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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For The 9-3 has a strong image, coupled to a spacious, well-built interior

Against Not nearly as good to drive as its German rivals

Verdict The 9-3 is a cost-effective way into a classy small executive car; just don't expect fireworks

Go for… 2.0t SE 5dr

Avoid… Viggen

Saab 9-3 Hatchback
  • 1. The timing chains on petrol engines must be replaced at 60,000-mile intervals
  • 2. The 2.2 turbodiesel does a decent job, but it’s noisy and sluggish compared to most rivals
  • 3. Clonks from the suspension are most likely due to worn shock absorbers, which are simple to replace
  • 4. The front tyres can take a pounding with any of the turbocharged petrol engines, so check them for wear
  • 5. Air-con, a CD player, heated seats and a sunroof are standard on most 9-3 models
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Saab 9-3 Hatchback full review with expert trade views

In either three-door coupe or five-door hatchback form, the 9-3 is a well proportioned car, and that large rear hatch opens to reveal a massive boot. Further forward, there’s a lot of room for passengers to stretch out and the driving position remains an example to all of how it should be done.

More than that, most 9-3 models are well kitted out. Air-con, CD player, heated seats and a sunroof are standard on most.

The majority of the 9-3’s engines feature a turbocharger and the only one that doesn’t is the entry-level 2.0-litre petrol unit. It’s no ball of fire, but it’s smooth. There are 150, 185 and 205bhp versions of the turbo 2.0-litre. However, the 2.3 turbo engine with up to 230bhp in Viggen form can tie the chassis in knots. The 2.2 turbodiesel does a decent job, but it’s noisy and sluggish compared to most rivals.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Still popular as value buy, needs SE spec and few previous owners

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The best 9-3 to go for is the least powerful of the turbocharged versions. Its 150bhp 2.0 engine gives it enough performance to make overtaking easy, as well as cruising in a relaxed, quiet manner.

Of the two body styles, we prefer the five-door shape for its added practicality, although access to the rear in the three-door is still very good.

And, if you can, find a car with SE trim, which adds alloy wheels and climate control to the already generous standard trim that includes anti-lock brakes, twin front and side airbags, electric windows all-round and central locking.

Sport models come with leather seats and firmer suspension, while the outrageous Viggen has 17in alloy wheels, larger front and rear bumpers, side skirts and a rear spoiler to add to its macho looks.

Finally, depending on which model you're after, it can make sense to look for a car from late 2000. From this point, the diesel engine was boosted from 115bhp to 125bhp, while base models gained air-con and an alarm.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Average reliability as a result of expensive parts - watch for electrical problems

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

For those keen to eke out the most from their fuel budget, the turbodiesel 9-3s will turn in 45mpg, although they will need more regular servicing.

The least economical model is surprisingly not the rare and fast Viggen, but the 185bhp 2.0T model coupled to an automatic gearbox, which is a fairly common option with the 9-3. With this ’box, the 2.0T will return only 26.0mpg, whereas the rest of the petrols fall around the 30mpg mark.

Servicing a Saab 9-3 is considerably cheaper than its compact exec rivals, regardless of whether you choose a franchised or independent garage.

Insurance for the 9-3 is also cheaper than for an equivalent model from Audi or BMW. And, while parts prices are more affordable for the Saab, you may need them more often, as the company ranks lower in our reliability survey than Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Still popular as value buy, needs SE spec and few previous owners

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Warranty Direct reckons the 9-3 is a tough customer, but the timing chains on petrol engines can need attention from 60,000-mile onwards if the engine has suffered from an oil starvation problem.

The steering can become noisy, but this is easy and cheap to put right, while clonks from the suspension are most likely due to worn shock absorbers, which are simple to replace.

The front tyres can take a pounding with any of the turbocharged petrol models, and especially on the powerful Viggen. So, check them carefully and, if they look worn, account for this in the price you pay.

Saabs are often used as workhorses, so look around the boot for signs of a hard life. But, if it's been no more than a rep-mobile, the excellent build quality means the 9-3 should stand up to the rigours of daily life without a problem.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Average reliability as a result of expensive parts - watch for electrical problems

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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