Raised suspension and body modifications add all-road appeal 

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?

This is the new Saab 9-3X, which constitutes not much less than a new lease of life for Saab’s ageing compact competitor. Only available with an estate body but with either a 180bhp 1.9-litre diesel or this, a 210bhp, 2.0-litre petrol motor, the Saab 9-3X will enter the market this summer at the same time as the new Audi A4 Allroad to make a new class of compact soft-roader.

Lack of development money precludes changes to the metal on the Saab 9-3X, but the new bumpers, side sills, wheel arch covers and round tail pipes are surprisingly successful at giving the 9-3X an identity of its own.

In technical terms the Saab 9-3X has been raised by 35mm and, though its four-wheel drive system is available in other 9-3s, only the now-defunct Turbo X has the same electronically controlled limited-slip differential in the rear axle as standard.

Why not the diesel too? Because despite retaining the ‘X’ in its name, a singular absence of funding has meant that Saab has been unable to adapt the fourth-generation Haldex four-wheel drive system to its unique diesel engine. The oil-burner retains a standard front-drive configuration only and should therefore be seen as an off-roader in looks alone.

What’s it like?

You cannot expect such a limited degree of modification to turn the old and never brilliant 9-3 into a fully competitive class member, and they don’t. However, Turbo X aside, for perhaps the first time in a long time, there’s now a Saab you can buy with a new look, a new positioning and an appeal that is at least broader, if not necessarily that much deeper.

Testing was limited to skidding the petrol version of the Saab 9-3X around an ice lake in the frozen wastes of northern Sweden, but it demonstrated exemplary stability and stronger grip that the 9-3 Aeros provided as reference points. With softer springs and that rear diff, the 9-3X required less effort to drive, yet was demonstrably quicker.

Whether these advantages will translate to the more normal conditions on UK roads remains to be seen, but it’s still good to note that no dynamic sacrifices appear to have been made in giving the Saab 9-3X at least some semblance of off-road ability.

Should I buy one?

Likeable though it is, it’s hard to make a case for the petrol version of the Saab 9-3X over the diesel unless the all-wheel drive hardware is imperative; it’s rather expensive and offers very little better performance, but comes with a massive penalty in terms of both fuel consumption and CO2.

Two things seem clear: first, the Saab 9-3X successfully broadens the scope of the 9-3 by an amount you might not credit from such a small list of modifications. Second, the optimum model would be a diesel with four-wheel drive. Its current lack of availability will undoubtedly prevent the 9-3X from realising its true potential.

Kenneth Olsen

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Comments
9

27 February 2009

The main deal breaker has to be warranty. Most cars come with 3 years, is Saab going to be around to honour it in even 6 months?

27 February 2009

[quote Autocar]This is the new Saab 9-3X, which constitutes not much less than a new lease of life for Saab’s ageing compact competitor.[/quote] Was it worth the effort?

27 February 2009

Warranty is actually not a big problem in the UK. It is backed by GM, not Saab AB (the Swedish company).

27 February 2009

I'm not sure the lack of four wheel drive renders the diesel an off-roader in looks alone, for most purposes that soft-roaders (which includes much bigger vehicles than this) are used the ground clearance is much more important than four wheel drive. Whilst 4x4 is useful if you're driving up a wet grass or muddy hill to collect a stray sheep, there's no need for four wheel drive on most farm or forrestry tracks and the like where it not losing your sump to the next rock that's the real problem. I believe it would make an awful lot of sense, not least environmentally, to see more so called off roaders losing their unused four wheel drive functionality and the additional weight which comes with it. At least then the main fuel economy/CO2 hit is from aerodynamics which is much less significant at low speeds anyway.

27 February 2009

[quote The Fop]

Warranty is actually not a big problem in the UK. It is backed by GM, not Saab AB (the Swedish company).

[/quote]

maybe out of the frying pan into the fire on that one!

27 February 2009

[quote dmacdonald]

I'm not sure the lack of four wheel drive renders the diesel an off-roader in looks alone, for most purposes that soft-roaders (which includes much bigger vehicles than this) are used the ground clearance is much more important than four wheel drive. Whilst 4x4 is useful if you're driving up a wet grass or muddy hill to collect a stray sheep, there's no need for four wheel drive on most farm or forrestry tracks and the like where it not losing your sump to the next rock that's the real problem. I believe it would make an awful lot of sense, not least environmentally, to see more so called off roaders losing their unused four wheel drive functionality and the additional weight which comes with it. At least then the main fuel economy/CO2 hit is from aerodynamics which is much less significant at low speeds anyway.

[/quote]

True, but the lack of 4WD means it is even more difficult for this car to back up the false pretense of its looks, and does effectively mean its just £3000 for a bodykit and raised suspension.

27 February 2009

[quote Orangewheels]True, but the lack of 4WD means it is even more difficult for this car to back up the false pretense of its looks, and does effectively mean its just £3000 for a bodykit and raised suspension.[/quote]

Agreed, although I thought I'd read here that the diesel was "only" a £1,500 premium which is more in line with what you'd expect for a bodykit and raised suspension. Might be workng though and haven't looked for the original article!

27 February 2009

[quote Orangewheels]True, but the lack of 4WD means it is even more difficult for this car to back up the false pretense of its looks, and does effectively mean its just £3000 for a bodykit and raised suspension.[/quote]

Agreed, although I thought I'd read here that the diesel was "only" a £1,500 premium which is more in line with what you'd expect for a bodykit and raised suspension. Might be workng though and haven't looked for the original article!

2 March 2009

[quote Dan McNeil]Was it worth the effort?[/quote]Not really and I think that the Audi has that something that makes it still the better car. All the same the Saab has got a good an interior and that I see why it is only an estate it's trying to be Volvo. Decent amount of space in the boot and in the interior. The Saab hasn't got as good looks as the Audi But it's certenly got the space!

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