2002 9-3 New Car Test Drive
Innovative to the point of quirkiness, Saab was one of the key pioneers not only of front-wheel drive, but also of body designs that were at once aerodynamic outside and spacious inside, while providing outstanding passenger protection.
During the 1970s, when most cars were losing performance to stricter emissions rules, Saabs grew faster (and cleaner) every year. During this period Saab re-introduced automotive turbocharging and pioneered distributorless ignition. The 99EMS, 99 Turbo, and 900 Turbo models became performance legends.
Since then, the rest of the world has caught up a bit, and the latest Saabs are more mainstream than their ancestors. Still, the current 9-3 preserves that special character that makes a Saab. The ignition key is still mounted on the center console; a modern version of the Black Panel instrument cluster remains; and innovative solutions abound.
The model name is pronounced nine-three, and it is a reference to Saab's heritage. Saab was founded in the 1930s as an aircraft manufacturer, and its first automobile, the 92 of 1949, was so named because it was the company's 92nd engineering project. Subsequent Saab cars were numbered more or less in sequence, so that the digit 9 becoming a company hallmark. The Saab 99 of 1969 was followed by the 900 in 1979 and then the 9000 in 1985. At that point someone must have noticed an unpromising trend, and hence the retreat to 9-3 for the bread-and-butter range and 9-5 for the company flagship.
Three body styles are available: five-door hatchback, two-door convertible, and three-door hatchback. Saab has simplified the 9-3 lineup for 2002. The former base-model three-door and five-door hatchbacks are gone. So the lineup starts with SE trim.
SE trim is available as a 9-3 SE five-door ($27,995) and 9-3 convertible ($39,995). Both have been upgraded for 2002, with combination leather-and-textile seats and door panels.
Also new for 2002 is a Premium package ($1995) for the five-door SE, which adds automatic climate control, full leather upholstery, power front seats with driver's-side memory, sport suspension, sport steering wheel, and an upgraded audio system. A corresponding Sport package ($1495) for the SE convertible adds three-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport steering wheel, and a deck-lid spoiler.
Viggen rides at the top of the 9-3 line as the ultimate-performance model. The Viggen is offered in identically priced three-door ($38,095) and five door styles ($38,095), and as a convertible ($44,995). The Viggen is now the only 9-3 available in the three-door configuration. All Viggens are upholstered in black leather with contrasting inserts, and roll on aggressive 45-profile tires on 17-inch alloy wheels.
Two different turbocharged four-cylinder engines are available. SE models displace 2.0 liters and produce 205 horsepower. Buyers can choose a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Viggens wring 230-horsepower from 2.3-liters and, befitting their sporting status, come only with a five-speed manual.