1 Jun 1998
Note: The 1998 9-3 is a modified 1993 Saab 900 Mk2.
Cash-strapped, half-General Motors-owned Saab’s decision to base its iconic 900’s 1993 replacement on the 1988 Opel Vectra platform brought compromises in dynamic ability, quality, comfort and durability – just as the BMW’s leading 3 Series and the Audi A4 got their act together.
The 1998 9-3 then was a desperate game of catch-up, with the Swedish engineers making considerable gains in body rigidity, steering feel, handling ability, ride comfort, safety attributes and engine efficiency.
But it wasn’t enough to catch the opposition, and it takes a keen eye anyway to pick the slightly altered nose, new taillight treatment, redesigned bumpers and revised cabin.
And, as always with Saab, there are a myriad of (three and five-door hatchback and convertible) models and motors, although the GM V6s from the earlier 900 had vanished altogether.
From June to December ’98 there were the non-turbo 96kW/177Nm 2.0-litre (9-3 S) and 110kW/210Nm 2.3-litre DOHC 16V four-cylinder engines (9-3 S, S Convertible), along with the turbocharged 136kW/230Nm 2.0-litre (SE, SE Convertible, ‘99’s Monte Carlo).
But then Saab replaced the non-turbo engines from late ’98 to spice the line-up a little: 113kW/219Nm low-blow turbo 2.0 (S, S Convertible, TS) while from August ’99 the scrambling 165kW/342Nm 2.3 high-blow turbo 9-3 Viggen in all guises arrived.
In early ’00 the evocative 9-3 Aero resurfaced, producing 158kW/250Nm from a high-blow turbo 2.0. An engine and specification upgrade in early ’01 saw the base 2.0 low-blow turbo produce 110kW/240Nm the high-blow 2.0 SE motors disappear, the Viggen high-blow 2.3-turbo pump out 169kW/350Nm and the Aero 151kW/280Nm.
By late ’01 the 9-3 seemed ancient, so extra equipment, a body kit a simpler model designation, the “9-3 Turbo Anniversary” (all 110kW/240Nm) or the “9-3 Aero” (as before), was implemented.