- Base turbo engine is both strong and fuel-efficient
- Crisp steering and great handling
- Nice interior design
- Pricey, even compared against luxury competitors
- Too-firm ride in Aero and Turbo X
- Cut-rate GM switchgear is obvious in a few cases
Despite rather conservative styling, the 2009 Saab 9-3 is one of the boldest performers in its class.
The Saab 9-3 is a roomy compact model that borders on mid-size, despite the fact that it's now the smallest model in Saab's lineup. The 9-3 comes in sedan and versatile wagon (SportCombi) body styles, as well as a convertible.
The 2009 Saab 9-3 comes in two models: base and Aero. A 210-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine propels the base model, while the high-performance Aero model gets a 280-hp, 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6 engine (the figures represent a new boost in horsepower for 2009). At the top of the range is the Turbo X model, which brings a stronger, 280-hp version of the turbo V-6 and an all-wheel-drive system. 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. For 2009, Saab's XWD all-wheel-drive system is optional on 2.0T models.
Saab's electronic limited-slip differential manages power from side to side to help maintain grip and poise in very enthusiastic on-the-road driving. For 2009, it's standard on the Aero V-6 XWD, as well as the Turbo X.
A lowered sport-tuned suspension is added to the 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero models 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.
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. The base model of the 2009 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.
Inside, the 2009 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 necessary for adults. The trunk, however, is quite spacious.
In the 9-3 SportCombi wagon, the 60/40-split backseats fold forward to create a large, continuous space for cargo. A hidden, underfloor storage area provides added room for valuables.
The often-overlooked 2009 Saab 9-3 Convertible has an especially roomy trunk, yet it can stow away its soft top in just 20 seconds. The 9-3 Convertible remains one of TheCarConnection.com's favorite convertibles for practical everyday driving and cruising.
The 9-3 achieves only middle-of-the-road four-star results for frontal and side impact in the federal government's tests. It is, however, rated "good" in all of the insurance-affiliated IIHS tests. Electronic stability control is standard on all 2009 Saab 9-3 models, as are active head restraints, front side airbags, and side-curtain bags for outboard passengers.
The options list on the 2009 Saab 9-3 is quite short but includes a navigation system and a Cold Weather Package of headlamp washers and heated seats. The options list is brief in part because the standard features list is long; 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. New for 2009 is upgraded OnStar 8.0, which includes turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth.