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2011 Saab 9-3 Overview

Once more into the breach dodders the 2011 Saab 9-3 in its luxury sedan and convertible coupe variations. These venerable relics, now in their eighth year, are essentially unchanged from 2010, though Saab, now owned by the Netherlands-based Spyker Company, predicts a complete redesign within the next year or so. Of middling design and performance, and certainly below the expected luxury standards of many consumers, the 9-3 lineup is nonetheless considered a bargain by reviewers and owners alike. This compact commuter is available in two body styles, the sedan and the convertible coupe, with both offered in either a Base or Aero trim, and each is delivered with a peppy turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine (I4). The five-passenger 9-3 line offers Euro-style looks and handling that, while compelling, fail to overwhelm. One thing to be said for this aging trim is that it remains a true Saab, untainted by the Swedish automaker’s recently dissolved and somewhat ill-conceived marriage to General Motors.

In any case, the 2011 version of the 9-3 is presented with standard front-wheel drive, with only the sedan trims available to be equipped with Saab’s exclusive XWD, essentially an all-wheel-drive (AWD) configuration. Convertible trims come with a standard power-down soft top but only 12.4 cubic feet of luggage capacity, while sedans, with no convertible top stowage to complicate things, offer 15 cubic feet of trunk space. Competent agility, meantime, has been a trademark of the 9-3 lineup from its inception, but ride comfort, at least according to most reviews, leaves much to be desired. The turbocharged I4, however, is described by most reviewers as perfectly at home on the highway.

Alas, the 9-3 finds itself lined up against the likes of Audi’s A4 and A5 lineups, BMW’s 3 Series, Infiniti’s G, and the always formidable Mercedes-Benz C-Class. And then there’s that other Nordic automaker, Volvo, which offers its well-wrought S60 and S70 trims. About the only thing that Saab’s 9-3 can claim over the rest is a marginally lower base price of about $28,000.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of things, all 2011 9-3 trims are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 powerplant. The FWD Base trim in both convertible and sedan versions comes with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, while the Aero FWD trims get a standard 5-speed shiftable automatic, and all XWD sedans come equipped with a 6-speed shiftable automatic. No matter the transmission type, the I4 delivers 210 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, while stick-shift trims are estimated at 21/31 mpg, automatic FWD trims are estimated at 20/29 and XWD sedans are estimated at 17/27.

The Haldex-sourced XWD system shoots torque to the front and rear axles as needed, while a mechanical center-mounted locking rear differential distributes up to 50% of torque between the two rear wheels, again, as needed.

Appearance features and creature comforts for the 2011 9-3 lineup are typical entry-level luxury. The Base sedan, for instance, comes with such standard exterior features as 16-inch alloy wheels and heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors. Inside, leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, remote power door locks, power windows and telescoping tilt-wheel steering complement cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a cooled storage compartment, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and faux-wood door, dash, and center console accents. Standard entertainment components, meanwhile, include a 150-watt system with a single-CD player and seven speakers. The Base 9-3 convertible, meantime, chips in standard 17-inch alloy wheels and a power-adjustable front passenger seat.

Moving up to the high-end Aero sedan begets such additions as standard 17-inch alloy wheels and a power sunroof outside, with heated front power-adjustable seats, a universal remote garage door opener and simulated carbon-fiber door, dash and console accents inside. Additional techno-gizmos for this top-shelf 9-3 trim level include a 6-CD changer, 11 speakers, satellite radio and OnStar telecommunications service boosted by Bluetooth hands-free communications technology.

Extras for the Base trim level include the Comfort Package, with several standard features found in the Aero, as well as an auto-dimming rear-view mirror that’s available for the Aero as a standalone option. Additionally, the Base sedan can be delivered with available 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. Meanwhile, options for the Aero level include the Premium Package, starring driver memory and rear parking assist sensors, as well as standalone extras such as 18-inch alloy wheels and DVD-based touchscreen navigation.

Again stressing safety, the 2011 9-3 lineup boasts standard four-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), traction and stability control, front side-mounted airbags, front and rear head airbags, and front head-restraint whiplash protection. Further safety-related standard equipment includes daytime running lights, dusk-sensing headlights, and a remote antitheft alarm. The Aero also adds standard front fog/driving lights, high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlights and a post-collision safety system to the mix.

Owner experiences with the identical 2010 9-3 have been mostly positive, though some owners complain that agility is compromised a bit with too-light steering and that ride comfort still leaves much to be desired in a segment devoted to posh. Cramped rear seats and a bit of a letdown in overall cabin ambiance additionally come in for some owner frustration, with others grousing that mileage, while not horrific, isn’t as advertised. Notwithstanding a number of negatives, owners find the 9-3’s value, as well as its solid drivetrains, plethora of safety features, fighter-cockpit-like driver ergonomics and nimble, if not inspired, handling will overcome many of its perceived faults.


Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.

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