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Expert Reviews 1 of 4
By Rick Popely
December 1, 1999
Vehicle Overview This Swedish car company is now a subsidiary of General Motors, so it should not be a big surprise that GM's OnStar communications system is a new $895 option on 9-3 models. OnStar tracks a vehicle by global positioning satellites and automatically summons emergency help if the airbags deploy. A built-in microphone allows hands-free communication with a call center that provides navigation assistance, theft tracking and other services. The front-drive 9-3 is the entry-level line for Saab, and the larger, more-expensive 9-5 range serves as the flagship. The 9-3 comes in two- and four-door hatchback styling and as a convertible.
Interior Don't be fooled by the 9-3's compact exterior dimensions it is big inside. The functional, upright design provides 111.3 cubic feet of interior space, enough to be classified a midsize car by the EPA and enough to fit five adults without packing them in like sardines. Cargo space is 21.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat. With the rear seat folded, it is 46 cubic feet, rivaling some small station wagons. One of Saab's traditional features is a floor-mounted ignition lock on models with the manual transmission, which some find strange yet others think cool. The transmission has to be shifted into reverse before the key can be removed.
Exterior The two- and four-door hatchbacks are like peas in a pod, except for the latter's extra set of doors. Both have a 102.6-inch wheelbase and 182.3 inch overall length and are the same in other dimensions.
Under the Hood All models have turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. Base models have 185 horsepower, and the SE has a 205-horsepower version. The high-performance 9-3 Viggin (Swedish for "thunderbolt") is the muscle car of the group with 230 horsepower.
Safety Saab is known for its safety features, and the 9-3 has its share. Anti-lock brakes, side-impact airbags that protect the head and chest of front-seat occupants, and Saab's active head restraint system are standard. In a collision, the head restraints move up and forward to reduce the chances of whiplash.
Performance Saab prides itself on standing apart from the crowd, and there aren't many car companies willing to take that risk these days. Styling is a matter of opinion, but there is no debate that the 9-3's strong suits are its functionality and performance.