AutoTest File - 2003 Saab 9-3.

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Apr 16, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
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    Non-Conformist: Saab 'quirks' continue in new 9-3


    Though it makes many a Swede at Saab shudder, “quirky” is how many AutoFile respondents described their 9-3s.

    Readers told us they feared General Motors would homogenize the brand, eliminating those special somethings that make a Saab a Saab—like the console-mounted ignition switch. One owner, pleased overall with his car, said, “Pinch me, am I dreaming? Do I own a GM? Wowsers!” But fear not, the new-generation 9-3 retains enough oddity to satisfy even die-hard Saab lovers.

    The question is whether the 9-3 can compete with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Volvo S60, not to mention models from Infiniti, Acura and Lexus. This was the aim Saab claimed for its latest 9-3 sedan—yes, sedan, not hatchback. After our track tests, we’d say the jury is still out.

    Saab claims a 0-to-60-mph time for the Vector model (the other two models in the 9-3 lineup are the 210-hp Arc and 175-hp Linear) of less than seven seconds, but we never came close. Our best time was 7.58 seconds, more than a half-second slower than our most recent run in a 193-hp, six-cylinder BMW 328i. Though the Saab has fewer cubic inches underhood, its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four pumps out 210 hp and 221 lb-ft.

    But all that low-end torque made for lots of wheelspin, with the turbo boost falling off between shifts further impacting times. While owners reported noticing little turbo lag—one of those Saab quirks that has all but disappeared, along with much of its nasty torque steer—our test car seemed to take a while for the turbo to spool up. Our best run was made not by watching the tach for shift points, rather by watching the boost gauge. Once the needle started to drop, we shifted.

    Speaking of shifting, another Saab quirk is a rubbery shifter that caused some missed shifts in this six-speed manual transmission, described by one tester as “awful.” Our test car was a pre-production Vector. None of our readers made any negative comments regarding the gearbox—some even raved about it, one saying, “The [shifter] is excellent, with crisp, well-spaced throws and no notchy or rubbery feel whatsoever.” During our test we had numerous problems with the second-third shift during acceleration runs.

    One reader described the suspension as suitable for Goldilocks—not too soft or too firm. Braking distances (60 mph to 0 in 128 feet) were mediocre for a car this size, but we noticed little brake dive. And during our slalom runs, the car wouldn’t turn and accelerate at the same time. The Pirelli P Zero Rosso 225/45ZR-17s surrendered under the combined load. Whereas the rear-drive 328i powered through the cones at 46.4 mph (and was among the best we’ve tested), the Saab only managed a front-end plowing 44.1 mph.

    Several owners said they chose their 9-3 because of Saab’s long history of producing “safe” automobiles, and with “airbags everywhere,” that safety tradition continues in this new car. The fit-and-finish of the 9-3 is good, but a couple of owners said the interior, while nice and a step up from the previous model, is “not up to Audi standards.” One dissenter, however, called the interiors on both the Audi A6 and A4 he cross-shopped “cheap” by comparison.

    Aesthetically, we like the looks of the car, as Saab has abandoned the hatchback for a more traditional sedan look, and many owners seemed to agree, describing their 9-3s as handsome and attractive while still retaining enough brand character to be a “nonconformist alternative” to BMW and Lexus. A few, however, took a bit of convincing to take the sedan over what they call the more practical shape of the hatchback. “Saab hatchbacks and their inherent flexibility are my version of an SUV but with twice the gas mileage and driving pleasure,” said one owner. “I don’t mean to sound negative, but I so much want this marque to survive that I come away disappointed by this attempt.”

    It appears Saab has satisfied most of the nonconformists out there—in other words, the traditional Saab buyers. Perhaps it can sway a few more with the 9-3’s more conventional take on entry-level luxury.

    Great low-end torque
    Greatly reduced torque steer
    Very little turbo lag

    Tires not up to task
    Rubbery shifter
    Steering overboosted

    Audi A4/VW Passat
    BMW 3 Series
    Infiniti G35



    Saab made an aesthetically beautiful car with the 9-3. Handling is superb, gas mileage even better—averaging a nice 24.5 mpg. I’d suggest waiting for the forthcoming Arc or Vector. You’ll pay a little more and receive additional horsepower. On the downside, seats are less than comfortable and the center console is small, as the awkward shifter and ignition key take up most of the space. Overall, great handling, average acceleration and poor ergonomics. As a compact vehicle, the car should be priced $4,000 to $5,000 less to really make it marketable. -M. Stafford, San Carlos, Calif.

