Owner Review – Saab 9-3 XWD

There’s been a heck of a lot of focus on the Saab 9-5 for the last few months. That’s OK, and quite natural. It’s not the only car in Saab’s stable, though, and as 100% Saab is so fond of reminding us in comments, the Saab 9-3 is a cracker of a car and he likes his Saab 9-3 just fine.

This isn’t 100% Saab writing the following, however, it’s a guy known in comments here on site as Spikeieos. He was one of the 397 people who took ownership of a new Saab in the US in November and as you’ll see in his review, below, he’s got a lot of good things to say about it.


Greetings Mr. Wade,

I know there has been quite a bit of new generation 9-5 luvin going on, but I would like to share my adoration for the good old 9-3 and what a great car it is. I was enthralled at first with the new 9-5, however its size and trying to find a manual at a nearby dealer led me towards the more nimble and less expensive 9-3. There may have been some murmurings about the age of the 9-3 platform, but with the updates its received through the years its still quite the action packed car IMHO.

This manual TX edition 9-3 XWD in glacier silver metallic kept turning my head, so I took a test drive and the rest is history with me and my new car.

Wow, what a car. Kudos to the dealer who ordered this great combination of contrasting colors that make the car stand out. People notice me going down the road, and I really like that. Not many other manufacturers allow anyone to order such a bold looking color combination . When friends look at the car with dark wheels, blue-green silver, and ice block tail lights I feel like they are looking at my classic 900: its a love it or hate it kind of feeling about the car, definitely a Saab.

Its easy to feel and see the pride these cars are now made with. I was surprised how solid the doors feel and how quiet the car now is compared to earlier model years. The quirk in this car is the unusual whistle when first turning the engine over from the returned secondary air intake from MY 2003 for the 2.0t engine. After that the engine goes silent and not felt until you provoke it like the 9-5.

What puts this car above the others in its class is the handling, its the reason I got the car. The combination of XWD and the 18″ rims with Pirelli P Zero Neros make this car stick to the road unbelievably well. There is rarely snow where I live to prove its bad weather traction, only endless dry roads and long stretches of blue sky 360 days a year in the desert. Only the adventurous now dare to ride with me, as everyone else dislikes holding on to the oh **** handles the whole time as I dart around town. I’m still waiting to learn how to make the tires squeal, the car seems pretty unflappable.

There is no longer a need to brake when going around corners, just give it some gas coming out of the corner and the eLSD kicks in whipping you around (just watch out for the police who may think you are driving recklessly because their car cannot do that). I also like the improved handling and upgraded dampers, the lack of a V6 seems to help the weight balance and there is little body roll when trying to make the eLSD do its job in the corners. Very few 4 door sedans can claim to be this much fun in the discounted price range of the 9-3.

My faults with the car are limited to basic things like the radio and horsepower. When a friend who owns a Chevy Cobalt exclaims: “hey, its got the same radio as my car!”, I fall silent. And just like the old Wendy’s commercial, I keep wondering about the Bose sound system: “Where’s the bass?”. As Swade has previously mentioned, unfortunately the engine does not have the power it should at 210hp, so a software upgrade is a very welcome boost for an Aero model, which from the factory has a 0-100kph time of merely 8.6 seconds. I am still waiting for my free Hirsch upgrade SaabUSA 🙂

I agree the platform is now aging, but that point is mute with the build quality, handling and technology available. Top Gear reviewed one of the new generations of the BMW 5 series a while back. Jeremy’s opening remark on the review stuck with me: BMW has gone and come up with a new 5 series, but he was not sure why because the outgoing model was an excellent car in its own right. I hope in the future we can look back at this 9-3 which has been developed and refined through such tumultuous times and feel the same way.

Best Regards, David

42 thoughts on “Owner Review – Saab 9-3 XWD

  1. 9-3 XWD with 2.0 L engine is not so fast 🙁 XWD system “eats” a lot of horses because of drivetrain loss. So Hirsch upgrade is a good idea.
    Anyway it’s a perfect car. I hope you have a chance to test it on snow surface 🙂
    Good luck!

  2. Nice combo you got yourself David! Very nice. And the 9-3 really stands the time I must say. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Awesome report and very nice pics. Congrats to your choice of car. The XWD really makes a diifference and we have seen similar accolades for the driving experience of the 9-3X and TurboX. You can easily forget that the 9-3 has been around for a while once you’re in thedriver’s seat. I think it still stands up very good to the competition in terms of exterior design – I’ll gladly choose it over an A4, 3-series or S40/S60.

  4. First of all thanks for taking the time to write about your car. I want to also respond to a point you make about the Bose sound system in your car. I really wish Saab would stop including Bose products in their cars. I feel that Bose is the antithesis of what Saab stands for and make inferior products. I would much rather that Saab continues its relationship with H/K and maybe foster some new ones maybe with some of the excellent Danish and other Northern European Audio companies that make superior products. I feel that Saab fans tend to be audio enthusiasts overall and also appreciate quality over well marketed names.


