Top Gear and the Saab 9-3 Turbo X

Everyone loves Top Gear.

We love the way the Hamster is like a small puppy and Captain Slow is like, well, like all of us in some sort of way. And then there’s Clarkson himself with his quick wit, his disregard for all things PC and of course, his…….


With the production values they’ve developed for the show and the excellent scripts it’s no wonder that it’s become one the highest rating prime time entertainments shows of all time. Even my wife watches it, and I’m sure I’m not the only husband who can say that.

That’s the TV show. Now on to that piece of rancid offal that is the Top Gear website………

Of course, I don’t think the website is actually made from a piece of rancid offal. Nor do I think it’s the internet equivalent of a piece of rancid offal. I just meant to imply that I don’t read the website very often and have a preference for the TV show that’s somewhat like my preference for Saabs over Yugos. Why didn’t I just say that? Well, the colorful language makes it more entertaining, right?

Top Gear – the magazine/website – drove the Turbo X recently and it’s fair to say they didn’t like it. They called the gearbox joyless and stated that the engine “has little of the lively response or revving enthusiasm required to actually enjoy driving swiftly”. They also manage to pull the words ‘lifeless’, ‘glutinous’ and ‘stodgy’ out of their thesaurus.

It’s kinda funny, though, as I got an email just this morning from TedJS, out resident GM tech guy who has a V6 Saab 9-3 SportCombi of his own, with marginally less grunt than this one, and he said “that car goes from 40 to 80mph (64 to 128 kilometer/hour to you) like it is possessed. Love that turbo V6.” And despite all our hand-wringing about that 280hp figure when we heard it, there’s been nary a complaint from the press that have driven it so far.

But I guess it makes for good entertainment.

Click through and have a read of it for yourself, but I doubt that we’re ever going to hear any of those words from people like Ted – i.e. those that pay their own hard-earned for their Saab.

22 thoughts on “Top Gear and the Saab 9-3 Turbo X

  1. When did the Turbo X become the twin Turbo X. This bloke clearly didnt drive the car or do any reasearch before had; seems anyone can be a motoring journalist these days. Sad really.

  2. Literally every single Saab review, even when on an overly positive note, points out to the sloppy steering and the rubbery manual gearbox shifter as the car’s weakest points.

    Saab clearly needs to get down to work and seriously address those issues for upcoming models.

  3. The funny thing is, if it had been a twin Turbo X, he wouldn’t have had as much of a gripe with the car. Once Saab gets better steering feel and a competitive multi-clutch ‘box inside, coupled to twin-turbos, yes, real twin turbos so lag is actually mitigated by hardware, not software…then we will have something.

  4. “….its glutinous response fails to connect car and driver with anything approaching the ‘sporty focus’ that Saab assures us….”
    I’ve shocked…


    Some other reviews by Adam Towler:

    Funny how they both include information – very specific information. I’m guessing either A) not the same person, or B) he didn’t go to the test drive in Sweden.

    I mean, by the sounds of this article, I could run circles around him, even in a FWD! The gearbox is not something to complain about in this car, IMO. Shifting is smooth and will always go exactly where you put it. It’s got a longer throw than just about any sports car, but it’s not notchy like most other “sporty” cars of its size.
    And I think his “joyless” is a lack of RPMs greater than 8000. Admittedly, I would like to see that V6 wind up a little further, but 6 grand is plenty enough to get you where you want to go… quickly. I absolutely love the feel of the V6 and cannot wait to drive the uprated model, the low-end torque, the flat torque curve… There isn’t much that I enjoy more than 2nd and 3rd gear pull in a V6 9-3.

    Oh, and it’s a twin-scroll turbo, not a twin turbo.

    Have a nice day.

  6. I had actually a test drive with a 280 hp Aero XWD and I am driving a “hirsched” Aero myself now. Being honest, I was deeply impressed the way the engine delivered the power. It is not as responsive as the Hirsch 275 hp-V6, but it is indeed powerful. And I was as well impressed about the gearbox, compared to my current one it is a HUGE step forward. Still not comparable with a BMW gearbox (sorry swade), but for Saab still a big jump in the right direction. The steering of the car is very precise and the XWD is simply perfect the way it acts. Anyway, I felt “very connected to the car”…
    If the Turbo X beaves the same way as the standard Aero does it is just a perfect package, my personal opinion. But as far as I understand the Tubo X should be a lot better, so more perfect?
    I am waiting to get my Turbo X delivered, if it lacks some power then Hirsch is already working on an update, so I am not worried about this point. And about the steering and the rest I don’t care, other manufacturers are not perfec either and this remains a very subjective point.
    So after two years Saab I don’t expect to get a perfect car which outperforms the whole market, but I expect to get a perfect Saab and this is first of all worth the time waiting until delivery and secondly it makes me smiling about reviews like the Top Gear-one…

  7. eggsngrits, exactly spot on. Top Gear has to bash someone who isnt spending advertsing dollars with them. thats the business.
    they cant appear fair and honest with all auto brands.

