2009 9-3 New Car Test Drive
The 9-3 is the bread-and-butter line-up of the Saab brand, with three body styles and multiple drivetrains to mix and match. The Saab 9-3 received major restyling for 2008. For 2009, the 9-3 gets detail improvements and a broader range.
Saab is actually an acronym derived from a Swedish aircraft building partnership created in 1937 that, in addition to cars, builds military fighter aircraft (with jet engines from a partnership between GE and Volvo, that other Swedish car company). From its two-stroke roots Saab has always focused on safety and rally-winning performance, and developed unique vehicle traits and features and a loyal group of owners. It was absorbed under the GM umbrella but has for the most part kept the Saab quirkiness.
2009 Saab 9-3 Aero models get more powerful 280-hp engines, all-wheel drive (XWD) is available with either engine on every model except the convertible, and Aero XWD units get a sophisticated rear-drive system. Remaining upgrades are primarily cosmetic, ranging from sleeker roof rails on the SportCombi (wagon) to an added gray top choice for the convertible. Other upgrades to entice buyers include XM radio with three month subscription, OnStar 8.0 with turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth for a year, and no-charge scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.
The 9-3 is not a big car, by North American standards a compact premium similar to the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Lexus IS, Mercedes C-Class and to a lesser extent Acura's TL, Infiniti's G37 and Volvo's S60/V50. It's the right size for urban environs, young families and disorganized professors, and while it hasn't the hatchback versatility of previous Saabs it does have a fold-down rear seat and the wagon is very versatile.
Both engines are tuned for daily driving yet still enthusiastic when you desire. Various suspension choices allow comfortable commuting or threading a twisty road, but neither end of the spectrum is extreme and sacrifices anything for it. The 9-3 feels very solid and stable on the road, easily handled by novices and not a bore for those who know how to handle cars.
Genuine world cars, the 9-3 uses major parts from Germany, Japan, Australia, and Sweden, and is assembled in Sweden (hardtops) and Austria (convertibles). Throw in some French or Italian tires and all you need to do is wave.
Features such as standard leather and dual-zone climate control are just the start, and the quality of the finishes and the clean styling won't leave you thinking you could have done better. Add to that the uniqueness that Saab brings, and you question if the 9-3 gets all the respect it deserves.
Saab 9-3 permutations can get a bit confusing because of the variety and because one version of the 9-3 Sport Sedan is called Sport. However, numerous choices mean you can get a sedan, convertible or wagon (SportCombi), with four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine, a manual or automatic transmission, and excepting convertibles, front-drive or all-wheel drive. The least expensive 9-3 is about $31,000, a loaded Aero convertible more than $55,000; for 2009 all include complimentary scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.
The Saab 9-3 2.0T Touring front-wheel drive sedan ($30,360), SportCombi ($31,790) and convertible ($42,130) comes with a 210-hp turbocharged 2-liter engine, six-speed manual gearbox. The 2.0T Touring includes leather, dual-zone climate control, 60/40 split rear seat (exc. convertible), power driver seat, tilt/telescope leather-wrapped wheel, heated power mirrors, power windows/locks, rain-sensing wipers, rear fog lamp, CD/XM stereo, Bluetooth, trip computer, cooled glovebox, and 16-inch wheels. Convertibles delete the center rear seat position and add a power folding multi-layer insulated top, and wagons add rear wipe/wash and cargo cover.
Options on touring grade cars are limited to a cold weather package ($550) with heated front seats and washer jets; metallic paint ($550); and a five-speed automatic transmission ($1350). On convertibles a blue, sand or gray top is available ($600).
9-3 2.0T Comfort sedan ($34,150), SportCombi ($35,315), and convertible ($44,455) include a five-speed automatic but the six-speed manual is a no-cost option. Comfort adds the cold-weather package, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, moonroof, and 17-inch alloy wheels with 235/45VR17 tires. Options include metallic paint, a premium package ($1495) with xenon cornering headlamps, front fog lamps, rear park assist, power passenger seat, driver memory system; Bose Centerpoint sound system ($995); and navigation ($2145).
9-3 2.0T XWD four-door models feature all-wheel drive (Cross-Wheel Drive), with six-speed automatic or manual gearboxes. XWD comes in sedan ($36,395) and SportCombi ($37,810) versions. XWD models are similar to Comfort-grade cars but include self-leveling rear shocks, upgraded brakes, red walnut trim, and 235/50VR17 tires. Like the Comfort, a premium package is available.
9-3 2.0T Sport versions come in Sport Sedan ($37,140), SportCombi ($38,305) and convertible ($47,345) models. Above the Comfort level, these add a six-disc in-dash, 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint audio system, lower sport suspension, larger brakes from the Aero/XWD, metallic trim, Xenon cornering headlamps, rear park assist, sport seats, power passenger seat, driver memory system. Transmissions are five-speed automatic or six-speed manual (no cost) and options include premium leather and navigation.
9-3 Aero models come with a 280-hp turbocharged 2.8-liter and six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Aero sedan and SportCombi are all-wheel drive, while the convertible is front-wheel drive. Aero models come well equipped, essentially as Sport models, plus self-leveling in back for the sport suspension, electronic rear limited-slip differential, discrete two-tone leather, and carbon-fiber style trim. Options include high-performance 235/45YR18 tires, leather upgrade, and navigation.
Safety features: All 9-3s include adaptive front, front side and side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, stability control, full electronic brake assists, and one year of OnStar 8.0 Safe & Sound. The 9-3 has been recognized for three years running as an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top pick and the 9-3 convertible was the only soft-top convertible to get that award in 2008.