in 2011 Upscale Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,614 - $20,041
Original MSRP: $28,900 - $45,080
MPG: 21 City / 31 Hwy
Search Used Listings:

2011 Saab 9-3 Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The 2011 Saab 9-3’s powertrain gets mixed reviews. Some test drivers like its combination of power and high fuel economy ratings, while others think the only engine, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, is lackluster, dated and returns low fuel economy compared with competitors. 

  • "The transmissions are designed for performance but also help return good fuel economy for the segment." -- Motor Trend
  • "Compared to the first few generation Saab convertibles, the newest 9-3 is far more rigid, far more reliable and a fair bit quicker." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "9-3 is fairly quick, but launch response is dulled by turbo lag. Passing reserves are impressive, though." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The 2011 Saab 9-3 has a 210-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder as its sole engine offering; most of its competitors offer more vigorous performance and/or an engine upgrade of some sort." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

Unlike some competitors, the 2011 Saab 9-3 only comes with one engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that comes standard with a manual transmission. An automatic is optional. While this powertrain produces 210 horsepower and 221 pound feet of torque, which is a good amount of power in this class test drivers aren’t impressed with its overall performance. It’s fun to drive and isn’t unrefined, but there are better options on the market like the BMW 1-Series and Volkswagen GTI, which are two of the sportiest upscale small cars on the market.

According to the EPA, sedans equipped with a manual transmission average 21/31 mpg city/highway. These ratings drop to 19/28 mpg with an automatic. All-wheel drive is also optional and causes fuel economy ratings to lower. Most drivers will average 20/29 mpg with a manual transmission and 17/27 mpg with an automatic.  

  • "The engine is always heard but never sounds unrefined. Wind rush is apparent at highway speeds but doesn't disturb conversation." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Though not as gutsy as last year's turbo V6, the 210-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 2010 Saab 9-3 Aero model is still a joy to drive. The smaller and lighter four-cylinder turbo adds less weight to the 9-3's front end, making this engine ideally suited to those who love tearing through corners." -- Kelley Blue Book 
  • "Underwhelming power and fuel economy." -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

Test drivers label the 9-3’s steering precise and sharp, and say it has strong brakes. While they note that the 9-3 has good cornering capabilities, is nimble and has a controlled feel, none call it sporty.

  • "The steering is precise, though some drivers might prefer a heavier feel. 9-3 is nimble, with good grip and balance in turns. The convertible's solid body structure means it handles almost as well as the sedan and wagon." -- Consumer Guide
  • "In Aero trim, the SportCombi even handles reasonably well with sharp steering and controlled body motions." -- Edmunds
  • "The 9-3's strong engine is complemented by responsive steering, strong brakes and a choice of two smooth-shifting transmissions. While the rear-wheel-drive BMW 3 Series Convertible still sets the category standard for driving dynamics, the 9-3 delivers more athleticism than most drivers will ever care to attempt to wring from such a vehicle." -- Kelley Blue Book