    Sometimes I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “Did you really go out and buy a Saab? Are you nuts?” The new 9-3, however, is a really nice car. It has a great V6-like engine with near-zero turbo lag, smooth transmission, Goldilocks (not too firm, not too soft) suspension and its build quality excels. If I had to describe this car with one word, it would be “value.” -Dan Stoffer, Clarendon Hills, Ill.

    I would have preferred the Infiniti G35, but price point comes into play and leasing a Saab made more sense. The highlights are a competitive new chassis, ergonomic interior, superb sound levels and build quality. The dislikes: Steering is over-assisted and the engine disappoints compared to my ’02 9-3. At start-up it reminds me of the Iron Duke four-bangers in early ’80s Firebirds. Now that it finally has a competitive suspension for a front driver, it falls short of potential because of low horsepower. -J. David Holme, Grosse Pointe, Mich.

    It’s a shame how many people are going to walk past this car when they see it has 175 hp. That rating is so misleading. This car is all about torque, right from idle, pumped through five perfectly spaced gear ratios. There is no turbo lag at all. I’m a one-hand-on-the-wheel driver so no amount of torque steer is acceptable. The driving experience is truly amazing. -Frank Marino, Leander, Texas


    Base: $33,170
    As tested (includes $675 delivery): $35,960
    Owners paid; average: $26,606 to $33,235; $29,577

    Unibody four-door sedan

    Wheelbase (in):.105.3
    Track (in): 59.8 front, 59.3 rear
    Length/width/height (in): 182.2/68.3/56.4
    Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 3285/4450

    Fuel (gal): 16.4
    Cargo (cu-ft): 15.0

    Front-transverse 2.0-liter/121-cid dohc
    turbocharged I4
    Horsepower: 210 @ 5500 rpm
    Torque (lb-ft): 221 @ 2300-4000 rpm

    Compression ratio: 9.5:1
    Fuel requirement: 87 octane

    Front-wheel drive
    Transmission: Six-speed manual
    Final drive ratio: 3.91:1

    Front: MacPherson struts
    with gas-charged shocks and antiroll bar
    Rear: Four-link with coil springs,
    gas-charged shocks and antiroll bar

    Discs front and rear, ABS,
    electronic brake force distribution
    and cornering brake control,
    and mechanical brake assist
    Aluminum 225/45R-17
    Pirelli P Zero Rosso

    0-60 mph: 7.58 sec
    0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 7.99 sec
    0-quarter-mile: 15.5 sec @ 91.5 mph

    20-40 mph (second gear): 2.7 sec
    40-60 mph (third gear): 3.8 sec
    60-80 mph (third gear): 4.4 sec

    60 mph-0: 128 ft

    490-foot slalom: 44.1 mph
    Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.82 g

    Idle: 43
    Full throttle: 73
    Steady 60 mph: 62

    EPA combined: 26.28 mpg
    AW overall: 24.6 mpg

    $16,402 after 36-month lease, 46 percent of new vehicle price

  2. spooky

    spooky Active Member OT Supporter

    Jul 8, 2002
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  3. RenaultFreak

    RenaultFreak OMG

    Apr 1, 2002
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    CCS, VE
    god I like it so much... :wtc:
  4. bioyuki

    bioyuki Ich habe Angst

    Sep 3, 2001
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    San Francisco, CA
    Looks cool and thats about it. G35 over one of those anyday.
  5. Z.

    Z. _____

    Sep 21, 2002
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    Hm . . . no.
  6.

    Read more... SPQR

    Jun 28, 2002
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    Best GM ever...
  7. Penguin Man

    Penguin Man Protect Your Digital Liberties

    Apr 27, 2002
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    Edmonton, AB
    :werd: I spent the most time at our car show at the Saab booth, the guys were really nice and I LOVE the car :big grin:
  8. Coma Black

    Coma Black Guest

    Pull up with an '03 BMW 325i next to it, and it won't be any faster.

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