Saab marked its 60th anniversary yesterday with a festival of models, many dating back to the birth of the company, on display outside the Saab museum in Trollhatten, Sweden. Among them, however, were the brand new 9-3 saloon, sport wagon and cabriolet, and Autocar can bring you exclusive pictures of the trio.Autocar's associate editor Hilton Holloway was at the party. "Saab really pushed the boat out for this one," he reports. "Almost 600 owners turned up with their cars, and Saab laid on dinner for 1600.""The new 9-3 was there to represent the future of the brand," he said. "Saab's going back to a well-worn recipe with the looks of this car; it's much more reminiscent of the 90s Saab 900 than the current 9-3, yet it's also a much more forthright piece of design. The first time you see one, you'll definitely notice it."
Junior exec gets serious grilling
The easiest way to distinguish the new 9-3 is by its grille; it's the brand's new chromed, triple pane, trapezoidal design, and has already appeared on the 9-5, the 9-7X off-roader and the 9-2X Impreza-based estate.This facelift isn't just about giving Saab's 9-3 its new corporate face though; it injects a much needed dose of adrenaline into the styling of the whole car. There are redesigned front wings, a new clamshell-style bonnet, a sportier-looking front valance, new headlights (complete with a strip of LEDs), new taillights, new door skins, and Aero-style sill extensions too.
Saab's mid-life mechanical updates for the 9-3 are just as interesting as the cosmetic changes. There will be two all-new engine options added to the range as of this September, when the new 9-3 launches; a more potent diesel option and a bioethanol 9-3 with a bit more oomph. The twin-turbocharged 1.9-litre diesel engine will probably be the biggest news for fleet buyers. Right now, the fiercest oil-burning 9-3 you can buy has 148bhp and 232lb ft or torque; as of this autumn, there will be one with 178bhp and 295 lb ft, putting the car on a more level footing with modern performance diesels. Otherwise, Saab's current range of petrol-and diesel-powered 9-3s will continue largely unchanged.There will be another biofuel-powered 9-3 on offer, though. It'll be a version of the current 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine adapted to run on E85, producing between 175- and 200bhp, and sitting above the 1.8-litre, 150bhp Biopower 9-3 in the range.
And finally... a hot 9-3 without torquesteer?
January 2008 will be the next big date in the diary for Saab devotees; that's when the new 2.8-litre V6-powered 9-3 Aero model arrives, and this time – for the first time – it'll have four-wheel drive.Saab is calling the four-wheel drive system that will debut on the 9-3 Aero Cross Wheel Drive, or XWD for short. It uses a new Haldex multi-plate clutch system to juggle drive between each of the four wheels, and it's so advanced, says Saab, that it can deliver drive exactly where it's required, even before wheel slip is detected.And that's not even its neatest trick. The new, electronically controlled limited slip differential in the 4x4 system can distribute torque diagonally across axles, as well as between them. In a right-hand bend, XWD can channel power directly and instantaneously from a spinning inside front right wheel to a loaded outside rear wheel, allowing it to counteract understeer almost before it happens, and to maximise traction when cornering. Cross Wheel Drive will only be offered on the range-topping V6 turbo 9-3 to begin with, but will be offered as an option on cheaper models later in the 9-3's life.