The 2003 redesign of Saab's compact 9-3 transformed it into a premium sport sedan with a long wheelbase and a wide track, which promised improved handling. For 2004, a sporty new Aero model replaced the Vector.
A redesigned 9-3 convertible, available in Arc and Aero forms, arrived for 2004. A navigation system joins the options list for 2005, and a 175-horsepower Linear edition of the convertible is now available.
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The base-model Linear, luxurious Arc and sporty Aero editions get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 175 hp in the Linear sedan and 210 hp in the other models. Linear models have leather-appointed upholstery and 16-inch alloy wheels. In addition to a more potent engine, the Arc is equipped with fog lights and automatic climate control. For a sporty flair, the Aero features performance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, a lowered chassis, sport suspension and sunroof.
Only Canadian Aero models come with a standard six-speed-manual gearbox; Aeros bound for other countries come with a standard five-speed manual. Competitors include the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Volvo S60.
Styling features include a coupelike silhouette, an integrated grille and headlights, short front and rear overhangs, and a steeply raked windshield and back window. The automaker says negative wheel camber reinforces the 9-3's sporty stance and wedgelike profile. With its low 0.28 coefficient of drag, the 9-3's aerodynamics are appealing. Low lift forces at the rear axle should improve high-speed stability.
The 9-3 sedan accommodates up to five occupants and has a 60/40-split folding rear seat. According to Saab, the instrument panel "arcs around the driver." The gauges light up in green, and buyers can specify a Night Panel that suppresses most instruments. Wood interior trim is optional in Arc models. The trunk holds 15 cubic feet of cargo.
Under the Hood
Two turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders are available. Linear models, which are badged 2.0t, get a 175-hp engine, while 2.0T signifies Arc and Aero models with the 210-hp power plant. A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard, and a five-speed-automatic transmission that offers manual gear selection may be installed.
Dual-stage front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side curtain-type airbags and Active Head Restraints are installed. Convertibles get side-impact airbag head extensions in place of side-curtain airbags. Standard equipment includes Saab's Electronic Stability Program stability system, Cornering Brake Control, all-disc antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution.
Saab promotes the sportiness of its 9-3 sedan, and the claim is valid. In tight, quick maneuvers, the 9-3 holds its own easily against the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. Though it is stable and confident on the road and easy to drive in town, the 9-3 doesn't have the same overall sporty feel of some rivals.
Throttle response with the automatic transmission is eager once you get rolling; only the barest hint of turbo lag is noticeable. The manual gearbox works with light, easy action and positive clutch behavior. The cockpit and seats are driver-oriented, and the sedan doesn't feel cramped up front. Backseat space is cozy but sufficient.
After launching the redesigned compact 9-3 sport sedan for 2003, Saab released the 9-3 convertible as a 2004 model. Both feature the same chassis dynamics. Saab claims the 9-3 convertible is nearly three times as stiff as its soft-top predecessor. The convertible got an all-new suspension layout, and supplementary "ring of steel" reinforcement compensates for the loss of structural rigidity that convertibles ordinarily suffer. Seat belts are integrated into the seat frames, and pop-up roll bars are installed behind the rear seats.
Only Arc and Aero convertibles, using the same 210-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder found in the sedan, were offered initially. A new Linear convertible for 2005 holds Saab's 175-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. All convertibles are equipped with either a five-speed-manual or five-speed-automatic transmission. The automatic transmission includes a manual-shift provision.
Driving the 9-3 convertible is virtually effortless. Performance is comparable to the equivalent sport sedan. The soft-top exhibits a magnificent highway ride and precise steering and handling. Back to top