Saab is a small Swedish car company with a long history in rallying on the one hand and safety research on the other, with a small but loyal following around the world. It has been effectively turned into the American marketing arm of Germany's Opel by its owner, General Motors, using many parts, systems and chassis also used by GM's German brand.
For 2008, Saab 9-3 benefits from more powerful engines and a radical new front and rear-end redesign. The cabin is largely unchanged. Saab claims that, in addition to the new look, front, side and rear, it has made some 2157 changes to the details of the 9-3.
On freeways, we found the 9-3 rides quietly and lets you listen to the music. The front-wheel-drive Saab 9-3 Aero V6 we drove was smooth and quick. On back roads, the handling was responsive; it handled bumps well, in corners and over rises. The seats are comfortable.
All-wheel drive will be available on late-2008 Saab 9-3 models. The XWD all-wheel-drive system is made by the Swedish company Haldex, which also supplies systems to Volvo, Ford, Jaguar, Volkswagen, and Audi. It's the fourth-generation system, and it is said by Saab to be the fastest-acting, best all-around system in the world, moving engine torque from front to back and side to side as needed, and using an optional eLSD electronic limited-slip differential at the rear that can juggle up to 4 percent of the supplied torque between the left and right tire as necessary. Saab claims an Aero V6 XWD can outrun a $150,000 Porsche 911 Turbo through a slalom with this system.
The 2008 Saab 9-3 lineup includes six models, starting with the 2.0T sedan ($28,385) packing the turbo four-cylinder engine. The 2.0T is available with a choice of six-speed manual, five-speed automatic or six-speed automatic.
The 2.0T Convertible ($39,710) and 2.0T SportCombi wagon ($29,630) are similarly equipped.
The Aero models all carry turbocharged V6 engines and some additional standard equipment here and there, and are restricted to the six-speed automatic transmission only. The Aero V6 sedan ($35,365), the Aero V6 convertible ($45,665), and the Aero V6 SportCombi wagon ($36,265) are similarly equipped. All models come with a $745 destination charge built into the stated price. When you buy an Aero version of any model, a two-day trip to the Saab Aero Academy driving school at Road Atlanta is included.
Options include a moonroof package ($1200), a premium package ($1695), cold weather package ($550), and a touring package ($895). There are two levels of navigation systems, at $2145 and $2840, two levels of sound system upgrade with CD changer, $895 and $995, metallic paint ($550), a roof rack ($250), leather upholstery ($1500), automatic transmission ($1350), and five-spoke alloy wheels ($750).
When the XWD (cross-wheel-drive) versions arrive this winter, they will come only as Aero V6 models, and they will come only with a special high-output, high-boost-turbo engine package that makes 280 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. Although prices haven't been set yet for this new top-of-the-range model, we expect it to be about $2000 more for the big engine and all-wheel-drive system. It will be available on the sedan and SportCombi versions, but not on the convertible, which uses a reinforced floor pan that won't accommodate the rear-axle assembly for the drive system.
Safety features include front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, traction control, and electronic stability control as an option. With its crash-resistant structure and features, the 9-3 has been awarded a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for three years in a row.