Advantages Strong, Safe, Long Lasting and Reliable. Fuel Economy. Seats & Ride Comfort.
Disadvantages Too Expensive. Not Truly Class Competitive. Road Noise.
WHAT IS IT?The 9-3 Sport Saloon is Saab's mid-range saloon, as Saab's marketing department would like you to think, competitor to the Audi A4 BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes C Class.General Motors, more familiar in this country under the Vauxhall badge. What this means is that under the Saab body you have a very similar car to the current Vectra, they share DNA, being based on the same chassis.
Whilst the turbo engined petrol models do have unique Saab engines, the model that I am reviewing here actually has even more in common with its Vauxhall stablemate; the 150bhp diesel engine and six speed manual gearbox. Some of you may remember, a while ago, that I wrote a review on an Alfa GT model, that also shared the same engine and gearbox. Whilst that review proved highly contentious in some circles, I did comment that this was a great engine and that I would be interested in trying it in something other than the Italian Coupe. Well here I do, and the result in some ways is rather surprising……the Alfa may have been a slightly better car than I gave it credit for!WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?
This one is the better equipped, slightly more plush, Vector model, beneath it in the range is the lead in Linear, whilst above it, in price terms at least, is the Aero model. The Linear and Vector, confusingly, both come with an additional "Sport" label - the Saab 9-3 Sport Saloon Vector Sport - what a confusing handle! I pine for the days of the good old LS, GLS, GLX etc!From here on in, I am reviewing the Saab 9-3 Sport Saloon Vector TiD 150bhp. This model can be identified by a red "T" before the chrome "iD" on the boot lid. To the determined car spotter this shows that the more powerful engine nestles under the bonnet.
IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?As readers of my previous car reviews may remember, I am a director of a small family engineering business. One of my many roles in the business is that of "Fleet Manager". That title means different things to different people and organisations, in my specific case it means that I weigh up the costs, keep tabs on, and usually acquire and dispose of our company vehicles. As I have always been a keen car enthusiast (petrol head in modern terminology) this, rather small, area of my job is the most fun of all.
As a decided benefit of my position, I am invited to several "Fleet" events each year and get to drive just about any car on the market - bar the exotica and increasingly even those are now appearing at fleet driving days.At just such an event two years ago, I drove the first of the current series Saab 9-3's with the Vauxhall 2.2 litre diesel engine. To say that I disliked that car would be an understatement. I had driven several Vauxhall's, including an Omega powered with this particular motor and had decided that diesel engines just were not for me.
I and many other visitors to the Saab stand that week reported that the 9-3 was not a bad car, but that the engine was a nail and should be allowed nowhere near a car wearing a Saab badge. We already had around 150,000 miles experience with two of the larger, 150bhp turbo petrol Saab 9-5's, which, whilst hardly setting the world alight dynamically, were extraordinarily reliable and comfortable executive transport. Indeed I must have driven 3,000-4,000 miles behind the wheel of those two 9-5's, and in comparison, found that early 9-3 saloon decidedly second rate. It just did not have the overall well honed "feel" of a proper Saab.For me there was a deep sadness attached to this as one of my favourite cars had long been the previous 900 / 9-3 series, particularly in three door hatchback form, that car had SO much character and was a true quality Saab product.
Two years on and with a much more punitive company car taxation regime in place, our M.D. decides that the petrol 9-5 must go in order to save around £1500 a year on his annual tax bill. As his 9-5 has covered 105,000 100% reliable, and remarkably cheap, miles in five years, he was keen to stay with the marque. Neither he, nor I, had driven the latest, much more efficient, 1.9 litre engined Turbo diesel version.My own car, the excellent Honda Accord i-CTDi, had been the first diesel to appear on our fleet, as with his 9-3, it was chosen entirely on economic grounds - from the personal taxation point of view. In terms of size, performance and even fuel economy, these two cars are remarkably closely matched. On paper you would expect them to be quite similar to drive. They are not!
After 50,000 miles in my Accord over the last two years, I am far from blind to its faults, however comparisons between the two cars are inevitable. I certainly never expected to be holding my own car up as a benchmark eighteen months ago!COSTS
I have given priority to costs here as nowadays this is the prime consideration given to the purchase of a car, company funded or not. In actual fact the vast majority of £20,000 mid range saloon cars are company funded when new, this has had an enormous bearing on the cars on the market available today.PURCHASE COST 5 / 10 Not a lot of car for the money.
