Greatest road tests ever: Saab 9-3 Turbo

Greatest road tests ever: Saab 9-3 Turbo

Tested 11.3.98

The final car produced at Saab’s Trollhättan home was a 9-3. But 14 years earlier, the model’s debut was a confident forward step from the 900.

Revisions to the 900’s exterior were limited to a new grille and bumpers, new alloy wheels and relocating the numberplate to sit between (rather than below) the rear lights. Although a new 2.0-litre diesel unit was offered, the flagship 9-3 used a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that was inherited intact from the 900.

The 9-3 was no slouch, but an 83kg gain and awkward gearchange left it trailing rivals for acceleration and worsened average test economy by 2mpg. Power was delivered smoothly and almost without lag, though.

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Redesigned front suspension meant new mountings for the strengthened MacPherson struts and 20% more wheel travel, aiming to fix the 900’s poor ride and understeer. The 9-3 still fidgeted in town, but its B-road and motorway ride was much improved, while steering tweaks brought added accuracy.

Little had changed inside bar the excellent new seats, meaning a spacious (if idiosyncratic) cabin and ample boot. Standard kit was healthy. 

For: Strong mid-range flexibility, driving position, cabin 

Against: Notchy gearchange, beaten by its best rivals

Factfile

Price £24,495 Engine 4 cyls in line, 1985cc, turbo, petrol Power 185bhp at 5500rpm Torque 194lb ft at 2100rpm 0-60mph 7.9sec 0-100mph 21.4sec Standing quarter mile 16.3sec, 89mph Top speed 138mph Economy 23.0mpg

What happened next…

The first-gen 9-3 lasted until 2002-2003 in hatchback, coupé and convertible form. All were briefly available in lowered, 230bhp 2.3-litre Viggen turbo spec, clipping the 0-60mph time to 6.5sec. The Mk2 car shared its platform with Vauxhall’s Vectra and was produced until February 2012, three months after Saab’s bankruptcy. The 9-3 resurfaced in 2019 as a China-only EV made in Tianjin by Saab owner NEVS.

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