Revised 9-3 offers decent performance, but refinement, ride and handling still aren’t good enough
  • First Drive

    Saab 9-3 SportWagon

    Minor tweaks both simplify and improve the 9-3. Likeable, but lagging behind
  • First Drive

    Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD Sport Wagon

    Revised 9-3 offers decent performance, but refinement, ride and handling still aren’t good enough

What is it?

Saab's 9-3, freshly revised for 2011. The current 9-3 has been around for so long that you can hardly call these 'mid-life' revisions. Next year will be the smallest Saab's ninth in the showroom.

The focus for this refresh has been on reducing CO2 emissions and increasing standard specification, and in the former respect, the 9-3 diesels have made the biggest gain. On average, they emit 12 per cent less carbon than before thanks to an updated ECU, an on-demand alternator, electro-hydraulic power steering, low rolling resistance tyres and lighter materials.

Perhaps most importantly, every 9-3 diesel is now a 'TTiD' twin turbo, and all 9-3s get Bluetooth 'phone connectivity, heated front seats and a shift indicator as standard.

What's it like?

Initial impressions of our range-topping 178bhp TTiD Aero Sportwagon test car aren't great: from cold, its engine seems poorly insulated, causing nasty resonant cabin vibrations in a car with fewer than 1500 recorded miles. It calms down a little once warm, proving responsive and providing just enough mid-range thrust to make for athletic performance. But it's still not an engine with the flexibility of BMW's excellent twin-turbo diesel from the 123d.

'Aero' trim adds sports suspension and bigger brakes to our 9-3 but, on optional 18in wheels, the car is far from perfect on the road.

Although well-bushed, its ride feels abrupt and a little wooden over larger bumps, and although the car has decent body control, its steering seems strangely unresponsive. It's also marred by torquesteer at times and lacks feedback.

Truth is, the whole car seems to speak of a somewhat anti-sporting philosophy. You sit quite high in the 9-3 and close to the pedals, rather than low and snug. The driving position is comfortable and gives you good visibility, but it lacks support and certainly doesn't feel 'sporty'.

Steering is particularly slow around the straight ahead, clearly configured with directional stability rather than agility in mind. The chassis keeps the 9-3's body flat, but it's also strangely unyielding. All in all, the car drives as if 'enjoyment' was absolutely the last thing it was set up to deliver.

Should I buy one?

On this evidence, the 9-3 Aero falls a long way short of the standards set by good sporting compact executive oil-burners. It remains relatively unaccomodating (amongst rivals that have grown quite a lot over the last decade, admittedly) and its straight line performance comes at quite a price when you consider its uncommunicative steering and strangely unengaging handling.

The cheaper, softer-sprung TTiD Vector Sport saloon, however, may be more appealing: for fleet drivers, no other car in the class combines 178bhp with sub-120g/km emissions. In that respect at least, if you're looking for a compact company four-door that won't do much damage to your P11D, and offers a little more performance and style than the average repmobile, that 9-3 may well be worth further investigation.

Matt Saunders

Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD Sport Wagon

Price: £28,864; Top speed: 140mph; 0-62mph: 8.3sec; Economy: 55.4mpg; Co2: 135g/km; Kerbweight: 1690kg; Engine type: 4cyls in line, 1910cc, twin-turbo diesel; Power: 178bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 295lb ft at 1800rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

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Comments
25

15 December 2010

I think the main selling point of the 9-3 will definetly be that 180PS 1.9 TTiD engine with sub 120g/ km co2 emissions, nothing else on the market today in this sector or other can touch those figures. Quite impressive given it's not a particulary new engine.

15 December 2010

engines' probably about the only reason anyone would buy it though, i'm all for buying cars that don't follow the trend, but why oh why would anyone buy this instead of...well anything else!

15 December 2010

[quote marktobin]engines' probably about the only reason anyone would buy it though, i'm all for buying cars that don't follow the trend, but why oh why would anyone buy this instead of...well anything else[/quote]

Unfortunately too true. I think my mother is younger than this car.

15 December 2010

marktobin wrote the following post at Dec 15, 2010 8:48 PM:

engines' probably about the only reason anyone would buy it though, i'm all for buying cars that don't follow the trend, but why oh why would anyone buy this instead of...well anything else!

Because it is Stylish , well built is proven to be reliable ,is nice to drive , has a nice interior and is different .

15 December 2010

[quote ischiaragazzo]Unfortunately too true. I think my mother is younger than this car.[/quote]

Evidence that Lowestoft is finally connected to the internet...

The thing is - it wasn't even based on a particularly good platform to begin with. If it'd had been based on the equivalent Ford Mondeo platform it'd be fine - that's still doing fine service for the Mazda 6 despite also being from that era.

Knock £8k off for the base model, small alloys and it's a winner. Otherwise irrelevant.

16 December 2010

[quote FastRenaultFan]is nice to drive[/quote] is it?? i don't think the tester liked it very much! It's such a shame, because even after nine years the car does still look quite good. but the driving experience is pretty woeful. i remember having a test of one about 7 years ago when i had a mark4 golf. it was really awful! torque steer a plenty, and no feel whatsoever to the steering - and that's after driving a mark 4 golf!!!!!

16 December 2010

The problems for this car can be summed up by the sentence that next year it will be nine years old. Unless you are a Saab fanatic or desperate for something different there really is no point in buying this car.

16 December 2010

[quote il sole]i don't think the tester liked it very much! It's such a shame, because even after nine years the car does still look quite good. but the driving experience is pretty woeful. i remember having a test of one about 7 years ago when i had a mark4 golf. it was really awful![/quote]

I did the same thing about four years ago when my then company Vectra was up for renewal. I was really please that the 9-3 was on the company car list (at extra cost) because I'd liked Saabs for a long time. I was obviously disappointed to find that, interior aside the Vectra was probably a better all round car (if not by much) and it didn't cost me any more. I think they still look pretty good though.

507

16 December 2010

Doesn´t the new BMW 320d offer 114g CO2???? A much, much superior vehicle all round! Why would anyone gamble on Saab staying in business - only about 25 000 made this year and the owner structure leaving a lot to be desired to say the least!

16 December 2010

[quote 507]Doesn´t the new BMW 320d offer 114g CO2????[/quote] And only 163bhp and 16" alloys to achieve that. Like I say, nothing matches the power/ co2 of the 9-3 TTiD. I'm impressed SAAB have got such competitive figures out of a fairly ageing car and engine.

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