The 2008 Saab 9-3 doesn’t drive quite as aggressively as it looks, delivering sportiness if not outright enthusiast appeal.
The four-cylinder engine in the base, 2.0T trim serves up 210 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque in an efficient, refined, and responsive manner. Edmunds finds that the engine delivers “a healthy pull throughout” its powerband, yet feels “performance is nothing special for this class.” Consumer Guide considers 2.0T models to be “fairly quick, but launch response is dulled by turbo lag. Passing reserves are impressive, though.”
Turbo lag is nearly eliminated in the turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 in the uplevel Aero trim. Producing 255 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm, most reviewers agree this engine motivates the 9-3 with significantly more vigor than the base engine. Aero XWD models get a higher-boost version with 280 hp. Kelley Blue Book comments that the “Aero's V6 feels more effortless,” and ConsumerGuide remarks the “Aero's V6 feels stronger from a stop and furnishes better passing response. They have little turbo lag.” MyRide.com attests this engine delivers its thrust “smoothly and quietly.” 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.
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. The transmissions offer some disappointments. Car and Driver complains that the “manual's shifter still feels as if it were attached to the transmission with ropes.” The automatic transmissions can be reluctant with downshifts in D, says Edmunds, and Kelley Blue Book agrees, noting the automatic “suffers a bit of downshifting.” All-wheel drive is available on the Turbo X model; with plenty of torque available just above idle, the turbo V-6 feels especially fast, but torque steer can be an issue with either of the engines, so the all-wheel drive is welcomed.
The 9-3’s road manners are decent and more athletic in the tighter-suspended Aero and Turbo X models, which get a lowered sport-tuned suspension to take advantage of the added power. The Turbo X gets an even more aggressive setup, along with upgraded brakes, Y-rated tires, and rear body leveling. Many reviewers complain of overly light steering in base cars, though ConsumerGuide finds it “precise.” Edmunds indicates that “Aeros can be pushed vigorously into curves, remaining impressively flat and centered,” and Kelley Blue Book states that “confident handling is the rule.” Still, the 9-3 doesn’t reach the heights of its German competition: “Even with its newfound grip and power,” says Edmunds about the 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD, it “isn't hard-edged enough to be considered a true sport sedan or sport wagon.”