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Saab 9-3

Mk2 9-3 Series II

Saab logo1 Nov 2007

By LUCIANO PAOLINO

WITH sales of the bigger 9-5 almost non-existent in Australia, Saab’s volume-selling 9-3 model has become even more vital to the Swedish brand.

With the second-generation model introduced in 2002 not quite clicking with buyers, this mid-life facelift takes on even greater significance.

This is reflected in the level of restyling undertaken, altering the look of the car considerably over the rather conservative original, which dated quickly.

Not a lot has changed inside or underneath, but a massive selection of 48 models ensures that potential buyers will have to spend plenty of time studying the specification charts.

Engines include a 1.9-litre turbodiesel, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbos (in two levels of boost), a 2.8-litre V6 turbo and, for the first time, a BioPower version that enables the 2.0-litre turbo to run on up to 85 per cent ethanol (which is claimed to be environmentally better).

And it will not stop there because during 2008 Saab will introduce two more significant developments for the 9-3: a new two-stage turbocharged diesel engine called the TTiD (early 2008), and, from June 2008, all-wheel drive variants, though initially only for the V6 Turbo sedan and wagon models.

The new 1.9-litre four-cylinder TTiD engine uses two turbo compressor wheels to produce 132kW of power (compared with 110kW for the regular TiD) and some 400Nm of torque (versus 320Nm) produced between 1850rpm and 2750rpm (versus 2000-2750rpm).

Saab realises it has been left behind by its prestige rivals, especially Audi, but claims that its Haldex AWD system will not only bridge the gap but put Saab at the cutting edge of AWD technology.

Although it will initially be offered only in a 206kW/400Nm V6 model called Turbo X from June, expect the so-called XWD (cross-wheel drive) system to expand into other models – not to mention the next-generation 9-5 due for the 2009 model year.

Some seven months after introducing its extensively modified MY08 9-3 series, Saab made two significant additions with the TTiD twin-turbo diesel and the AWD Turbo X.

The Turbo X was a limited edition but heralded the market introduction of all-wheel drive for the General Motors-owned Swedish brand – more than two decades after it first began in-house development.

It combines XWD (or cross-wheel drive) – which features an active limited-slip rear differential (dubbed eLSD) that can direct up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels – with a higher-output version of Saab’s 2.8-litre V6 turbo.

The engine produces 206kW at 5300rpm and 400Nm from 1900-4500rpm and drives through a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic.

The TTiD, on the other hand, is a big improvement over the base 110kW/320Nm 1.9-litre single-turbo diesel. This is a twin-turbocharged unit that comprises a large turbo for ultimate performance and a smaller one that spools up quickly for fast throttle response, especially at low speeds.

It produces 132kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm at 1850-2750rpm in six-speed manual form, with the six-speed auto detuned to 370Nm at 1750-3250rpm.

The inaugural TTiD is, like the inaugural AWD model, based on the high-level, sports-oriented Aero specification.

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