The retail cost of this specific model is £22,515, that buys you a bright red, or "plastic fantastic" flat white car. Add (in our case) "Smoke Beige" metallic paintwork for £500 and you have an on the road price of £23,015.That may not look too bad for a junior executive saloon, when compared to a comparable BMW or Mercedes. However look a little harder at what is NOT included in that price, and what it would cost to match the specification of the Accord Diesel and Saab's economics start to look decidedly shaky, that is before we take to the road and have some fun in it!
THE OPTIONS GAME: 4 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"Saab have an excellent web-site which allows you to "build" your own car - the colours, interiors etc changing according to the items that you click along the way. Just for fun I have added as many of the standard items included on the Honda (an EX model) which costs £21050 including metallic paint. You are unable to match ALL equipment items, but going as close as is possible the Saab comes onto the road at an incredible £26,700. Can the Scandinavian car really be worth £5650 more than the Japanese one?
No it cannot - AND you are going to loose out all the way down the line on these costs.DEPRECIATION 5 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.
The extras will depreciate totally, leading to massive depreciation in percentage terms, a bog standard model is going to depreciate more heavily anyway, simply due to the discounts being offered. We paid £19,500 for this Saab, a reduction of approximately 18% on its list price. You will be pleased to hear that that was no fleet discount - the Saab dealer merely matching the best internet quote that I had obtained on this car via broadspeed.com. He was not aware that it was a company purchase until the order form was filled out either. You may be interested to know that the Honda dealer allowed me just 5% on the Accord!As a private purchase, with a big discount, the Saab may make sense, as a company one it plainly does not - unless you put a lot of store in the badge and are prepared to pay a premium for running it, which our M.D. turned out to be willing to do.
FUEL ECONOMY 9 / 10 THE very reason for driving a diesel, does it deliver on the manufacturers promise?Over the last 1100 very mixed miles, including over 500 in France, travelling with three people and a boot full of heavy luggage, the 9-3 TiD has averaged 47mpg. That is in line with Saab's claims for this particular model. From a 150bhp diesel this has to be regarded as very good, certainly above class average, and far (6mpg) better than my 2.2 litre 136bhp Honda diesel would have achieved under identical conditions.
SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 8 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?From a total of seven years previous experience with Saab and their very good local service dealer, Ballamy's of Shoreham, I would have every expectation of this being a comparatively economical car to run from the servicing point of view. Indeed the diesel 9-3 has 18,000 mile service intervals, along with a very clever on board computer which constantly analyses the quality and level of the engine oil. Modern Saab spares do not seem to be as costly as people think, and from our experience you will need very few of them as these are solid and well engineered cars.
Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in…….THE EXTERIOR:
STYLING 7 /10: A very subjective category here.Generally the 9-3 is a neatly styled and inoffensive looking car, apart from white, the body shape seems to suit all colours in which it is offered, black probably suiting it the best of all. I happen to really like the Smoke Beige of "our" car, it is not really beige at all, so much as a very unusual gunmetal colour with a hint of gold in it.
The 9-3 is a much better, more modern looking car than the recently face-lifted 9-5 and yet is still unmistakably a Saab, from no angle would you confuse it with any other car.OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 9 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?
On the outside definitely not, the gaps between the body panels are tiny and very consistent. The paintwork is superb, a deep glossy metallic finish, certainly at last it looks as though you are getting something a little out of the ordinary for all that money!SAFETY 9 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.
Few cars will protect you as well as this, it has a five star NCAP safety rating (the best it could get) and is equipped with six airbags to protect passengers from most known impact angles.Looking at and actually driving a Saab 9-3 gives you a great sense of reassurance, not all models on the market, even today, can make you feel as safe travelling in them.
THE INTERIOR:ERGONOMICS 8 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is as far as I am concerned all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.