  5. Congratulations David!

    If I guess correctly, that scenary is Mount Whitney? Highway 395/ Lone Pine area?

    What a beautiful part of the world you live in! I had some fantastic driving experience in my (then) 06′ 9-3 in 2009. Loved every moment of it.

    Best wishes.

      • Oh man, I sware I have a photo of the Whitney looks almost exactly like that LOL!

        It’s a shame I never had the chance to visit New Mexico. Maybe when I retire I will ravel to all the national parks/ states in USA.

        Enjoy your new ride!

  6. I was out driving my own 9-3 SS today in winter condition, anyway the car in front of me was actually a truck and getting really to slow. I did the normal stuff, you know getting out to the middle and tock a lock and saw that it was a Skoda (silver) infront of the truck and when the right monent appeared ….pass and keep on rolling out there till a met another Skoda (silver -that two) and slow. What the hell did´nt I pass that one allready I thought. Not far even another F….ing slow Skoda in silver uppeared and I passed it to then another red one. This taking place in just 1 Swedish miles (10 km) about and I passer maybe 5-6 cars in total and 3 of those were Skoda in silver and 1 in red. Do you know what these car had incommen? They did´nt drive more than 60 km/h and they was over 60 year old drivers. The speed limit was 90 km/h. My speed was “Saab normal” and safe on packed snow totally undramatic.

    Conclution: If you have a Skoda in Sweden, it proberbly is in some form of silver collor and you are old and should not be out on the roads cos you can´t handl it. Stay home till spring please.

    Anyway! It strikes me how good the 9-3 SS is in winter condition and i can emagine hove good XWD feels. But they cost in fuel and that is the only negative issue around it.

    • Tomas, the Skoda drivers probably thought you were driving like a maniac.

      It would be interesting to know how many of those Skodas were purchased during summer. No sane person would buy such a vehicle, at least not in the winter after a test drive.

  7. Great review, and great call regarding the 9-3 XWD. Those wheels look like the Turbo X wheels. I’ve been booting around in a 2009 Aero XWD for exactly a year now and can’t figure out why on one hand almost all of the fair automotive reviews are very positive on the car (with the exception of the UK ones), but on the other, there seems to be no place for a 9-3 XWD in the regular A4, 3 series, G35, or Lexus 250 comparison reviews. After one year, my only compliant is the hard plastic dash and fixtures which don’t match the rest of the build quality of the car. I still really like the intuitive and logical switchgear (even if it is pretty generic GM). Anyone who is looking for an alternative has to dig pretty deep to find Saab at all. I still have quite a few car aficionados do a pretty thorough walk-around in a parking lot if my 9-3 is washed up. I still think this video review is pretty fair:

  8. Bose is such a crop of ****. Never again will I waist my hard earned money on these overrated, overpriced «MIT derivated» products. At least with Apple (and SAB for that matter), it was worthwhile bucking the trend. With Bose, it just turned out to be APITA.

    • Over on saabcentral, myself and a few others have detailed aftermarket upgrades for the 9-3. At least speaking for 2003-2006 cars, full speaker replacement and amplification are possible. Without changing anything visible, these cars can pack good sound, serious honest good sound. The replacement parts are inexpensive. What is costly is one’s own labor and the effort to wire the system.

      • I took a brief look at the site but didn’t find anything about sound systems. I have a 9-3 SS -03 that really needs an audio system upgrade. Do you have a link please!

  9. Kudos, David! Gary Small Saab in Portland OR has an identical ’10 TX 9-3 for sale– I nearly fell over when I saw how cool that color combination is with the TX wheels. It’s one hot car! I debated long and hard before picking up a used Turbo X instead last week, which I adore. So much of what you say applies to the Turbo X, as well– including the line about the radio! I’ve got a female friend with a Chevy HHR and her first line was “look, it’s my radio!” Ugh. Nevertheless, the Turbo X rumble is intoxicating, and the handling superb. Plus, both your car and mine are still incredible to look at (and mine looks great parked next to my Viggen!) Congratulations!

  10. David,

    Your write-up was fantastic! I second what Vigg said in his comments. I recently purchased a used Turbo X SportCombi. I bought the car for the power and the XWD. What I did not realize that I was buying was an incredibly stiff chasis. I love it! There is no roll when taking a corner – and that’s in my wagon. I imagine you have an even stiffer setup with the sedan.

    Show that thing off to anyone that will listen!

  11. Hi live in Albuquerque and love the Sandia mountains! I also saw my first 9-3X today! This is the gratest place to drive a Saab. The roads and curves are placed just right. It’s a driving paradise. Make Saabs, drive Saabs, buy Saabs; that’s how it goes.

  12. Great looking car. But this is the 9th model year for the car. It needs substantial reengineering. Ideally what Saab would have done in 2008 would have been a much stronger reengineering of suspension (noise), interior fitment quality, and the direct injection motor. These were all possibilities in 2008. GM simply didn’t do it. These *are* fun cars but they could be made fully competitive. Instead, Saab will do a clean sheet. That’s fine. Hope it gets here soon.

