The bold new nose on the 2008 Saab 9-3 is a direct descendant of the nose on the Aero-X concept coupe that Saab displayed on the auto show circuit a couple of years ago, and that, coupled with the complete absence of Saab's traditional black side-molding for door protection, is the biggest clue that this is the new 9-3.
The tail lights have been redesigned for 2008 along with the hood, grille, bumper, and headlights. Also new are the doors and door handles. All models have side sill extensions for an extra measure of sportiness.
That adds up to a total of 70 percent new body panels.
The new nose works very well in the wind tunnel, yielding a drag coefficient of 0.28 for the sedan, a very good number.
Saab spent all of its budget money for the 2008 9-3 update on the body, the engine upgrades, and the XWD system, so there was little left over to redesign the interior, which is why it looks so similar to the interior in the outgoing version of the 9-3.
All models will come with black, not gray, instrument panels, and have OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a built-in tire-pressure monitoring system as standard equipment. A hot Bose 11-speaker sound system will be optional on late-2008 models.
A few subtle differences distinguish the cabins of the 2.0T and Aero models, with the latter getting metallic trim on the steering wheel and some additional standard equipment.
The ignition key is mounted in the center console, although it is now a fully electronic key, and there are up/down shifting buttons for the automatic transmission mounted on the three-spoke steering wheel. There are storage cubbies in the dash, console and doors, and the console can be customized to an extent when ordering.
The Saab born-from-jets design ethic is nowhere more apparent than in the design of the seats, steering wheel, and instrument panel.
The seats are extremely comfortable and supportive, with lots of adjustment range built in, the steering column is adjustable for both rake and reach, and the wraparound instrument panel is high-mounted and compact, so that only quick glances are necessary to monitor all functions.
An optional Profiler system consists of a set of steering wheel-mounted controls and a 6.5-inch-wide color display screen at the top center of the instrument panel that will read out climate control, clock/alarm, speed, wipers, anti-theft system, seat heating, park assist, telephone, voice activation, and other functions. The Profiler, and the rest of the dashboard displays, can be dimmed or turned off completely, with a Night Panel feature Saab has used for years.