Saab have long been masters of this particular art, but on the current 9-3 have blown away a 100% score on a stupid styling device, the handbrake of all things! This is a control so fundamentally essential to the safe operation of a car that you should not need to "think" about its use - or have your left thumb decapitated when you release it. That first 9-3 I drove was cursed for injuring my thumb, when released the lever lays flush with the central console, leaving your thumb, in the usual position, with nowhere to go. I hated it then and, although have learned about this foible the painful way, still curse it to this day.VISIBILITY: 9 / 10 Another decided Saab strong point.
The 9-3 doesn't let the side down here, you sit high in the car and have a panoramic view through the huge sweeping windscreen. A remarkable achievement when you consider how poor the closely related Vectra is on this score.The view to the sides and rear is equally commanding.
The rear view mirrors are also excellent.SPACE: 4 / 10: or How to make a big car feel small.
Remembering that this is a Vectra chassis, and that the Vauxhall is simply huge inside, one wonders, looking around the interior of the 9-3, where it all went. The front seat passengers do quite well; those in the back do not. There is very little leg room and the rear seat is barely wide enough for three abreast seating. Certainly the Honda is a far more spacious car inside, as are all of the Saabs competitors. It does have a truly massive boot though!STYLE 6 / 10: Saab has simply tried too hard here and it has not entirely worked.
The dashboard is very good indeed, clear and attractive. The seats, door panels and steering column switches however, somehow, sit uneasily with their multiplicity of materials and shapes to my eyes at least it is all "over worked".MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 4 / 10: That is a surprisingly poor score.
I was frankly shocked when I drove the first 9-3. At this price level, some of the interior plastics used are simply unacceptable. I was even more surprised to see the M.D.'s car delivered with exactly the same cheap looking and feeling interior. Yes there is real, decent quality, leather here, on the seats, steering wheel and even centre door panels, however everything that is not leather is frankly a let down.The plastics are hard, cold to the touch and brittle, the old 9-5 was far better on this score, as are some much cheaper competitors such as the Mazda 6 and Toyota Avensis, not to mention the VW Passat.
Particularly cheap and nasty are the flimsy grey plastic indicator and wiper controls and the fake (plastic) aluminium trim surrounding the gearlever.AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 8 / 10: Strange grouping?
Personally I am not too keen on the enormous number of buttons on the central console operating the climate control and audio systems. They are not intuitive to use, all being the same shape and colour and require much familiarisation and hand book searching.This is actually a great pity, the systems that the buttons control are very good in operation. Few manufacturers offer anywhere near such a good climate control for all seasons as Saab. This was proved with the two 9-5's, the 9-3 builds even on this by reducing the noise as the air conditioning unit and fans go about cooling the interior.
The sound quality from the single slot CD player is good rather than outstanding, you can naturally pay for several stages of upgrade. Both the audio unit and climate control have very good display screens. The comprehensive trip computer screen is also high up at eye level in the centre of the dashboard and is far more useable on the move than most.ON THE ROAD……..
……Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 6 / 10 The traditional diesel bug bear. Are we talking refined sport saloon or clackety London cab here?
NVH rises to the top here, as in a diesel, it will, or will not, be the first impression made when you start the engine. Many diesels are SO refined nowadays that this simply is not an issue. Champion here (without leaping up £10,000 to the six cylinder BMW's and Mercedes engines) is the five cylinder Volvo D5, followed closely by my own Honda and more relevantly, this exact same power plant installed in the Alfa GT.I am sad to report that on start up from cold, this leaves you in no doubt that you are about to drive away in a diesel powered car. I can forgive a little diesel clatter when cold, however, my fingertip test (a little bit like feeling a car's "pulse"!) showed vibration through the steering wheel, gearlever and dashboard at cold tick over. This simply is not there in the three cars mentioned above.
When the engine is fully warm, this remains, to a slightly lesser degree, the case. This power plant is simply better isolated in the Alfa, it sounds like an Alfa petrol engine on the move too, rather than the Vauxhall diesel that it actually is. In the Saab you never quite escape its humble roots.The 9-3 on the move, to be fair, is a quiet and refined car at town speeds, certainly above 10mph the diesel is far less noticeable and would not put me off of choosing this car. You can never escape the fact that the Alfa, Honda and Volvo all sound so much better at any engine speed though.
No, the engine is NOT the reason for the 9-3's disappointing 6 / 10 score here.This is, like the Volvo, an extremely well sealed car, it slips through the air making almost no wind noise. The main issue here is one of intrusive road noise at speeds in excess of 65mph, motorway speeds. Suspiciously, after the test drive, our M.D. actually remarked that the salesman was asking him not to exceed 60mph on a perfectly straight piece of road. The salesman was apparently paranoid about police and mobile speed traps. At 65mph on the journey home from the dealer (Lewis Saab of Chichester) with the new car, a noise was reported like a "wheel bearing going".
My subsequent journey in this car demonstrated exactly the same unpleasant road noise, a side affect unfortunately of wearing ultra low (45) profile tyres. I can only say that as I cruised at 80mph in it, there was no increase in this particular sound.PERFORMANCE 6 / 10 They are very slow diesels aren't they?
Well if that is a comment that you are still making, or thinking, then obviously it is a long time since you were in a diesel powered car. No diesel produced in 2006 could be regarded as "slow"!150bhp from 1.9 litres is a good power output, however, diesels are far more about torque - interpreted as twisting power. Put more simply, engine flexibility, which reduces the need to change gear. I have been totally spoiled by the outstanding, yet, less powerful power plant in my own Honda. It is one of THE best diesel engines on the market - all who have driven one would tell you the same thing.
Vauxhall's 150bhp, 1.9 litre engine can come very close to the Honda in terms of refinement and certainly shadow it in performance. I know that because although that Alfa GT found little favour, this engine and transmission left a lasting impression. It was extremely rapid, flexible and sounded great when extended.I was astounded that this Saab actually had the same engine! So far, and granted it is quite new, this one feels at least 30bhp short of the Alfa and is nowhere near as flexible either. Compared to any of the cars mentioned as competitors in this review, the Saab has a rather heavy, slightly underpowered feel to it - especially at town speeds.
This is rather exacerbated by the clutch which bites right down on the floor and the six speed gearbox which requires quite a lot of stirring to keep the car moving in sequence with the traffic flow. My Honda may only have five gears (the latest have six) but it also has a lot more useable torque, spread across a wider range, making it a far more effortless car to drive.RIDE & HANDLING 9 / 10 Sport Saloon? That sounds rather firm and uncomfortable!
I am not sure that Saab have done themselves any favours marketing the latest 9-3 as a "Sport Saloon". In actual fact, this model on those very low profile tyres has an extraordinarily good ride. Yes, it is on the firm side, but it is also superbly well damped. Nobody would ever complain of suffering car sickness and the driver is able to have fun covering the ground surprisingly quickly on twisty roads - without his passengers being thrown around. As a motorway cruiser it is excellent too.Probably the best feature that I can single out on this car is the steering. A real let down on the Vectra - Saabs engineers deserve lots of praise for the work done here. It is light to steer, has a good lock and yet is full of feel and communicates well what is going on under the front wheels.
As with all Saabs that I have ever driven, the latest 9-3 has superbly well matched seats to the chassis and suspension. This is one area where, in my opinion. Saab still has much to teach the rest of the industry.CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?
No, and more regrettably with those levels of road noise, nor I would not regard this as a good long journey car. For those of you puzzled by the second part of the above question, let me just explain our "ultimate" car test. It involves my wife and I leaving our home here in Brighton at 4.00am and arriving at her parents home 1150 miles away in Eastern Poland before midnight. This we have done on three occasions in my previous car - a 2.5 V6 petrol Omega and once in our current diesel powered Honda.No I would not buy a Saab 9-3. It is simply over priced and under equipped. There are far more able all rounders on the market at the moment, amongst them the car that I did buy - the Honda Accord i-CTDi.
At this price, the Saab is fighting well above its ability, regrettably it has lost the unique Saab character and desirability of its forebears too.
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Mintex Brake pad set (Full set for 2 wheels) for SAAB 9-3 (YS3F) 1.9 TiD 09/2004 - 120bhp 1910cc 1910 Fitting Position: Front Axle Suspension: For...
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A.B.S. Brake pad set (Full set for 2 wheels) for SAAB 9-3 (YS3F) 1.9 TiD 09/2004 - 120bhp 1910cc 1910 Fitting Position: Rear Axle Model: D46 Engine...
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