2008 Saab 9-3 2.0T Review

By Brendan Moore

03.06.2008

What’s new for the Saab 9-3 in 2008?

The face is a lot different and a lot better-looking – the headlamp treatment is very attractive. The hood that Saab-ers loved, the clamshell hood, is back. All the meaningful changes are up front, but that’s okay, because that’s where a lot of people think it counts most. The previous-year Saab 9-3 was really a pretty nice-looking car, and the new looks are an improvement.

So what didn’t change?

Hmmm, well, the best bodystyle, the hatchback is still MIA in the lineup. The ignition is still on the floor between the front seats. There are still large amounts of torque steer and some turbo lag with the 2 liter turbocharged four-cylinder, but the Saab is an amazingly good long-distance cruiser. The interior is still very nice but not as good as the German competition, the Cadillac CTS or even some of the Japanese cars in the same price range. Like any good Swedish car, the Saab is packed with safety features. It also has the very cool “Night Panel” feature that leaves only the most basic instrumentation lit while leaving everything else dark. It reduces eye fatigue, according to Saab, and is lifted directly from the Saab jets made by another division of Saab.

Here’s something else that hasn’t changed – Saab is still having a lot of trouble making new Saabs go across the curb and used Saabs of all kinds just fall off a cliff in terms of resale value. Saab needs a new platform and a new look and all of that is on tap for next year with a new 9-4X and a new 9-5, so perhaps Saab will be able to change it’s fortunes in the U.S.

I had a new 2008 Saab 2.0T Sport Sedan loaned to me from Saab for a week. The Saab I drove was $30,685 and had just about every option Saab offers except the automatic transmission. The one Saab sent over was a six-speed manual model, which has a fuel mileage rating of 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The DOHC turbo four-cylinder puts out a respectable 210 HP.

Here is what I think about the Swedish Siren.

The Saab 9-3 does everything fairly well, but it just isn’t great at anything. It doesn’t give you a reason to fall in love with it. It doesn’t have the best handling. It doesn’t have the best brakes. It’s not the horsepower king. The interior is not as good as the best in the segment. The audio and climate controls are not well done. The styling of the 9-3 is not ground-breaking or delicious-looking.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good car. However, I don’t think it has over $30,000 of goodness contained within it. And frankly, I am not unique in this perspective, because Saab has had to discount all of their models over the past several years, often to the tune of several thousand dollars, just to get them off the lots.

I’ve already delineated some of the things I didn’t like about the car, so what did I like/love about the Saab 9-3?

I liked the six-speed gearbox. I loved the “Night Panel” feature. I like the new look up front. I loved the seats, especially on a long trip. The trunk is big. The rear seats actually fit two large adults. I love the heated seats. I like the solid feeling of the car overall. I love it’s road manners at 90 MPH.

If only there were more things I loved about the 9-3.

I am very much looking forward to the new Saabs.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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5 Comments

  1. Look what you are saying is it more of a GM car than a saab. The real saabs of old connected with you and never let go. GM is a car company that thinks the current Malibu is god’s give to car drivers. Its a decent car but It still so obvious where they cut corners(no led tailights and projector headlights and so on.) Saab is suffering the same fate buy having stuff thrown at it. GM is in danger of losing the soul of this brand.

  2. I’ve owned 5 Saabs and I own one now. Not many of us faithful Saabists left in the US.I like the new front on the 9-3 too, but the current car is basically just the same car as five years ago. The new 9-3 will not show up until 2011, so the current (old) platform is going to have to pull more service before a much-needed change. Saab kind of got left behind the other GM brands in terms of attention and money, and it shows. It will be interesting to see what the new 9-4 and 9-5 look like and drive like.

  3. You know what’s funny is that I go all soft and mushy for SAABs when I drive them. It’s one of the rare cars in which everything makes perfect sense to me.

    I personally love the handling balance, and I don’t ever press hard enough to mind the torque-steer. Even then, I haven’t ever driven a “slow” SAAB — at about 7/10ths they’re fast as stink. I even like the interior, and I think the steering wheel is just the right size.

    I love them dearly, just not as a full-priced new car. For 12-20k, I could not ask for more. But brand-spanking-new, at 38k? Even a true SAAB fan will tell you that’s mercy-spending.

    And that, in a nutshell, is SAAB’s problem.

  4. David, I agree. And since Saabs have really terrible residual values a 3 year old Saab is priced just right in terms of actual value. A 9-3 that is a couple of years old can be bought for less than a Corolla and it’s a far better car even at 24 months old.

    New Saabs either need to cost less or have a lot more to offer, one or the other.

  5. I have now owned 4 Saabs and the 2008 9-3 2.0T is by far the best of the bunch. I also own a 2006 BMW. If I rate the two cars, the BMW will win in almost every category, except possibly safety and front seat comfort. On a scale of 1-10, the BMW will rate a 9 or higher in handling, braking, manual transmission, etc. while the Saab would rate an 8-8.5. However, I enjoy driving the Saab just as much as I do the BMW. It is just an enjoyable car to drive, period. I also like the fact that it is different from the other cars on the road. Is it as good as the BMW?..NO..but I like it every bit as much. In this car, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The fact that it sells or leases for much less than a BMW makes me like the car even more. It is a GREAT deal.

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