Car reviews - Saab - 9-3 - 1.9TiD Vector Sport sedan
Elegant styling, supple ride, comfortable seats, excellent fuel economy
Room for improvement
Noisy diesel, engine vibration at idle, not-so-sporty handling, dated interior
31 Jan 2008
COMFORT, economy and conservative, elegant styling. Those are the main qualities of a Saab, along with the fact that Saab has always seen as a bit different to other prestige brands.
The Swedish marque has not pursued BMW-style sportiness like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
To be honest, there probably isn’t enough money being spent by parent company General Motors for Saab chase the handling capability of the Germans anyway.
The 9-3, after all, is based on the Opel Vectra, so there is only so much the engineers in Sweden can do.
What Saab continues to do is offer a comfortable overall package with a lot of gear at a very reasonable price.
The diesel 1.9Tid automatic test car upgraded to the Aero package comes in at $57,400, which isn’t cheap, but does come with a lot of standard luxury gear.
As for the diesel engine, the economy is very good.
Used predominantly around town, the test car delivered a lean economy figure of 6.9 litres per 100km.
The diesel is happiest once it is up and running past 2000 revs and pulls extremely hard.
There is a bountiful supply of torque on tap when the turbo gets going.
The 9-3 is at its happiest loping along undulating country roads with enough punch on tap to tackle any hills with ease.
It sits at around 1500 rpm at cruising speeds, where it is reasonably quiet.
While it might not have sounded too bad at the launch on higher speed roads, living with the oil-burner 9-3 in the city for a week showed that is far from perfect.
We tested the base 1.9 Tid turbo diesel, not the more expensive and more potent 1.9 TTid that will be available in Aero form only.
As soon as you start the key of the base diesel model, the noisy rattle and clatter makes it clear to everyone inside and outside the car that it is a diesel.
The steering wheel vibrates in sympathy with the engine and is a real turn-off.
Its coarseness clashes with what is otherwise a very elegant vehicle.
At idle or under load the diesel is quite noisy, in a Massey Ferguson kind of way.
The strong acceleration between 2000 to 4000rpm is great, but the engine takes a while to get going.
Hit the accelerator and there quite a delay as the turbo gets spinning.
It can seem like an eternity when you pull out in front of traffic and wait for the powerband as the on-coming cars get closer and closer.
While the diesel is noisy at certain revs, in general Saab has done good job with noise insulation and the cabin is pretty quiet. Not much tyre noise or wind noise makes it into the cabin.
The six-speed automatic is a very good transmission, with crisp and clean changes.
The driver can take over and change gears with the gearshift or buttons on the steering wheel, just like a race car.
To be honest, it is hard to see why anyone would use the manual shift buttons with the diesel. It is not the type of engine that you would enjoy revving out before flicking into another gear in a sprint along a twisty country road, after all, the powerband is only 2000 revs wide.
It best just to let the engine and transmission do the work because there is more than enough torque to go around once the car is up and running.
Saab has done a good job with the ride quality of the 9-3.
The suspension is compliant with the dial clearly turned in the direction of comfort rather than sport.
That means a soft and comfortable ride that will gobble up ruts and undulations with minimal disturbance.
Along with the cushy leather seats, this suspension tune means the 9-3 is a very comfortable place to be for long haul drives.
It isn’t quite as good when it comes to getting sporty.
Mid corner grip isn’t the greatest and there is a fair share of bodyroll.
The steering, which is nice in town, is very light and there is not that much feel for the driver.
Not much has been done to the interior, so the flat dashboard display is still the main feature. There is nothing really wrong with any of it except that is starting to look a little dated, as do the green information displays that evoke memories of 1980s computer screens.
Interior space is pretty good. Rear head and legroom is ample and there is a comfortable armrest that folds down out of the middle rear seat back. That means the middle rear seat is quite hard, and would be very uncomfortable on longer trips, but this is not something unique to Saab.
There is a surprising amount of space in the boot and the 9-3 also has the practical benefit of a split-fold rear seat to open up the load area. We also like that there is a full-size spare wheel in the back.
Saab has included a lot of luxury features as standard, including comfort items like leather seats, which in Vector trim are heated, automatic wipers, climate control air-conditioning and a premium sound system.
Vector models also come with nicer leather trim and 17-inch alloys which give the car a much sportier stance.
The styling of the 9-3, as with the 9-5, has also evolved at about the same pace as the Porsche 911 – very slowly.
But while the latest updates keep the Saab-look, the 9-3 does look much more modern.
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