New car reviews

2008 Saab 9-3 Sedan

Saab 9-3 sports sedan in two flavors gains style and power

Bob Plunkett, Sat, 31 May 2008 08:00:00 PDT

SHENANDOAH, Va. -- We're tearing over swoopy asphalt wrought with serpentine kinks on Skyline Drive, the ridge route perched high above Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, to test the poise and temper of a redesigned 9-3 sports sedan from Saab of Sweden.

Cocked low on a compact-size platform tuned for sporty action, our Aero edition of the 9-3 charges down this Virginia wiggle road.A high-pressure turbo-charger on the enhanced six-pack engine sends surging muscle to the wheels in front with big treads of low-profile radials clawing for traction around every bend as we work the stick on a nice six-speed manual gearbox.

One curve comes quickly and it's followed immediately by a second but in another direction, then there's the third and a fourth. Switch, switch, switch, we swing back and forth through each turn with the 9-3 tracing a taut line.

On and on the blacktop goes, one curve flowing into the next, suspension cocking from right to left to right, car body swaying very little in a flat stance which speaks of sporty agility and tight-fisted control.

Most cars could not perform such tricky maneuvers on such risky curves. However, our 9-3 demonstrates it can master such torture in a stable and confident manner and we find ourselves ripping the route, flitting fast through each turn, pushing lateral G-forces to eye-bulging tolerances as we run across the ridge.

For 2008, Saab's 9-3 group consists of the four-door sports sedan and a premium two-door convertible plus the five-door SportCombi wagon.9-3 the sports sedan appears in two different trims, each with a different engine and power enhancements.

Also, both models show dramatic new exterior styling for 2008 with the forceful front end containing a larger grille, wrap-around headlamps, restyled fenders and a V-shaped hood.In the cabin there are two rows of seats for five passengers and posh appointments of a refined luxury car plus a high caliber of safety systems consistent for all automobiles that bear the Saab badge.

A Saab, as any die-hard owner will confirm, is a car of character, one that meets precise Swedish engineering standards and can plow through severe arctic winters, thanks to the front-wheel-drive (FWD) format and superior safety systems such as a steel cage to encase passengers and multiple air bags plus anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a traction control system (TCS).

A Saab, as any die-hard owner will confirm, is a car of character, one that meets precise Swedish engineering standards and can plow through severe arctic winters, thanks to the front-wheel-drive (FWD) format and superior safety systems such as a steel cage to encase passengers and multiple air bags plus anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a traction control system (TCS).

Saab cars also represent consistency of design because styling changes do not appear often at Saab, the name an acronym for "Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget," which translates into English as "Swedish Airplane Company."

This corporation, now in the corporate folds of General Motors, is so steeped in aviation that its first automobile -- the 1949 Saab 92, which became a forerunner of today's 9-3 series -- resembles an aircraft wing in profile because Saab's engineers at the time had more experience designing aerodynamic wings than car bodies.

But change is what Saab offers with new styling lines on the 9-3, and an all-wheel-drive (AWD) option for the 9-3 is coming later in 2008.The 9-3 sports sedan has a long wheelbase and wide track with world-class chassis dynamics in place to set up the superior handling traits.

Included is a power rack and pinion steering system, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and TCS plus electronic brake force distribution (EBD), an electronic stability program (ESP) and mechanical brake assist (MBA).

Every 9-3 rolls on all-season tires mounted on aluminum alloy wheels. The 2.0T employs 16-inch 215/55 H-rated rubber, while the Aero has V-rated 235/45 17-inchers.Latent safety devices range from frontal and side-impact air bags for front seats to side curtain-style air bags over the four doors and Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR) for front seats plus child seat anchors planted on the back bench.

Saab trims the 9-3 with badges of 2.0T and Aero.The 2.0T edition packs a four-cylinder turbo engine and the high-performance Aero gets a revamped turbo V6.Absent from 9-3's turbo engines is not only the hesitation or lag of a typical turbo but that annoying wheel-jerking torque steer effect prevalent in most FWD vehicles.

The base engine, all-aluminum in four-in-line design with dual overhead cams and a displacement of 2.0 liters, employs turbo-charging to boost the power output while still economizing on fuel.It develops 210 hp at 5500 rpm with the torque climbing to 221 lb-ft at 2500 rpm.

Standard transmission for the 2.0T is an easy-shifting five-speed manual.The optional transmission is Saab's five-speed automatic with Sentronic manual shift mode plus shifter tabs mounted on the steering wheel.

Aero's engine is a 2.8-liter V6 with water-cooled twin-scroll turbo-charging.It zips to 255 hp at 5500 rpm, thanks to special tweaking for 2008, and pulls down 258 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm.

The V6 upgrades to a six-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed Sentronic automatic with steering wheel shift controls.The list of standard equipment on either 9-3 model includes heated exterior mirrors, a tilt/telescope steering column, daytime running lights and rear foglamps, an alarm system, driver information center and an audio package with AM/FM/CD.

9-3 Aero also stocks the top-end Bose Centerpoint surround sound system. The list of optional equipment extends to a power moonroof, a cold weather kit and a touring package.

Further, there are two different navigation systems available and two degrees of upgrades for audio gear. Additional options include some metallic paint hues, a rack for the roof, leather-trimmed seats, the automatic transmission and special alloy wheels.

Saab sets price points for the 2008 9-3 sport sedans at $27,640 for a 2.0T model with manual transmission, and $34,620 for the Aero with a six-speed manual.

 


2008 Saab 9-3 Sedan front shot


2008 Saab 9-3 Sedan interior


2008 Saab 9-3 Sedan GPS


2008 Saab 9-3 Sedan rear view

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