Likeable, but feels a long way off the pace

Our Verdict

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
  • First Drive

    Saab 9-3X

    Raised suspension and body modifications add all-road appeal 

What is it?

The car you’re looking at is the new Saab 9-3 2.0 XWD. It combines Saab’s 207bhp turbocharged petrol engine with the variable four-wheel drive system previously only available in the V6 Turbo X and 1.9 TTiD models.

What’s it like?

The Saab 9-3 2.0 XWD offers all those commendable Saab qualities of understated image, a comfortable interior, good safety levels and, er, that’s about it.

The 2.0 XWD gets a much more comfortable ride than most other models in the Saab 9-3 range, with good damping and body control making for unruffled progress over most road surfaces, though the occasional deep break in the road can have the car jarring noisily.

And the four-wheel drive system works brilliantly. Even in the harshest of winter conditions the torque-sensing system works unobtrusively to keep the car moving forward.

A limited-slip differential is available as an option, and though it wasn’t fitted to our test car we know from experience with the Turbo X that it works well.

The four-wheel drive also makes the engine’s 221lb ft of torque much more usable than it is in the standard front-wheel drive car, but it’s still no precision tool.

The steering offers little feedback and, though the free-revving engine and XWD system make it a more enjoyable companion than the 1.9 diesel, it still doesn’t encourage spirited driving so much as it does smooth, swift and completely predictable progress.

But the really damning figures are found in the eco bracket – an area in which Saab claims to specialise.

The 2.0-litre engine tested here returns 32.3mpg on the combined cycle and emits 207g/km of CO2. A BMW 320i M Sport not only costs thousands less but will also return a combined figure of 46.3mpg and emit 146g/km of CO2, while offering almost identical performance.

Should I buy one?

We can only recommend the 9-3 XWD if you really have fallen for the Saab’s styling, as there’s little else that its rivals don’t do better. This is a likeable car and a relaxing way to cover distance; but the competition has moved on.

Join the debate

Comments
23

9 December 2008

"The 2.0-litre engine tested here returns 32.3mpg on the combined cycle and emits 207g/km of CO2. A BMW 320i M Sport not only costs thousands less but will also return a combined figure of 46.3mpg and emit 146g/km of CO2, while offering almost identical performance."

What a complete load of nonsence, fair enough compare the 2 engines as being the same capacity, however, to say that a 320i which is as flat as a fart offers "almost identical performance" is completely untrue.

The BMW, musters up and an asthmatic 170 BHP manages to saunter to 62 in a leisurely 8.7 seconds as compared to 7.4 seconds. Not really identical and more importantly, The saab acheives 40-40 in 4th in 6 seconds, whereas the BMW ambles along in 7.5. Fair enough knock the Saab down for the poorer fuel consumption, but remember that for similar performance to the Saab you'll be looking at a 330i as opposed to a bloody 320i................... whick unless i am much mistaken is less economical.

So in total, i beleive that comparing the Saab to a 320i is a bit like comparing a Bugatti Veyron to a BMW M6 and saying that the BMW has "almost identical performance". IT JUST DOES'NT.

9 December 2008

this review tells you all you need to know about the future of Saab...or lack of it under the so called management of GM.

the sooner Saab returns to Swedish ownership (along with Volvo) the sooner it will find its lost identity and start making "proper" Swedish cars again. The cars that we all loved back in the 70`s and 80s.......it may, however be too late :(

9 December 2008

It would be interesting to compare the two on an ungritted Swedish raod in winter as I very much doubt the BMW would keep up.

Having said Saab need to make it more involving if they are going to sell many further south.

9 December 2008

Saab have definitely taken the mantle from those Mercedes that were built 20 years ago. No, it isn't perfect and it isn't the most dynamic driving machine out there but it is comfortable and will suit 9/10 of its potential drivers (not everyone wants to experience a dynamic drive). It's a thinking persons car, one that doesn't want to follow the pack.

Despite this, I doubt we will see Saab's survival, and that truly is a shame.

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

10 December 2008

Really do not understand the comparison.

1] The BMW 320i is not a AWD. Hence MPG differential

2] Price comparison should be for like for like.

3] BMW 3 series saloon now have 0.26cd drag, Saab had 0.26cd in 1997.....

4] Add a few extras to the BMW like leather, climate and navigation and you will be looking closer to £30K.

5] The Saab has more standard equipment.

6] BMW will have better residuals 3 years down the road and drives better if you know how to drive. I would say 70% of BMW owners never exploit the handling potential.

7] Saab is the more comfortable car with superior seats. Great for long range driving and good for you posture.

10 December 2008

If you're spending the same money, the comparison should be with the 325i SE, which has a decent spec, 40mpg and 0-60 in 6.6 seconds. I've always liked the Saab, but - discounts aside - for £26k I'd take the BMW. I prefer the Saab in the non-4wd Aero trim at around £23k, which makes much more sense.

10 December 2008

Usual anti-BMW bias alive in well in this thread, I see.

I drove a 9-3 a few weeks ago, and while it looked great from the outside (and certainly nicer than a 3 series saloon), that was the end of its good points. Its interior was surprisingly low-rent, and driving it served an instant and strong reminder that I was basically in a Vectra. All in all, one of the most disappointing cars I've driven for some time.

To say that most BMW owners will never explore the limits of their car misses the point: you only have to drive the Saab a short way to realise how far it falls short of the class standards - not just the 3 series, but even supposed mass market cars like the Mondeo, C5, Laguna and Insignia.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, as Saab is a brand that ought to be able to compete with the German big three, and I have fond memories of 96s and 99s when I was a kid. It is a crushing indictment of GM's hopelessly incompetent stewardship of the company.

10 December 2008

Is anyone else a bit sceptical about BMW's mpg and CO2 claims? When i say a bit, I mean a lot - I'm a bit sceptical about all mpg claims although that's just the EU test - but BMW in particular seem to make unachievably good figures.

I know they have their efficient dynamics malarky, but I spent some time in a nearly new BMW 520d from work a little while back and it hardly gave spectacular mpg. Pretty average to be honest and the vibration through the controls at idle was rubbish. And either I've got an undiagnosed hip deformity, or they'd put the clutch pedal in the wrong place. Alright on the move though.

10 December 2008

[quote m_bowl]Is anyone else a bit sceptical about BMW's mpg and CO2 claims? When i say a bit, I mean a lot - I'm a bit sceptical about all mpg claims although that's just the EU test - but BMW in particular seem to make unachievably good figures.[/quote]

But the official CO2 figures (however inaccurate) are used to determine a lot of things that directly affect the running costs (BIK and road tax, for example), so BMW's low ratings will save drivers money in any case. And my experience of even pre-Efficient Dynamics BMW sixes is that they are spectacularly frugal given their performance.

10 December 2008

[quote Colonel Snappy]the official CO2 figures (however inaccurate) are used to determine a lot of things that directly affect the running costs (BIK and road tax, for example), [/quote]

Indeed, and hence the desire to drive CO2 down. It's just that like anything with a league table or ranking, there's potentially motivation to fiddle with something, say an ECU, to run an engine particularly lean at revs corresponding to a steady 56mph... If all manufacturers are playing on the same pitch, then there is some catching up to do.

Anyway, the comparison in this article is still poor.

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