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2009 Saab 9-3 ReviewThe Good
Extra power and a ton of extra options, all during a carryover year, mean 2009 won't be a lull for Saab's 9-3.The Bad
Some owners say a slightly too-harsh ride for the '09 9-3's convertible Aero trim has taken some of the pleasure out of pleasure cruising.
The CarGurus View
The 2009 Saab 9-3 is a stellar example of what a compact sedan and convertible can be, but go in knowing what you want. With the price difference between a front-wheel-drive 2.0T and an Aero convertible at almost twenty thousand dollars, it's easy to jump out of your price range in a hurry. Thankfully, there's not a trim in the lineup that will be a disappointment.
At a Glance
Saab’s 2009 9-3 may be a carryover, but it sports a wealth of new options and features. Available as either a four-door sedan or a two-door convertible, the 9-3 has two trim levels, 2.0T and Aero, comes in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations, and has a four- or six-cylinder engine, both turbocharged. This luxury compact replaced the previous 900 series that enjoyed so much success.
As of October 2008, the Saab XWD system was made available on 2.0T models, and this option carries over into the current model year. For the top-tier Aero trim, an award-winning and more powerful 280-hp V6 engine and an electronically controlled limited-slip were made standard. For the 2.0T sport FWD trims, an Aero type appearance and performance package is now available that offers upgraded brakes as well as a sport-tuned suspension in addition to styling changes, and 17x7.5-inch five-spoke alloys come standard, as on the Aero models. 2.0T XWD models get 17x7-inch alloys.
Further additions include carbon-fiber interior trim on Aero models, OnStar 8.0 with Turn-by-Turn Navigation, and Bluetooth. Color choices change as well, with Grey now being offered as a new convertible top option, Carbon Grey Metallic and Smoke Beige debuting as new exterior colors, and Glass Grey Metallic replacing Parchment Silver.
Two engines are available, a 2.0-liter for the 2.0T trim and a 2.8-liter for the Aero versions. The inline four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbocharged engine puts out a healthy 210 hp and still gets an EPA rating of 18/27 mpg. For an extra 70 hp, choose the Aero model’s 2.8-liter V6, which will still hand out a respectable 15/24 rating. At 280 hp, this is an increase of 25 hp over 2008. Saab recommends 90-octane gasoline for both engines.
There are three transmissions, with a six-speed manual coming standard on FWD 2.0T trims, with the option of a five-speed automatic as well. Aero versions and AWD 2.0T's come with either a six-speed automatic or the six-speed manual as a no-cost option.
Both engines are strong, exhibiting little turbo-lag, with the 2.8 showing exceptional power throughout its rpm range. Lag is a larger problem with the 2.0, but power builds quickly and confidently, and both automatics compensate well with precise downshifting.
Ride & Handling
The handling of the 9-3 inspires confidence in every trim and configuration, although it varies on a scale of composed to slightly harsh when moving from 2.0T to Aero convertibles, whose stiffer suspension and structural rigidity can reverberate bumps rather than absorb. With that in mind, the Aero trims offer increased grip and handling over the already impressive response of the 2.0T. Steering is light and precise, both at speed and in the parking lot. The 9-3's ride and handling are at the top of its class - expect to be impressed.
Cabin & Comfort
The 9-3 is a pleasant blend of upscale luxury and sporty appeal, although some owners have complained that selected plastic materials feel cheaper than should be allowed at this level. Controls are well placed and intuitive, having been well-received overall, with the possible exception of the navigation system's absorption of the audio functions.
Interior space is ample in the sedan and adequate in the convertible, which will find taller drivers looking for a bit more head and shoulder room, especially in the back. This becomes especially inconvenient if a taller driver or passenger pushes the front seats fully back and down, removing much of the available leg and foot space, and making the back seat almost useless for adults. Cargo space is quite impressive, especially in the convertible, with 12.4 cu-ft available in the convertible's trunk, although 4 of those feet are taken up by the retracted soft-top.
Regardless of trim, buyers will be treated to a leather interior with a power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, OnStar and 16-inch alloy wheels. However, for those who want a bit more, a Premium Package offers a power passenger seat as well, wood trim, 17-inch wheels, Bose stereo, steering-linked Xenon fog and headlights, heated seats, and a moonroof for the sedans.
The Aero additionally provides a sport-tuned suspension, power sunroof, dual polished exhaust, upgraded seats, brakes and additional styling upgrades to distinguish it from other trims.
All trims come standard with a host of safety features, a Saab tradition. Dual front, front side, and curtain side airbags are coupled with front-seat active head restraints. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes, an anti-skid system, tire-pressure monitor, emergency inside trunklid release, and daytime running lights are all standard, with the only additional safety feature being a rear obstacle detection system that comes standard on Aero trims.
NHTSA test results awarded four stars in all categories excepting side impacts involving the driver, which earned five stars.
What Owners Think
The 9-3 has been a perennial favorite for Saab, and a natural evolution from the immensely successful 900 series. A wealth of upgrades in this carryover year, the addition of the XWD system to the 2.0T trim, and the extra horsepower for the 2.8-liter engine have been especially well-received. Additionally, the standard limited-slip differential added to the Aero and the Aero-type package for the 2.0T FWD trim has been a welcome addition, highly praised by owners.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
What's your take on the 2009 Saab 9-3?
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