Avg. Price Paid:$7,891 - $11,535
Original MSRP: $28,445 - $45,640
MPG: 19 City / 29 Hwy
Search Used Listings:

2008 Saab 9-3 Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Saab 9-3 was new.

Although it's not the best-performing vehicle in its class, the 9-3 is peppy and maneuvers well. According to the Boston Globe, "This car is not a hot rod … but it does fill the bill for those who want a little sport in their driving."

Forbes says the sedan "feels agile and is rewarding to drive vigorously. At the same time, it remains comfortable for long-distance cruising." Many test drivers expect the introduction of an all-wheel drive model in later months to improve the 2008 9-3's driving appeal. As Car and Driver writes, "Saab made the most of the newfound grip offered by XWD by squeezing a bit more power and torque from the Aero's turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6. Horsepower is up to 280 and torque rises nearly 15 percent to 295 pound-feet … Hmm. More grip and more power-is it snowing outside? 'Cuz it's sure starting to feel like Christmas."

Acceleration and Power

For 2008, the Saab 9-3 keeps last year's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine for the 2.0T trim, featuring 210 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The 9-3's Aero sedan has a 2.8-liter, six-cylinder turbocharged engine that now makes 255 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. In 2008, Saab will begin selling an all-wheel drive Aero model with additional horsepower.

Test drivers were generally pleased with engine power regardless of which 9-3 they tested. Forbes says the base engine "generates acceptable acceleration with reasonably good fuel economy," and Popular Mechanics describes it as "fairly zippy." With more horsepower than last year, Consumer Guide says the Aero trim's V6 "feels stronger from a stop and furnishes better passing response." New Car Test Drive says the V6 "is a model of efficiency, smoothly and quietly bringing the power on and keeping it on until it runs out of revs."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the 2008 9-3 2.0T should achieve 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on highways. The Aero sedan rates at 16 mpg in the city and 26 on highways with a manual transmission, 15 mpg in the city and 24 on highways with an automatic.

Several reviewers also had the opportunity to test the Aero XWD model's engine, a 2.8-liter V6 with 280 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. As summed up by Edmunds, "The higher-boost version of the turbo V6 on 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD models adds some excitement to the range, as it delivers noticeably sharper low-end response."

The 2008 Saab 9-3's standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but a five-speed Sentronic automatic with manual mode or a six-speed Sentronic automatic are optional for the 2.0T and the Aero, respectively. Reviews are somewhat mixed for the stick shift. Car and Driver finds, "the manual's shifter still feels as if it were attached to the transmission with ropes," and Edmunds calls it "easy to shift, but the shifter's rubberiness through the gates detracts from a sporting feel." However Kelley Blue Book represents those who suggest the manual "ranks among the best for easy shifting," and Forbes says they "recommend it for driving enthusiasts."

The 9-3's automatic transmission is well liked, particularly in manual mode. The Car Connection writes, "We are especially impressed by the new Sport Mode feature -- ^activated by a button on the dashboard. When activated, it will hold the current gear longer, even if you briefly lift off the throttle." Kelley Blue Book thinks the Sport Mode "keeps the transmission in each gear long enough to boost responses smartly," and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette finds "If the driver momentarily lifts off the throttle, the current gear will be held for more effective engine braking and a quicker acceleration when required. During braking, downshifts are also faster and more closely matched to the rate of vehicle deceleration."

Handling and Braking

Test drivers say the 9-3's driving dynamics are acceptable. According to the Boston Globe, "The handling was crisp, even with a bit of numbness from the steering wheel." The Orlando Sentinel reports "the Saab is balanced, with effortless handling and a genuine affection for winding roads." However, several note the 9-3's MacPherson strut front and independent four-link rear suspension is best on smooth terrain. Consumer Guide reports, "All 9-3s are firm and poised, but 2.0Ts are the most compliant over bumps. Their taut sport suspension and low-profile tires cause Aeros to thump and jiggle over larger bumps." Likewise, Edmunds notes, "The 9-3's ride is smooth and quiet over well-groomed pavement, but the suspension loses composure over bumps and ruts."

The power-assisted rack and pinion steering receives more favorable reviews. The Car Connection says that on their test drive, "Steering proved precise, with no need to correct, and a well-balanced level of boost, plenty in parking situations, but unobtrusive on the highway." Similarly, New Car Test Drive states steering "is both light and quick."

To stop the 2008 Saab 9-3, drivers can rely on four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes with power assist, standard on all models.

All Wheel Drive

One of the most significant changes for the 9-3 is a new cross-wheel drive (XWD) system for the Aero models that will be available in 2008. This system will be active on demand and is designed to improve fuel efficiency and simulate a rear-wheel drive feel. Writers welcome this addition. Edmunds says, "The sophisticated new XWD system is a bright spot, as it adds a level of driver involvement that has been absent from Saabs for years." Car and Driver adds, "Available on sedan and wagon models, the added grip of all-wheel drive should be the final nail in the coffin of Saab's trademark "steering wheel shimmy" (a.k.a. torque steer) and thus might help bring Saab back into relevance, especially in the Snowbelt."

Other reviewers give a more detailed description of driving the XWD models. Popular Mechanics says, "It sounds impressive on paper, but even the brief demo we experienced on a grassy field in suburban was compelling. Grip was immediate and highly controllable, as well as completely transparent and absent of any buzzing, abrupt changes in attitude or intrusive braking from the stability control system. Nice."

Review Last Updated: 2/17/09

Next Steps: Saab 9-3