    • Indeed. I remember my dealer’s reaction to the superficial facelift. He wasn’t a happy camper. But that’s the past & there’s so much to look forward to now. The new SAAB holds many exciting promises.

  13. David – thank you for sharing your story. And I do love your photos. The first one is just amazing. I would even dare to say that I have never before seen such a beautiful photo of the 9-3. I does not even look like other 9-3’s out there. Such an amazing photo could be used in an advertisement with the text saying something “You do not have to drive in snowy weather to appreciate a Saab” (or something like that). Splendid color and rim combination!

  14. Oh yes, thanks a lot! This clearly shows the 9-3 still has a lot going on for it, despite all the manure being thrown at it. The vehicle has been almost entirely renewed since 2007 and once you get past the notion that it’s a “8 year old car aaaa”, you will find out it is still cunningly competitive and worth the money. Things like the handling, the driving comfort and the ideal controls are what is really worth the premium. Not to mention the likes of Mercedes C-Klasse are hardly better on any of the accounts.

    I must also say I never liked the “Twin” wheels, but now with my favourite Glacier Silver and with your splendid photos, they suddenly look very appealing to me.


    • For sure, for what it’s selling for in the US of A, it’s a real steel! I wonder if we can even buy a Honda civic for 20 grand in Canada! Not to mention Europe!

      • CAD 20K? Who sells the 9-3 for that price? I am ordering three!

        I do believe it is good value even at the retail price. The Audi and BMW might have more appealing dashboard fascia (I wouldn’t say that of the plasticky and awfully ugly Mercedes C), but what about the real-life performance, handling, user-friendliness (BMW user interface designers think “ergonomy” is some sort of global conspiracy against BMW and Audi is down with buttonitis, while Volvo fired all their designers and outsourced the design work to RR Donnely apparently) and simple common sense.

        Not to mention the 9-3 is still a stunner and looks very fresh in 2011. It is a head turner, with the stunning front and rear lighting and elegant, svelte silhouette. Not to mention that most alloys look very exquisite.

  15. Congratulations with the new car!
    I always loved my old 9-3 and when I ordered the new 9-5 I wasn’t sure I had made a wise decision. That’s how much I loved the 9-3!

  16. Not much to add from my point. I do know the 9.3 is a great car.
    And for the sound system: Im my mind, the Soundsystem 150 (as called in Germany) makes quite a good job.
    Okay, it’s not a HiFi studio, it’s a car… with all the sound drawbacks (even more if it is a convertible and the top is down).
    But seeing the result (i.e. the sound) in relation to the Euros you have to spend (only 300 Euros for the upgrade from the standard Soundsystem 70 to 150), it is really okay.
    I think none of the competiors have an equivalent offer, you will have to spend much more just to get any radio at all in your Merc, BMW, Audi …

  17. Oh my goodness! That’s an amazing agree price! Candace should sell 327 cars there alone by the end of the year

  18. Next time may I suggest laser red. My wife drives the 9-3XWD. She likes the heavier feel to the car and the safety of the XWD. One never knows when one will have to stop suddenly for a Texas Tech student crossing the street on campus. Sweden has moose. We have coeds. My wife does let me put gas in her car about once every 2 weeks (half tank). Otherwise, I don’t drive her car.

    But, let me put a plug in for the “plain” 9-3SS for those of you who like a light and nimble feel to your car and FWD. The only question I have is whether I should add accessories to my 9-3 or save my money for the next new Saab?

  19. I don’t agree at all that the 9-3 is aged. We all seem to forget that when this car came out it was one the most advanced cars on the market. Completely new design and engine. Saab (GM) had also just spent over $500 million upgrading the plant.

    I just bought my 3rd 9-3 in less than 7 years a few months ago. Had on 03′ SS Linear that was loaded then a wonderful 06′ SC Aero which I just traded in September for a brand new 09′ SS Aero XWD (there were no SC Aero’s available unfortunately at the time).
    I consider myself a true car nut and would not be buying an out of date vehicle. I do agree however with the Chevy radio and climate control system–that is just crazy. And one of the reasons I bought an 06′ vs. an 07′.
    On a side note I’ve only had excellent service from many dealers throughout the country with my 3 cars.

    While not a “brand new” design it is still an excellent vehicle and without a doubt the best value on the market.

  20. Congratulations on your new Saab! I’m still in love with my ’06 Aero which, regardless of the heavy and un-Saaby V6-engine, still surprises me day after day with how unbelievably fun and aggressive, yet stable and controlled, it is. I think the pre-lift Aero still to this day feels competitive, which would mean that a new 9-3 shouldn’t have any problems at all catching new customers, be it for a cheaper prize or not.

    It’s about always wanting to take the extra long road home, and having a blast while doing it — in that aspect the 9-3 does an excellent job in the competition. So, congratulations once again 🙂

    • A while back, there was a TV add here on the dangers of speed. A couple of kids were filming their friends doing the exact same thing. I guess their Acura was’nt born from anything aeronautical… they all died.

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