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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For The 9-3 is superbly comfortable, and has well laid out controls and decent space in the rear

Against Poor body control, soggy handling, dull steering and an unsettled ride mar the drive

Verdict It's a great place to sit, but keen drivers should look away now

Go for… 1.9 TiD 120 turbodiesel

Avoid… 210bhp 2.0T and 2.8T

Saab 9-3 Saloon
  • 1. A number of our readers have reported problems with the engine’s ECU
  • 2. Watch for uneven tyre wear, which could indicate misaligned suspension
  • 3. Buy a car with leather trim, sat-nav and a good stereo, as they will make the car easier to sell
  • 4. It has extremely comfortable seats and a sound driving position with a wide range of adjustment
  • 5. The boot is large, and you can fold down the split back seat for even more space
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Saab 9-3 Saloon full review with expert trade views

Where it’s good, it’s very good. It has extremely comfortable seats, a sound driving position with a wide range of adjustment, a no-nonsense layout for the controls and the clearest instruments you’re likely to find.

In the front, there's good headroom and adequate legroom. There’s decent space in the back, too, although shoulders will rub with three rear passengers. The boot is large, and you can fold down the split back seat for extra space.

There are some good engines in a largely turbocharged line-up. Most are quiet on a cruise, and the 9-3 does a reasonable job of shutting out unwanted noise from outside.

The trouble is, there's bad news as well. The 9-3 is based on the Vectra platform, but you’d never tell from its soggy handling and the way it thumps over bumps. The steering, too, is about as communicative as a corpse. If you’re after finesse, fun or flair, this is not your car.

Trade view

James Ruppert

The 1.9 TiD 150 is the most wanted engine, while petrols are weak

James Ruppert
Used car guru

There are just two non-turbocharged engines - a flexible 122bhp 1.8 petrol and, on a few early cars, a decent 150bhp 2.3 petrol. At the other end of the scale sit the turbocharged 247bhp 2.8T and 210bhp 2.0T. Both are fast, but can overwhelm the chassis and steering.

The punchy 2.0t puts out 175bhp, but our favourite petrol is the 150bhp 1.8t, which actually has a 2.0-litre engine.

Overall, though, none of the petrols are a match for the strong 1.9 TiD turbodiesel, which comes with 120bhp or 150bhp. We’d go for the 150bhp, given the money, but either is better than the earlier 115bhp 2.2 TiD.

You’ll get plenty of kit whichever you buy. Expect four electric windows, remote central locking, alloy wheels, air-con and plenty of safety devices. More powerful versions have leather seats and climate control, while range-topping Aero trim means firmer suspension, extra body kit and sports seats.

Saab dealers have the best 9-3s and the widest choice.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

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

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

A used 9-3 will be cheaper to buy than an equivalent Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Servicing costs should be very similar to those for a BMW 3 Series and cheaper than for a Mercedes C-Class, although you’d find an Audi A4 even easier on the pocket. Still, you can save yourself about one-third on the labour bill by going outside the Saab franchised dealer network and using a good independent garage instead.

Steer clear of the 2.8T turbo, and you should get more than 30mpg in normal driving. In fact, most of the petrols are good for mid-30s, and you can bump that up to low-40s for the 150bhp 1.9 TiD, and potentially more than 50mpg for the 120bhp version.

Insurance, too, is reasonable - group 10 for the 1.8 petrol, 11 for the diesels and topping out at group 17 for the 2.8T.

Trade view

James Ruppert

The 1.9 TiD 150 is the most wanted engine, while petrols are weak

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Saab 9-3 owners are generally a very satisfied bunch, and the car usually does well in customer reports, such as the JD Power survey. Faults are never something they worry unduly about, although the car is only mid-ranking in our reliability report.

A number of our readers have detailed problems with the engine’s ECU (its electronic brain), faults with the electric windows, and various rattles and creaks. So check out these areas carefully on any prospective purchase.

Watch for uneven tyre wear, too, which could indicate misaligned suspension, or just worn tyres (the hotter versions can get through fronts pretty quickly if driven hard). Also, look out for clutch slip and gearbox troubles, too.

A full service history is essential, so don’t buy a 9-3 unless it has one. ANd, look out for a car with leather trim, satellite-navigation and a good stereo system (the standard one in base cars is decidedly mediocre), as they will make the car easier to resell.

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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