  8. Ok – I have never seen Top Gear but I watched a few clips on YouTube and Jeremy Clarkson is a riot. Apparently we do not get it here (I sent TiVO out to find it to no avail).

    Now I am finally starting to understand why the Europeans dislike American cars so much. Watching Clarkson flog a Corvette Z06 and disparage it while having the time of his life is rather entertaining – but I get it.

    Load up the clip below and fast forward to the 3:50 mark for his entertaining commentary. Watching him play with that satellite navigation is even more entertaining.

  9. C’mon guys, these criticisms have been made by media other than Top Gear. After having driven a few SAAB 9-3 models i have to agree with them. It is warranted!

    It seems the lazy steering has carried all the way through to the Turbo X as has the lazy (sloppy?) gearbox. Clearly shows that a great engine (giving the benefit of the doubt here) is nothing without a quality drive train.

    My message here is not that the 9-3 is without its good points (it does). But as a modern car, considering the competition and its price it falls way short.

    Lets not keep our heads in the sand. If we love SAABS we will want them to be what they can be, not what GM think is “..near enough..”. Is this not what has been happen for the best part of ten years?

    I was watching a “vintage” episode of Top Gear the other day in which they praised the recently superceded 9-3 as “cool” and environmentally friendly but little else. I seriously doubt ad dollars has anything to do with it.

  10. As mentioned, Craig, I think we all agree that there’s room for improvement. But “not as precise as a BMW” and “glutinous” aren’t the same thing. That was my point in the writeup – they add the flowery verbiage for the point of entertainment.

    It does make for an entertaining read, but it doesn’t always lead to a level of accuracy that a regular guy would relate to.

  11. swade, for enough but all i’m saying is that i am one of those regular guys and i could relate to it because it was the feeling i walked away with after driving them.

    As much as i tried to convince myself, just couldn’t justify forking the extra dough to buy one. Here’s to better times ahead.

  12. As stated in my previous comment, I also think these are the two particular areas the 9-3 needs to improve… a lot. Together with interior quality.

    The steering on the 9-3 is indeed sub-par compared to a 3-series BMW, I guess the ship-like steering wheel does not help.

    And once again, even people who openly admit their affection and sympathy for Saab point steering and gear shifter as problematic.

    Case in point? The latest issue of Winding Road magazine: the review opens with the author’s revelation that he’s always liked Saabs and has a soft spot that famed marque. Heck, he even goes as far as saying he will not be overly critical as he understand the situation Saab and GM are in.

    He loved the car, the engine, impressed with XWD. The shortfalls? You guessed it – rubbery shifter and poor steering feel.

    So let us not get carried away with commentaries how Saab needs to allocate more ad dollars for Top Gear, this is simply not true. Last I checked Koenigsegg spends zero dollars advertising on Top Gear, but the crew love the cars.

    Top Gear is tart, this is what made them such a success, no need to take everything they say or write so seriously. Admittedly, the Turbo X is far from perfect, and this comes from the mouth (okay, fingers) of someone who is prepared to pay the premium for the car even if that means I won’t be going to that Antarctic trip I’ve been dreaming of since I turned 12. ;)

  13. I see what Swade is saying Craig – as a 9-3 Aero owner I found the Top Gear review of the Turbo X to have little value. I find little not to like about the (single) turbo V6 in the 9-3, it is one of the things that sold me on the car. It loves to rev when asked and there is so much torque on tap I find myself searching for opportunities to flog it on the open road – which always results in the vehicle traveling well above the legal speed limit.

    One would speculate the Turbo X would be even better at exploiting the V6’s ability to launch the car at low speeds due to the front wheel drive versions ability to easily spin the tires if the vehicle is driven aggressively. Not really a dilemma, just a symptom of having too much torque on tap at low engine speeds (a good problem to have).

    The handling is another area I would comment on. The 9-3 loves to cruise on the open road at 70 to 85mph (112 to 136 kilometers/hour) and it just holds it own around curves etc. without sacrificing ride quality for handling. And it proved to be superb in the snow this winter – something I really appreciated.

