 30 mile commute.

      Sure, it's not a rally car - but by tempering the turbo that little 2.0 can really carve it up. What a blast to drive. It has a subtle, elegant design to it that (unexpectedly) gets me daily compliments.

      The new redesign is growing on me....but the '04-07 model to me is timeless.

      Sadly, last weekend I hit a deer - luckily no injuries (well, at least to those in the car....), and maybe $3k in damages to the car. It's going to be gone a week, and I already miss it.....
      • 7 Years Ago
      How can a car that is offering an all new AWD system have its differences with the previous model year be described as "comprised mostly of tweaks to its exterior styling"??
        • 7 Years Ago
        The AWD doesn't come until the spring, and only available on the Aero. So for the next 6 months, the only new to the 9-3 is the style updates and interior changes (minor as they may be) that come on the 4-cyl models.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I have been selling this car new sinse 2003 when it was first launched. I can most certertanly tell you that being the 3rd largest SAAB dealer in the USA in Santa Monica CA. I have never had a customer compare this car to a Versa-whatever. Or rarely any Japanse car including Lexus. SAAB is a true drivers car at an amazing price point. This car has the best safety fetures in the world. I can't tell you how many times custmers have told me their SAAB saved their lives!!! Watching the 10 o'clock news and seeing people in fately and horrific car accidents, I would gladly pay a little more for the safest car in it's class 4 years running. At the end of the day SAAB drivers are fun educated people that love their cars. That is more then I can say for all the snotty 3 series drivers or the posser c class drivers that can't afford an e-class. It's proven that most SAAB drivers are College grads and 46% have a Masters degree. You tell me why all these educated people are buying SAAB.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I test drove the GTI and the Saab 9-3 back to back. I consider them to be competitors because the GTI = GLI - trunk, and comparably equipped, the GLI only comes in a couple thousand less than the 9-3 ($27k vs 29k).

      I really wanted to like the 9-3. I think it looks better than the GTI/GLI, both inside and out. But it drove... like an average car. The turbo felt much less linear than the engine in the VW, the brakes felt taxed driving over the same roads as the VW when the VW didn't, and handling... well, handling was alright.

      The rear seat leg room was almost nonexistent, and I'm only 5'10" (though I like sitting pretty far back). The trunk was fairly small, and I had to consciously stop myself from laughing after looking at the cup holder.

      The lighting, both inside and out, was a step back from the VW - halogens and neon green vs xenons and blue/red - blue might be worse for my eyesight, but it looks so much better.

      And 16" wheels standard on the 2007.

      Obviously, I chose the other car... but I wanted to like the Saab. I really did.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Some of you have to lighten up and get real.

      This car competes with the A4, S60, 3 series, C class, TL.
      The trunk AND back seat are bigger than ALL of these cars!

      The 9-3 SS is one of the best values going. I'm on my second in 4 years and love them...
      • 7 Years Ago
      You buy a Saab 9-3 because you can get great real world fuel economy in the safest car for its size and it has everything you need standard. It's not as overweight as many of its German counterparts. Its design is somewhat unique and the ride and handling is great. Plus it's not generic and you get a 4 year / 50,000 mile warranty with free maintenance for 3 years.

      My 2006 9-3 SportCombi doesn't rattle at all and has been nearly trouble free. I admit that the rear leg room is deficient but it has more cargo volume than many much larger, heavier SUV's (like the Ford Edge and BMW X3), and also more room than the Versa, and Fit. My mom's 2004 9-3 Linear with the 175 hp engine with lots of low end torque can easily get 35 mpg on the highway. Both of these Saabs have averaged 28 mpg with about 40% city driving. I've seen road test reviews of the Versa that weren't much better, and it's a slower, lighter vehicle.

      With the rebates available on the Saab, unless you carry more than two people often, the question should be, why buy an Accord or a Camry?

      • 7 Years Ago
      In the press release, Saab says you don't get access to the 'new' gears 2.5 & 3.5 when using the manuamatic.

      Is the bottom button a Sport mode button? Did you guys hit it?

      Also part of the problem is 1000 rpm of all downhill power. Peak is at 5300, limiter at 6500, so upshift by 6K. The ratio spread of the transmission is only 4.6:1
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Somtimes the cost of being different is the price of being better".

      And sometimes the cost of being different is just the price you pay for a car that continues to head toward the mainstream, with uneven execution and just piss-poor reliability. I owned a 1996 900SE Coupe that I later traded for a 2000 9-3SE Conv't. After the warranty expired on both, they did their best to empty my coffers, and did a bang-up job of it too. The Conv't had to have the engine replaced at 35K due to oil sludge, and when I traded it last year, they found sludge in that second engine, so this was gonna be #3 at 83K miles. It was always maintained according to Saab specs.

      I used to love 'em, now I see the latest 9-3 body style and the seemingly Teddy Roosevelt era 9-5 wonder why does this Division even exist anymore? I do like the SportCombi, at least this year's version after they fixed the old bland front end. Too bad I've only seen maybe three on the road since they came out.

      I used to fear that GM would kill off Saab, now I just pray they put it out of its misery. Good riddance. Oh, and I ended up trading that Conv't (her name was Christine) for a Honda Civic Hybrid. Weight. Off. Shoulders.
      • 7 Years Ago
      why does such a large car have so little rear leg room?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Well, the xB is a box and the Versa and xD are hardly what you'd call sleek and attractive. That's your tradeoff for having a car like this. The 3er is also super tight inside, but these aren't family sedans.

        Also, the 9-3 is simply not a large car by any measure - dimensionally, interior volume, or compared to other cars in the European or American market.
        • 7 Years Ago
        That is a point of view, to some people this is a large car. A Nissan Versa, Scion xD, xB or Honda Fit has more interior room than this car all in much smaller packages.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Because it's not a large car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I hope the 2008's are built better then my 2006. We nicked named it Rattles and counting the days until I can give it back to GMAC.

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