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.

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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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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minesaseat 21 December 2010

Re: Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD Sport Wagon

Still a good looking car with an ergonomically designed interior that is an object lesson to others (take note Ford Focus) in taste and efficiency.

I drove a TTid a year ago and thought it was really very good, the engine was great, driving seat and position good and quality all there, nothing wrong really with ride or handling in the real world - better actually than my current 3 series M Sport, although the turning circle was vast. The reason I didn't lease it was because the passenger seat was not adjustable and was positioned far too high. Are all Saab front seat passengers midgets?

What is it with car makers and front passenger seats and leg room? So many of today's car designers seem to assume there is only ever a driver or the front passenger is a midget - Mazda 6 - seat too high, no legroom, Citroen C5, no leg room, Honda Accord, no leg room, Insignia, seat too high (but you can now pay for an optional adjuster), BMWs, leg room intrusion, Giulietta - odd box interferes with right foot etc etc.

meego 21 December 2010

Re: Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD Sport Wagon

I drive 06 2.8T SC. without a doubt the worst car i've ever owned compared to all other high performance cars that i've owned.

Just a couple of things that have gone wrong since got the car 1year old from a main dealer with 16K on the clock. in no particular order..

premature aging of the spark plugs (replaced at 32K)

boost control solenoid failed which results in over boosting (38K)

Fuel sender failed (fails to accurately show the amount of fuel in tank) -yes.. i run out of fuel.. (replaced twice)

failed front spring @ 23K

leaking CV boots (repacked with grease @ 27K and again at 56K)

drop links replaced at 33K

alu tailgate paint bubbling.. SAAB did not want to know (paint/rust warranty is worthless), dealer picked up the full bill. further investigation revealed by dealer that even though it isn't a wide spread problem other parts of the dealer ship group have some across the problem.

Suspension creaks/knocks etc since 39K (just turn up the stereo!)

Ignition coil premature failure. each one costs £221, from bosch dealer approx £50 for the same part. this is a known issue that saab fails to resolve -well they have on the new 9-5 as they don't use the same ignition system on the 2.8T engine. (since 43K)

under bonnet insulation coming apart due to heat from the turbo. (since 52K)

interior rattles (everything rattles.. words fail me)

wipers have started to play up (67K)

On a positive note the engine is a peach when it works, lots of power and excellent fuel consumption when driven with alittle restraint.

Dealers : don't really have a clue how to fix the car when it goes wrong. servicing is very very expensive. approx 300-350 for a minor service (oil change) and 500-700 for major.

But with all these problems the car looks fantastic, everyone likes the design, but it simply isn't a reliable, well built car.

Imho avoid until saab releases a new 9-3.


scoch 20 December 2010

Re: Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD Sport Wagon

I have used the previous version of this engine (180 hp) in a 93 wagon and if all your after is a comfy car i couldnt complain. Seat is very, very comfy, 50 mpg and mid range performance is good. Admittedly slight road moise and dash is a bit plasticky but all in all for what a 6 month old version is selling for I found it far superior to a BMW.

You will have to go a long way to get this much metal for your money without a vauxhall/ford badge.

I actually think it is a good looking thing in ts oen way too!