    In the end that review told me little about the car, and the reviewer’s clever writing style while amusing in the end proved to be nothing more than witty prattle.

    There is room for improvement in any car, but to me the 9-3 presented itself as a vehicle full of innovative features and one that is an excellent value for the money.

  14. A good review is supposed to educate readers on the product being reviewed. It should highlight both the good and bad.

    I think no one will dispute the fact that the steering and gearbox of a Saab needs work. However, the entire tone and wording of the review made it sound like the Turbo X is not worth buying. Something that pretty much goes against every other review out there. In my opinion, that makes it a very biased and poor review.

    The Turbo X is far from perfect but it has ALOT going for it, not just for Saab enthusiasts but for anyone looking for a car in that class.

  15. If these criticisms are in fact absolute truisms,then why can we find otherwise as credible sources who drive and review the same vehicle who don’t find them to be worthy of criticism? Is this a by-product of driving and reviewing cars as a profession?Small differences which mean less than nothing to the average driver/buyer lose all sense of proportion when viewed through the eye of the “expert”.Talk to anyone in the field of upscale Audiophile Stereo components and listen to their opinions of two different manufacturers $25,000 a pair speakers.One pair transports you to sonic heaven…the other pair is virtually unlistenable!(according to their trained ear)This “can’t see the forrest for the trees” syndrome largely affects most “Auto-philes”as well,to coin a phrase.Case in point former: Porsche owner shopping for a new Sport sedan or coupe this past Feb. Had driven the 3 series 330ix,Infiniti G37 All wheel steering coupe,Audi 3.0 Quattro.Visited our showroom and drove the 9-3 Aero 6 spd.Manual and bought it 3 days later.I guess the guy just didn’t know any better.By the way he had attended a Skip Barber school the previous year as well.

  16. shard – considering the most expensive EVO X (330Q something…) costs £37k in UK, one may in fact wonder if TurboX actually can defend it’s price so well. Especially if it’s flawed, like many reports indicate.

  17. I saw yesterday a review about the 2008 Aero XWD in a German TV-Show called “Auto Mobil”. The show works closely together with the famous magazine “Auto Motor und Sport”, the biggest German Car-Magazine which is famous for its very subjective reports in rating German cars much better than other ones. So I was really surprised after the review.

    Good points were:
    - Interieur quality to be on Audi-Level (which I personally feel that Audi is still better)
    - Excellent V6 engine
    - Enough space for passengers and luggage
    - Perfect Automatic transmission (can’t judge this)
    - Smooth riding in corners
    - Precise steering
    - Outstanding traction thanks to XWD
    - Individual design
    - Clear and ergonomic dashboard

    Bad points were:
    - XWD only available as V6
    - Car is expensive

  18. I think that the 9-3 and Turbo X by extension are both good cars. Good cars but not great cars.

    And that’s the problem with Saab right now, they’re merely “good enough” when they need to be “excellent”. Their brand image has taken such a beating since GM ownership (most car people think they’re just rebadged Opels and that’s becoming closer and closer to reality) that they have no laurels to rest on and they just aren’t going to survive by building “good” cars.

    Saab is at a point unfortunately where they will have to build some stellar product to regain the credibility that they have lost over the past few years. This new product needs to be every bit as good as the best product in it’s class, if not moreso. The Turbo X is a nice enough car, but it ultimately fails at that task.

    What Saab desperately needs is a segment-buster, a car that is to Saab what the G35 was to Infiniti. The G35 came out of a miserable Infiniti lineup of Nissan badge-jobs and it singlehandedly revived the brand. It was as good of a car as the E46 3-series in every way, except that it was faster and came with a base MSRP what was thousands less than a comparable BMW.

    The Turbo X and Aero XWD could have been that car if it’s base price was $35,000 instead of $43,000. The Turbo X also could have been that car if it had a nicer interior, a more responsive chassis, tighter steering, a shifter that feels like it belongs in a $45,000 car and a host of other goodies. But the Turbo X/Aero XWD is neither of those things, and once again we’re stuck waiting for the next new Saab to reverse the sales slump.

    I just hope that GM realizes this and is willing to invest some real money into the new cars before the damage to Saab is irreparable.

  19. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I am not sure that a person looking to buy an Evo or a WRX is going to consider a Saab, vice versa.

    In my opinion, the Turbo X should be compared with Mercedes C Class, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Jaguar X Type, VW Passat etc.

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