With increased power and a new all-wheel-drive system now available throughout the line, the 2009 Saab 9-3 has bold performance that outdoes its handsome but not overt appearance.
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. ConsumerGuide considers 2.0T models to be "fairly quick, but launch response is dulled by turbo lag. Passing reserves are impressive, though." Edmunds finds that the engine delivers "a healthy pull throughout" its powerband, yet "performance is nothing special for this class."
The uplevel Aero trim produces 280 hp (up for 2009 from 255) and 258 lb-ft 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. MyRide.com attests this engine delivers its thrust "smoothly and quietly." 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."
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. 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." Car and Driver complains that the "manual's shifter still feels as if it were attached to the transmission with ropes." 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 welcome. Saab's electronic rear limited-slip differential is now standard on the Aero V-6, and the XWD all-wheel-drive system is optional on 2.0T models for 2009.
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. 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." 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." Still, the 9-3 doesn't reach the heights of its German competition: "Even with its newfound grip and power," says Edmunds about the 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD, it "isn't hard-edged enough to be considered a true sport sedan or sport wagon."