- Unique interior styling
- Base turbo engine is powerful and fuel-efficient
- Quick, crisp steering and great handling
- Some switchgear is recognizable from lesser GM cars
- Very firm ride in Aero and Turbo X
- Priced against top-tier luxury competitors
Although the 2008 Saab 9-3 isn’t as stylish and recognizable, it is a unique and stealthy alternative to more frequently seen small sport sedans.
With the discontinuation of the 9-2X, the 2008 Saab 9-3 is the smallest model in Saab’s lineup. Actually a roomy model that borders on mid-size, the 9-3 comes in sedan and versatile wagon (SportCombi) body styles, as well as a convertible. The wagon and convertible are covered under separate reviews.
The 2008 Saab 9-3 comes in two models: base and Aero. A 210-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine powers the base model, while the high-performance Aero model gets a 255-horsepower, 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6 engine. Both models come with a six-speed manual transmission, with an automatic transmission optional on each—five-speed for the base, six-speed for the Aero. At the top of the range is the Turbo X model, which brings a more powerful, 280-horsepower version of the turbo V-6 and an all-wheel-drive system.
The 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero models get a lowered sport-tuned suspension to take advantage of the added power, and the Turbo X gets an even more aggressive setup, along with upgraded brakes, Y-rated tires, and rear body leveling. Inside, it also garners carbon-fiber trim and a different steering-wheel design, and it's available in only Jet Black Metallic.
The 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X model’s electronic limited-slip differential manages power from side to side to help maintain grip and poise in very enthusiastic on-the-road driving.
Base 9-3 models offer plenty of performance from their 210-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is remarkably refined and composed, and it works well with the automatic transmission.
The base model of the 2008 Saab 9-3 has a firm ride that’s absorbent enough for driving on rough, urban highways, but the Aero models have a stiffer tuning that’s less comfortable and transmits some coarser surfaces as road noise. Handling is a strong suit; the 9-3 has better steering than most front-wheel-drive sport sedans, with good road feel, and the 9-3 feels more agile and tossable than most cars its size.
Inside, the 2008 Saab 9-3 models have Saab’s traditionally stark appearance, which was spiced up a bit with an interior redesign for 2007. Nice, well-bolstered seats bring an upright driving position with a good view outward, but the backseat is very cramped and lacks the legroom to be acceptable for adults. The trunk, however, is quite spacious.
Even base 9-3 models come equipped as luxury cars, with most commonly expected conveniences standard. Aero models add upgraded leather sport seats, xenon cornering headlamps, a moonroof, fog lamps, and a Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system. The options list on the 2008 Saab 9-3 is quite short but includes a navigation system and a Cold Weather Package of headlamp washers and heated seats.
Electronic stability control is standard on all 2008 Saab 9-3 models, as are active head restraints, front side airbags and side-curtain bags for outboard passengers. The 9-3 achieved only middle-of-the-road four-star results for frontal and side impact in the federal government’s tests. It was, however, rated "good" in all of the insurance-affiliated IIHS tests.