Road Test - Saab 9-3 Vector

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Sep 25, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    A distinctive midsize performance sedan

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    By Jim Hall • Photos by Jay K. McNally
    October 2003

    "Lithe," "nimble" and "fun."

    Over the years, these have always been the first words that come to mind when driving a Saab 9-3 turbo. And they apply to Saab's latest high-performance turbo 9-3, the Vector, perhaps more aptly than ever before
    . The 9-3 has long been an enjoyable driver's car but the all-new Vector is more poised and easier to drive with gusto than those of the past.

    The Saab 9-3 is the first car in the U.S. to use General Motors' all-new Epsilon chassis. And we're impressed with what we've experienced. The Vector's precise handling characteristics can instill confidence in the driver. Taking the car at speed through a 40-mph corner reveals a competent and composed chassis that leans slightly and in a gradual, linear manner when transitioning from a straight line into the turn — no abrupt body sway here. The Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires fitted to fantastic-looking 5-spoke 17-in. alloy wheels provide a solid degree of grip. And when the Italian rubber's adhesion starts to fade, it will do so first at the front wheels in the form of slight understeer. Press the car a little more at this point and the rear wheels of the well-balanced Vector will begin to break away slightly, allowing for controlled rotation that helps place the front end exactly where you want it to go.

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    Aiding the Vector's handling capabilities is the car's overall weight balance. Engineers worked hard to distribute the mass as evenly as possible. With 53 percent of the weight on the front and 47 percent at the rear, the 9-3 Vector exhibits very good weight distribution for a front-wheel-driver.

    There's also a good degree of feedback through the steering (better, in fact, than many competing sedans in this group) but there's an ever-so-slight disconnection with what's going on at the front wheels. The BMW 3 Series continues to set the standard in this area, but the 9-3 Vector is only a skosh behind it.

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    The Vector's fleet-of-foot chassis and drivetrain put a smile on our Assistant Road Test Editor Shaun Bailey's face.

    Like the chassis, the gearbox — an all-new 6-speed — shows marked improvement in function as well. There's still a rubbery movement of the shift lever that we recall from the last-generation 9-3 but now to a much lesser degree. The linkage moves with a nice flow from gear to gear but the gates are not as well defined as they could be. On a couple of occasions, I found myself accidentally selecting 3rd instead of 1st when starting off, or getting 5th as opposed to 3rd when moving through city streets. Overall, though, this is the best gearbox the 9-3 line has ever had.

    The turbo engines featured in past top-of-the-line 9-3s have always been a hoot, and with the new Vector the tradition not only continues but gets even better. The previously peaky turbo powerplant, fun in its day, is gone. In its place is a new 210-bhp aluminum 2.0-liter inline-4 turbo design that makes for a much broader and more linear power delivery.

    The 9-3 Vector's Swedish character is most visible in the interior. Like Swedish furniture, the design is modern, clean and functional. The sculpted latticework vents, a long-running feature on past Saabs, are still there — nice to see this bit of decorative tradition carried on.

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    Leather-wrapped seats are sporty, comfortable and look great in two-tone trim.

    Interior head room is ample not only for front passengers but for those in back as well, albeit about 2 in. lower. Front seats are comfortable and supportive — a longtime Saab strong point — though not quite to the level of the previous 9-3's seats. The old buckets really enveloped the driver and made him feel at home, be it behind the wheel for long road stints or a few laps around the track (of course, a possible explanation for this is that it's the driver's dimensions that have increased). The 9-3's improved interior dimensions are of noticeable benefit to back-seat passengers with gains made in footwell space as well as seat width. A wide fold-down seatback provides storage, access to the trunk pass-through and plenty of armrest space between the two rear-seat passengers.

    Virtually every editor who drove the new Vector gave it high marks for its distinctive looks that set it apart from the rest of the midsize sports-sedan class. "Overall, the 9-3 surprised me," says Senior Editor Kim Wolfkill. "I like its looks, I like its performance and the fact that it's not like every other luxury sports sedan out there. Sure, it's not as plush as an Audi, BMW or Mercedes, but it's never going to be nearly as common either. Score one for the underdog."

    One thing the 9-3 Vector does have in common with the other cars in its class is that it boasts a comprehensive list of standard features: dual-zone automatic climate control; heated side mirrors; power windows, mirrors, door locks and front seats (driver's side with memory function); cruise control; and an AM/FM/CD player with audio controls on the leather-clad tilt and telescopically adjustable steering wheel. Leather-covered seats, brake handle and shift lever are also standard, as is the Vector's performance-tuned suspension. GM's OnStar system is also standard equipment and includes a free one-year subscription.

