All-wheel drive improves Saab's range-topping 9-3

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?

It’s probably a bit portentous to call this car a very important moment for Saab – wait for next month’s Geneva show to see the stuff that will really shape the brand’s future – but the Turbo X matters because it’s the first outing for GM’s new Saab developed four-wheel drive transmission, and it adds a dash of sports saloon interest to the 9-3 range.

So it gets a slightly tweaked 2.8-litre V6 with 276bhp and upgraded brakes, the 4x4 drivetrain which can split torque to each rear wheel via a new electronic rear diff, a smart bodykit with a set of very interesting optional asymmetric wheels and some interior upgrades including a thicker wheel.

Black’s the only colour and the UK is only getting 500, so it’s always going to be a rarity.

What’s it like?

At last, a hot Saab that can put down its power on the road rather than wasting most of it in a flurry of front tyre agitation. Front drive V6 9-3s are a handful and feel clumsy – by contrast this is so much more competent and efficient, and makes a better job of using the available power. It also means the steering isn’t utterly overwhelmed when you’re pulling away – the drivetrain sends most of power to the rear at take off – which improves the whole demeanour of the car. And that means you can work the smooth V6 with more enjoyment and efficiency.

Given the appalling ride of the 9-3 V6 we ran as a long termer, I was expecting the Turbo X’s 10mm lower suspension and 19-inch wheels to dole out an even less satisfactory experience. But it doesn’t - it rides reasonably well, and certainly no worse than a BMW 3-series on run-flat tyres.

But none of this is stand out stuff. It can get its power down, but that’s where you should start from, not get to. The steering is still vague and feels disconnected from the wheels, the steering wheel itself is far too large, the gearshift rubbery and the transmission still shunts and thumps at low speed in second and third like the car’s done 120,000 miles.

If only Saab had put the money it wasted on the daft Ready for take off message that appears in the dash when you turn the key towards sorting these problems out then Turbo X would be on the way to becoming a decent sports saloon.

Should I buy one?

Apologies for being predictable, but for the same money you can have a BMW 330i M Sport, arguably a much better engineered machine with better steering. There is something to be said for the Saab’s individuality and the fact that the badge still stands for taste and discretion – not everyone wants a BMW or an Audi. It looks good, tasteful and smart and tough enough.

But if you want a real sports saloon, one that you can thread through a road and one that’s going to reward, you’re going to be a disappointed with the Turbo X.

Dan Stevens

Join the debate

Comments
5

14 February 2008

Nice Reivew - too bad it is so short, but its the first I've seen so far of the real car. It is much appreciated.

I'm curious about your comparison to the BMW. I compared the X to several BMWs here in the States and there was, well, no comparison. A comparable BMW would be the 335xi and would cost 10-15K more than the Turbo-X. I also think the BMWs are too "pimped out" these days and seem to look more like Mitsu's than the classic conservative cars of the past. Perhaps things are different in the EU.

I also looked at Audi (A3 and A4) and had similar feelings (lack of power and "pimping").

I do agree about your comments on shifting, however some of this is just getting used to the Saab feel.Once you get the handle on the shifting then even the 9-3 Aero is really a ton of fun - more fun than a 328i rear wheel for sure - to drive. The Turbo-X can only improve on that.

I'm a German car guy having owned VWs, Audis, and BMWs - I've never owned a non-German car, but this time around the Turbo-X was a clear winner for me.

beren

14 February 2008

When are Saab going to give us something new? How does Saab compete with the Germans for prestige honours with cars like this?

22 May 2008

In reply to Jon Hardcastle, Saab are in the steps of not anly a complete range re-design but also they are expanding the range. I am high up in one of the major Saab Dealerships in the Uk so this is from the top, Autocar take note;

2009, Saab 94x into production with new 250bhp V6 Diesel and V6 Petrol turbo

2010, Saab 95 Estate complete new car from chassis up, Aero models to recieve a V6 Biturbo and 450bhp and XWD, with the introduction of the 250bhp V6 diesel.

2011, Saab 95 Hatchback replaces old saloon design to go back to the days of the 9000. Same engine and spec line up as estate.

2012, Saab 91x to be launched into production with a range of small 4 cylinder turbo engines starting from a 1.6L to a 2.0L. Diesel engines are not yet confirmed.

The futures bright, the future is Saab. This is not the full list of things to come, there are more...........................

23 May 2008

[quote Hirsch Performance]

In reply to Jon Hardcastle, Saab are in the steps of not anly a complete range re-design but also they are expanding the range. I am high up in one of the major Saab Dealerships in the Uk so this is from the top, Autocar take note;

2009, Saab 94x into production with new 250bhp V6 Diesel and V6 Petrol turbo

2010, Saab 95 Estate complete new car from chassis up, Aero models to recieve a V6 Biturbo and 450bhp and XWD, with the introduction of the 250bhp V6 diesel.

2011, Saab 95 Hatchback replaces old saloon design to go back to the days of the 9000. Same engine and spec line up as estate.

2012, Saab 91x to be launched into production with a range of small 4 cylinder turbo engines starting from a 1.6L to a 2.0L. Diesel engines are not yet confirmed.

The futures bright, the future is Saab. This is not the full list of things to come, there are more...........................

[/quote]

At last, someone of note that can sensibly answer a genuine question.

Thank you Hirsch Performance.

23 May 2008

This is excellent news for Saab. They have been stuck in a rut the last 5-10 years and need new metal to get back to making interesting but solid cars.

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