Saab 9-3 Linear Sport 2008 Review
January 22, 2008
$6,270 - $8,800
With only two models on offer, the Swedish brand sold just 1862 cars last year. A small slice of the market, but not for lack of choice within the range.
Within the two model range — 9-3 and 9-5 — there are diesel, petrol and ethanol BioPower options, as well as the choice of a sedan, wagon or convertible body styles.
Without a definite all-new model on the horizon, the ageing 9-3 recently had a late-life nip and tuck. After years of continuity — it was last refreshed in 2002, the 9-3 has been dressed with some bolder styling cues. Inspired by the brand's Aero X concept car, the 9-3 is now a little more sporty.
The front end is practically new, with a more prominent grille, new bumper mouldings and lights and the return of a “clamshell” bonnet.
Elsewhere there's been some extra tweaking to give a freshened look, although the changes aren't dramatically different and the Swede is still left looking a little plain.
At $50,900, the 9-3 falls into the luxury market, yet it doesn't quite deliver on expectations of price and performance. The 9-3 experience is like watching a movie that doesn't quite satisfy. You're initial impression is “will people notice if I walk out?”.
Stick around and there are aspects that might try to win you over, but overall its a B-grade movie.
Our car version of that experience was powered by a 1.9-litre turbo diesel engine, which accounts for 31percent of total 9-3 sales. While mid-range performance was good, it was getting there that was the problem.
The first thing you notice is the massive turbo lag. Put your foot down and you're left waiting for what seems an age for any meaningful reaction.
It finally comes on around 2000rpm, hanging around through to about 2750rpm — and you had best be ready.
With the foot planted the arrival of all 320Nm of torque can come as a surprise, as can the torque steer along with it. Peak power of 110kW comes through at 4000rpm.
The automatic transmission was comfortable and effective in drive mode, but venturing into user-chooser territory was disappointing.
When shifting to the manual function, the gear changes are at your fingertips with paddles located on the steering wheel, but you're often left disputing your gear choice with the transmission nanny.
Any attempt to get into fifth gear about the 80km/h mark resulted in a heated argument and a mechanical dummyspit with the driver definitely not coming out on top.
Auntie Saab knows best and while you may want a toodle along in a fuel-saving gear the transmission continues to flick back down a cog.
The same is the case in the lower gears and slower speeds as well.
Try the Sport Drive mode and there's too much of a strain, simply holding the lower gears for too long.
And it's not a sporty revving sound, but more of a moaning for the anticipated but non-present shift.
On the upside, the ride quality is comfortable around town with soft suspension and it's quite an easy car to manoeuvre, with steady steering and a fairly tight turning circle.
Overcome the starting obstacles and the 9-3 is a comfortable cruising car. The interior design feels a little boring and outdated — but still so functional in that very Swedish way — but uplifted by the comfortable black leather seats.
The inside is also a quiet location, with minimal intrusion from road noise or the engine.
Although the diesel engine is recognisable with the windows down.
In trademark Saab tradition the ignition sits on the console between driver and passenger, while there is an ample supply of interior storage.
You also get the reassurance of safety thanks to ESP, traction control, driver and passenger adaptive dual stage front airbags, front seat mounted head/thorax side airbags as well as active head restraints.
It also comes with some decent equipment, including a electrically adjustable drivers seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, cruise control, a “cooling” feature in the glovebox, a full-size spare wheel and automatic climate control.
But you will have to pay extra for parking assistance, a sunroof and a centre headrest in the rear.
The 9-3 claims 7.0 litresper100km fuel consumption, but our test showed it to be a little higher for urban driving, averaging 7.7litresper100km.
Saab has been a scrapper for some time. It doesn't sit at the top of the European luxury tree but there is enough about them to keep those who do love them enamoured.
We are not one of them. Time spent in the 9-3 was just that little bit empty, as if there was something more, something better, just out of reach.
But there is hope. A new twin-turbo diesel powertrain expected here next month. The TTiD, 1.9-litre four-cylinder two-stage turbocharging engine will join the range and should give a better low-down performance.
The two turbochargers are different sizes and provide instant torque at low speeds as well as stronger top end power at higher rpm.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Saabs 9-3 comes with a decent equipment list, but the performance hurdles of this diesel are hard to conquer.
SAAB 9-3 LINEAR SPORT TID
ENGINE: 1.9L/4-cyl turbo diesel, 110kW/320Nm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed auto
ECONOMY: 7.0L/100km claimed, 7.7L/100km tested
AUDI A4 TDI
ENGINE: 2.0L/4-cyl turbo diesel, 103kW/320Nm
VOLVO S40 D5
ENGINE: 2.4L/5-cyl, turbo diesel, 132kW/350Nm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed auto
ENGINE: 2.0L/4-cyl, turbo diesel, 115kW/330Nm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed auto
$6,270 - $8,800