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    Safety features (standard on the entire 9-3 line) include front and side airbags, side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability program (ESP) and traction control, and Saab's own Active Head Restraint system for the front occupants. The new Saab 9-3 Vector also includes free scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles.

    With a base price of $32,495 (not including destination fees), the 2003 Saab 9-3 Vector does precisely what the enthusiast driver is looking for in a good sports sedan: It offers a very rewarding driving experience for its pilot and can seat four adults comfortably in a spacious environment — this may sound trivial, but many sedans in this midsize class can't do this. What's more, the Saab delivers all this with an organic, flowing exterior that is a stylish breath of fresh air in a world of ever-increasing cookie-cutter designs. The new Saab 9-3 Vector rates right up there with the best and most enjoyable-to-drive cars of the category: the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac CTS and Lexus IS 300.

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    Many new features are included on the new Saab 9-3 Vector, including the easily read yet unobtrusive information center located amidship on the top of the dashboard (left).

    9-3 Convertible

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    What with travel and all, I wasn't around to drive our Road Test 9-3. But, by luck, it turned out even better. I got to sample the 9-3 in its Convertible form — and in its home Scandinavia. With Copenhagen, Denmark, as a base, we drove to Sweden over the Oresund Bridge. There, we traveled to Basted, a beautiful resort town on the Laholmsbukten, enjoyed a midsummer night's celebration, albeit a week early, and even encountered the Sofiero Slott Veteranbilrally, a fabulous old car rally, on our drive back to the bridge. What's more, upon returning to the states I borrowed a 9-3 Linear Sport Sedan for a visit to western Pennsylvania's Coolspring Festival 2003. So, in fact, my recent Saab times have been fruitful indeed.

    The Convertible is a delight, now with an automatic self-latching top, 210 bhp of turbocharged power only a tickle of the accelerator away and a chassis that's three times stiffer than the one it replaces. In fact, I'd rate the 9-3 Convertible as the most altogether of open cars in its class; high praise indeed, as the Audi Cabriolet and BMW 3 Series Convertibles are hardly willowy.

    The Saab comes in two versions: the luxury/touring Arc ($39,995) and sport Aero ($42,500). The Aero gets a 6-speed manual, versus the Arc's 5-speed, both with shift linkages that are worlds better than in previous Saabs. The Aero's tires are 17-in. high-performance; the Arc's, of 16-in. diameter. Aero interior trim is matte chrome; the Arc's, poplar wood. Both versions include DynaCage roll-over-protection hoops that deploy in 0.15 second as well as electronic stability and traction control as standard equipment. These features and prices place the 9-3 Convertibles in excellent position against their obvious competitors, the Audi A4 Cabriolet, BMW 3 Series Convertible and Volvo C70 Convertible. (And I sense a great comparison test in the making.)

    Truth be known, of course, this new Saab shares many mechanicals with other GM siblings based on the Epsilon platform. But not to worry, because I believe this new 9-3 convertible's Saab character is more pronounced than that of the car it replaces. — Dennis Simanaitis

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  2. Rev. Johnny Vegas

    Rev. Johnny Vegas Rectal Ventriloquist

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    They soo need to make a 9-3 Viggen on that platform.
     
  3. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  4. mucky

    mucky .

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    :cool: But I'll take a TSX or TL instead. :hs:
     
  5. MiseryIndex

    MiseryIndex i never know why. i only know who. Moderator

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    don't blink.
    interior is uncomfortable. & a bit akward. other than that, i'd love one.
     
  6. Smitty

    Smitty New Member

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    Wow I think that Saab has come a very long way on body design. I used to hate them, but that actually looks really good.
     
  7. Dr. Woo

    Dr. Woo Guns don't kill people

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    Damn fine-looking, somewhat decent performing...but FWD.
     
  8. a red heart

    a red heart Guest

    i love em. if it had 280hp id buy it.
     
  9. Chi_Town_GoD

    Chi_Town_GoD Guest

    whoa, actually they took the incentives away :(
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  11. Jazz

    Jazz Powerhouse of the Scrum

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    I love the car and would seriously consider buying one if I was in the market for a new car...that being said, that photographer needs to buy a new camera or maybe learn how to use an image editing program to resize his pictures :o
     
  12. Smitty

    Smitty New Member

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    I wonder how the car would respond to small mods :p
     
  13. Bobby Ballsack

    Bobby Ballsack I could be a friend to you

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    Great looking car. Too bad it doesn't have more power.
     

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