As the current volume leader for Saab in many markets across the world, the 9-3 carries torch for Saab heading into the future. First released as a 2003 model, the new 9-3 Sport Sedan was quite a groundbreaking model for Saab in several ways. Most notable was the absence of a hatch, a feature that was present on every small Saab since the 99. The lack of a hatch, or even a hatch option, probably has something to do with the next reason why the 9-3 was so important for Saab. The introduction of this car marked Saab’s new goal of moving out of its niche market and competing with the big players in the luxury market: BMW, Mercedes and Audi.
For 2003, the 9-3 was released in Sedan form only, while the convertible was a carryover design from the previous year. Trims varied by market, but Linear, Arc, and Aero trims were available in all markets. The Linear was fairly basically equipped, while the Arc aimed at luxury oriented customers, while the Aero topped the range as the sports variant. Engines varied from a 1.8 liter naturally aspirated unit all the way up to a high-strung, 210 horsepower 2 liter turbo model reserved for the Arc and Aero. A 2.2 liter turbo diesel was also made available in some markets, which was later replaced with a 1.9 litre common rail turbo diesel engine developed with Fiat.
2004 saw the release of the 9-3 convertible based on the new sedan. The convertible is a two door, four seat model with a fully automatic soft top. For the sedan, all went relatively unchanged. The top of the range model in the United States, the Vector, was renamed to Aero due to threatened legal action by Vector automotive.
Two years later, Saab made substantial changes to their 9-3 lineup with the introduction of a new model variant, the Sportcombi. The Sportcombi was simply a 9-3 estate, engine and trim options were identical to the sedan. Also new for 2006 was a 2.8 liter turbocharged petrol engine making 250 horsepower, available with Aero models.
2007 was a somewhat controversial year for the 9-3 due to an interior makeover. The Saab-specific radio and HVAC controls were replaced by generic GM units. Also gone was the SID (Saab Information Display), a small screen on the top of the dash that gave the driver information about the car and any relevant warning messages. A small screen was placed below the speedometer to replicate the SID’s basic functions. Also for 2007, more soundproofing was added to the interior, giving the car a decidedly more premium feel.
The 2003-2006 Saab 9-3 dashboard:
The 2007 Saab 9-3 dashboard:
The biggest changes for the 9-3 came with the 2008 model year. The car gained a new, aggressive front end inspired by the Aero-X concept car. Additionally, a Haldex developed all-wheel drive system called XWD (Cross Wheel Drive) was made available on Aero models and a new range topper: the limited edition Saab Turbo X.
The XWD system, when equipped with the electronic limited slip differential, is one of the world’s most advanced all-wheel drive systems in terms of how much power can be channeled to a single wheel. 85 percent of power can go to a single rear wheel in heaving cornering situations. The electronic limited slip differential, or eLSD, is standard on the Turbo X and optional on other XWD models. Only 2000 Turbo X’s will be sold world-wide.
Saab 9-3 Turbo X SportCombi:
Although details about the 9-3’s successor are constantly changing, it’s thought that it will be based on the Opel Astra’s Delta platform. As such, the car will become slightly smaller, although designers have promised that interior room will not shrink. At the moment, the car is expected to enter production in Trollhattan, Sweden in 2012.
My thanks to Rogan for compiling this entry!