Early on morning I was driving the Saab 93
Linear to work, when I found myself on the
horns of a dilemma. The road before me was
open and straight. The pavement was dry. The
9-3 was coasting along easily in fourth gear.
I was already speeding. The urge to put the
car into fifth burned in my soul. I could see
myself, zooming along in fifth, not just
breaking the speed limit but actively crushing
it. Then, afterwards, explaining my actions to
an irate member of the local constabulary. The
urge was about to overwhelm me, but,
fortunately for my driving record, I caught up
to a more law-abiding citizen doing the speed
limit, and the dilemma was temporarily
resolved. With a sigh, I resigned myself to
doing the speed limit.
This was a fun car to drive!
For 2003, Saab takes direct aim at the Audi A4
and the BMW 3-series with the new 9-3. The 9-3
has undergone a significant facelift, with
favourable results. Chrome on the front end is
reduced, with just enough remaining to
maintain a family resemblance to Saabs gone
In the back that the 9-3 has really changed.
Retiring the venerable hatchback, Saab went in
favour of a sedan. It remains to be seen how
purists will react to this radical change, but
the overall effect is sharp, and the black
test car was striking.
The new 9-3 is built on G.M.'s Epsilon
platform, with a wheelbase 2.2 inches longer
and wider than its predecessors. The extra
space is put to good use; the interior is
generous in size and creature comforts. The
front seat has plenty of room, and the back is
big enough for two adults (though perhaps not
very large ones).
9-3's dash instrumentation is nicely laid out
in a classic, easy-to-read three-dial format.
Saab offers a nightview option, which allows
the driver to shut off all gauges except the
speedometer. Other gauges light back up to
notify the driver if any problems arise. It
seemed kind of gimmicky to me, but similar
technology is used on aircraft the logic being
that the pilot is more likely to notice any
potential problems. Still, despite the
sensible explanation, I didn't use this option
One option I did use was G.M.'s heads-up
display, mounted on top of the dash. The
system displays the time, outside temperature,
and what radio station you're on. It's
location, tucked under the windshield, is a
real plus, allowing for easy reading without
moving your eyes too much.
Leather is standard in this Saab's interior,
and, in the test car was an eye-catching slate
grey. The week I had the 9-3 was a
particularly cold one, so the heated seat was
much appreciated. Too bad the seat doesn't
come with temperature control though, it was
either too cold or burning the pants off you.
If my 15-year-old Audi can swing it, why not
As for the rest of the interior, the dash was
black over grey. Small touches of titanium on
the door handles and shifter knob reduced
drabness. I did find that the handsome leather
seat began to feel pretty hard over a long
drive, and thought the lumbar support could
use beefing up as well.
Aside from the hard seat, the 9-3 is a joy to
drive. Saab says the 9-3 is all about the pure
thrill of driving and that is the case here.
Steering is precise and quick, and Saab offers
an array of systems to aid the driver in any
situation. Traction control helps reduce
wheelspin, and the Electronic Stability
Program helps to correct a skid before it gets
serious. Both systems offer support without
taking control of the car away from the
Stopping power is provided by four-wheel, ABS,
disc brakes. Stops were hard and straight, and
the brakes were quick to respond without being
grabby. The car's ride is first rate, yielding
without being mushy, and responsive without
being hard. The suspension features MacPherson
struts up front with an independent four-link
suspension in the back.
Under the hood, the 9-3 comes with an
all-aluminum, dual-overhead-cam, turbo-charged
four cylinder engine. This super-smooth power
plant generates 175 bhp @ 5500 rpm, and
195 lbs-ft @ 2500 rpm. Saab also offers a 210
horsepower version in the Arc and Vector
models of the 9-3. Turbo lag is barely
noticeable, and at highway speeds, the turbo
is rarely in use at all.
9-3 Linear comes with a five-speed manual
transmission; Arc and Vector come with a
six-speed manual. Saab also offers a
five-speed automatic. The shifter in the test
car was especially nice, solid feeling, and a
pleasure to use.
I did have one glitch with the test car; I
found the trunk was unreasonably hard to
close, and required a significant slam. It's a
big trunk though, easily swallowing a 40-pound
bag of dog food with room to spare.
Overall, my impressions of this car were very
favourable. It was nice to look at, not to
hard on gas, and a blast to drive. Saab stated
that the 9-3 was built to exhilarate the
driver, and it has succeeded. Compared to the
competition, the 9-3 is pretty good in the
cost department as well. The well-equipped
test model rang in at $34,900. Arc and Vector
are $41,590 and $44,590 respectively.
At the end of my week with the 9-3, while I
was sad to see this car go, I was also a tad
relieved. How the heck was I going pay for all
those speeding tickets anyway?
Our reviewer: Elaine's
love of cars started in high school. All the guys she
hung out with then were car addicts (two of them when on
to be auto mechanics). It was with these guys that
Elaine learned all about the automobile. Her first days
behind the wheel were spent in a red and white Ford
pick-up, (affectionately referred to as The Pig)
belonging to one of these guys (Thanks Mike!). After
graduation from high school and through university,
Elaine's love of cars lay dormant, until, while pursuing
a diploma in journalism at Toronto's Centennial College,
the opportunity to become editor of the Up to Speed
section was presented. With a solid background in
mechanics (Thanks to Humber College for that!), and her
passion for cars still intact, Elaine jumped at the
chance and is currently loving that role, while
finishing her diploma at Centennial.