- 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.
2008 Saab 9-3
Saabs have always been unique, but the 2008 Saab 9-3 takes big steps in the direction of handsome and aggressive.
The 2008 Saab 9-3’s redesign increases Saab’s unique, stand-alone style with aggressive exterior and subtle interior modifications.
So says Car and Driver, “the new face does what every freshening hopes to accomplish—make the old car look seriously dated.” Apart from the Saab show car-inspired styling (from the Aero-X), subtle improvements to items like door handles and taillights “give the 9-3 a more-expensive-looking demeanor.” The New York Times notes the “radical new front and rear-end redesign,” which Kelley Blue Book finds “distinctively fresh.” Autoblog feels it’s “a handsome face for Saab.” Edmunds notes its “distinct Scandinavian charm - refreshing break from the mainline aesthetic.”
In general, there are cheers for the interior, which changes less than the exterior but is blessed with subtle improvements like a switch from gray to black. Says MyRide.com, “there was little left over to redesign the interior, which is why it looks so similar to the interior in the outgoing version of the 9-3.” Autoblog appreciates “a simpler interface with less buttons than recent Saabs we remember.” Inside, the Turbo X model also gets carbon-fiber trim and a different steering-wheel design, and it only comes in Jet Black Metallic.
2008 Saab 9-3
The most powerful Saab 9-3 editions with all-wheel drive are satisfying performers, but it’s not quite a sport sedan.
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.”
2008 Saab 9-3
Comfort & Quality
Good ergonomics and great seats are tempered with mediocre materials and some noise in the 2008 Saab 9-3.
The 2008 Saab 9-3 delivers a refined experience overall but misses the mark on some finer details.
Up front, ConsumerGuide appreciates that “comfortable seats provide good all-around support. The 9-3's standard tilt and telescopic steering column helps tailor a comfortable driving position, though the tallest drivers might want it to go higher and may wish for more rearward seat travel.” Edmunds concurs, stating “the Saab 9-3's cabin offers decent ergonomics and very comfortable front seats.” Kelley Blue Book describes the seats in Aero models as “seriously sporty.”
In the rear, ConsumerGuide notes “good head clearance” but warns that “knee space in sedans…is disappointingly tight if the front seats are set far back. The same goes for foot space if the front seats aren't elevated.” “Backseat headroom and toe space are abundant,” offers Cars.com, “but legroom suffers if the front seat is adjusted rearward. The center occupant must endure a high, hard perch and straddle a tall floor hump.”
Ergonomics and space efficiency generally garner respect, but materials, fit, and finish drew some jeers, as did overall levels of refinement. “Any 9-3 has more tire noise than the class norm,” points out ConsumerGuide. Edmunds contends “the cabin is attractive at a glance, particularly with the two-tone leather option, but closer inspection reveals low-quality plastics and inconsistent fit and finish.” All seem to like the Saab’s unique center-mounted ignition key, and Kelley Blue Book admires the instrument cluster, which they feel “was clearly developed for easy and helpful reading.” ConsumerGuide judges sedans to have “a tall trunk with considerable volume.”
2008 Saab 9-3
Good crash-test scores and ample safety gear give the 2008 Saab 9-3 a high safety ranking from TheCarConnection.com.
A Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for three years running, the 2008 Saab 9-3 scores somewhat lower ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“A long list of standard safety equipment includes seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, Active Head Restraints, traction control, and an electronic stability system with all-disc antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution,” reports Cars.com. Moving up a level, Aero models are equipped with slightly larger disc brakes for greater stopping ability to match their sportier driving abilities.
MyRide.com notes the 9-3’s “crash-resistant structure and features” that help it garner IIHS Top Safety Pick status. Edmunds explains that this award is “based on its 'Good' ratings (the highest possible) in the agency's frontal-offset crash, side-impact crash and head-restraint effectiveness tests.”
In NHTSA testing, the 9-3 sedan scores four out of five stars across the board, with the exception of side impact protection for the driver, where it scores the top five of five stars.
2008 Saab 9-3
The 2008 Saab 9-3 offers competitive, intelligently designed features for your entertainment.
A host of features that both coddle and improve safety make the 2008 Saab 9-3 a smart buy where amenities are concerned.
Mechanically, even the base 2.0T model comes well equipped for its intended mission. Kelley Blue Book likes the sport button on the automatic transmission, finding that it “keeps the transmission in each gear long enough to boost responses smartly,” but discovers it works better with the base engine. “Rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a built-in tire-pressure monitoring system,” comments MyRide.com, round out the mechanically useful features of the 9-3.
Widely praised is the optional XWD system that goes for $2,000. A system designed by Haldex, it normally “sends more than 90 percent of engine power to the front wheels. Under acceleration or in low-grip situations, the system's electronic brain sends torque rearward to enhance traction,” states Edmunds. Calling the system’s operation “compelling,” Autoblog remarks that “the genius is that the system does all this in 80 milliseconds, long before the rear wheel on the low-grip side even hits the icy patch.” The system may also be combined with an eLSD (electronic limited slip differential) for the rear, which increases the 9-3’s abilities in poor traction even further.
In the realm of convenience and electronics, XM Satellite Radio and GM’s OnStar have been made standard for 2008. MyRide.com notes that “a hot Bose 11-speaker sound system will be optional on late-2008 models,” and they mention the optional Profiler system, which “consists of a set of steering wheel-mounted controls and a 6.5-inch-wide color display screen at the top center of the instrument panel” that has readings for most functions such as climate control, clock, and vehicle speed. This option, as well as the rest of the dash lighting, may be turned off completely with the exception of the speedometer, a feature that Saab has offered for years.
Also optional are a DVD-based navigation system and a moonroof.