First Drive: 2008 Saab 9-3, Saab 9-7X Aero


Saab surprised us at last week’s event, not with tremendous new offerings, but with slightly altered versions of existing models. Even more surprising was the fact that we were impressed by the cosmetically altered 9-3 sedan and wagon, and not so much by the powerful V-8 engine that was added to the new 9-7X Aero SUV.

2008 Saab 9-3

The 9-3’s svelte exterior and Euro-cockpit dashboard are all business, with plenty of straightforward controls and, improbably, an SUV-sized glove compartment. GM had a couple versions to test out; even with the base turbo four-cylinder and an automatic, the car moves about as quickly as an Acura TSX. The SportCombi wagon with the turbo V-6 and a manual transmission proved entertainingly quick, though the stick shift is a bit clunky for an entry-luxury car. Then again, you can’t have everything when your car starts five grand less than most competitors. — Kelsey Mays, reviewer                     

I was surprised that the new 9-3 sedan was here; I’d kind of forgotten about the car getting a face-lift. That design change is pretty much the only thing new for 2008, but because it’s a “new” model there was reason to drive the 9-3 again. On windy country roads, the 9-3 was sporty and fun to drive to an extreme. I had forgotten just how good even the base model’s turbo engine performs. Wind and road noise were also at a minimum, but it did take rough roads with extreme feedback. Considering the interior is still holding up for its age, the 9-3 is an underrated model. — David Thomas, KickingTires editor

Underrated is exactly what this model is and has long been. If nothing else, Saab should be lauded for a turbo/small-engine/automatic-transmission combo that doesn’t make you want to drive – after a moment or so of delay — into a tree. It responds with minimal lag, as it did years before VW cracked the code with its 2.0-liter turbo. The 9-3’s ride quality isn’t for everyone, but I think that kind of thing is for the individual to determine. Its crash tests are great. If it weren’t for a dismal reliability record, this model would be a recurring Best Bet. — Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor

Saab 9-7X Aero

The Aero is fast with its 390-hp V-8, and this package works well in its corporate counterpart — the Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS — but the muscle-car sounds from the loud, aggressive V-8 seem out of place in the Saab. Regardless, it’s a fine-looking SUV and I’ve always liked the 9-7X’s styling, it’s just unfortunate that underneath those good looks is a truck-based chassis with its associated ride, handling and gas mileage. — Joe Bruzek,

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