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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For The 9-3 has understated elegance, turbocharged performance and decent practicality

Against It looks much better than it drives, and can consume tyres rapidly

Verdict Still looks classy, but needs regular maintenance

Go for… 2.0t 185 SE

Avoid… Diesels and autos

Saab 9-3 Convertible
  • 1. Turbos need the right oil to run at their best. Sludgy oil can indicate engine problems
  • 2. Timing chains have a habit of rattling and can eventually fail, so ensure they are checked
  • 3. If the car’s handling is particularly sloppy, the suspension bushes may need replacing
  • 4. The convertible can take four adults and has a decent boot
  • 5. Rev the engine when the car's stationary - if you get blue smoke from a hot exhaust, the car probably needs a new turbo
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Saab 9-3 Convertible full review with expert trade views

It might look just like the 900 model that preceded it, but beneath the familiar shape of the 9-3 Convertible lies a heavily revised design. In fact, it shares its underpinnings with the contemporary Vauxhall Vectra.

Many Saab drivers like the understated sophistication of these models, and most cars are usually well cared for, making them a potential good used buy.

But, there's more to its appeal than that. For a start, this is a convertible that can happily take four adults, provides a decent boot and protects its passengers from wind when the top is down.

However, the loss of the roof does nothing to help the handling. And, because the chassis flexes so much, the 9-3 doesn’t cope with poor quality road surfaces very well.

Saab has a proud history of turbocharged engines and the convertible is proof of that. However, the diesel engines available in the 9-3 hatchback didn’t make it into the soft-top.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Still looks good in the right colour and holds value well. Aero and Viggen models sought after

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

One reason for the 9-3’s popularity was its powerful turbo engines, but there were two non-turbocharged petrols available when the car was launched: a 2.0-litre and a 2.3, with 130bhp and 150bhp respectively.

However, turbocharged units replaced them within a year. The 2.0t develops 154bhp, while the 2.0HOT (high output turbo) has 205bhp. There's also a mid-power 2.0t with 185bhp, while the most powerful engine is the 2.3t Viggen unit with up to 230bhp.

The most powerful engines are too much for the chassis, so the 185bhp 2.0-litre version is our favourite - it's fast enough without getting you into too much trouble.

The automatic gearboxes hurt performance and economy, so you’ll probably want to avoid them. All models have reasonable levels of kit as standard, but the later SE trims are a good bet and many will have the optional leather interior, so look out for them.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Reliable seller with sensible small turbo 2.0t and 2.0T and SE spec

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The 9-3 needs regular servicing every 12,000 miles, but if you find franchised garages too expensive, there are plenty of independent specialists around who can do the same work for less. The fact that the Saab shares many of its components with the Vauxhall Vectra means that replacement parts don’t cost the earth.

What could cost you, though, is a potentially damaging mix of front-wheel drive and turbocharged engines. This is bad news for the front tyres, and you may have to change them on a frequent basis, depending on your driving style.

Some owners also complain of not being to get close to the official fuel economy figures, which are just under 30mpg for all models.

Insurance costs can be on the high side, too, depending on how powerful your 9-3 is. The early non-turbo cars are in group 13, while the mid-power turbo is in 15. The Viggen versions soar to 18.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Still looks good in the right colour and holds value well. Aero and Viggen models sought after

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

The build quality is generally very good, and the cars cope well with high miles. However, service history is important and the Turbos need the right oil to run at their best. A dealer or specialist will know this, but look out for sludgy oil that can indicate engine problems.

A full service history also shows that the previous owners have taken care of the car and not tried to skimp on maintenance. Timing chains have a habit of rattling on engines and can eventually fail, so ensure they are checked.

As part of any test drive, make sure you rev the engine when stationary - if you get blue smoke from the exhaust when it’s hot, the car probably needs a new turbo.

If the car’s handling is a little sloppy (well, more sloppy than normal) it could be that the suspension bushes need replacing.

Last, but not least, also check the condition of the hood carefully. If it needs replacing, you'll be looking at a big bill.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Reliable seller with sensible small turbo 2.0t and 2.0T and SE spec

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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