2008 Saab 9-3 Aero Review


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  • THE AUTO PAGE
    by
    JOHN HEILIG

    SPECIFICATIONS


    Model: Saab 9-3 Aero
    Engine: 2.8-liter turbocharged V6
    Horsepower/Torque: 255 hp @ 5500 rpm/258 lb.-ft. @ 2000 rpm
    Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual mode
    Wheelbase: 105.3 in.
    Length x Width x Height: 182.5 x 69.0 x 56.4 in.
    Tires: P235/45VR17
    Cargo volume: 15.0 cu. ft.
    Economy: 15 mpg city/24 mpg highway/18.9 mpg test
    Fuel capacity: 16.4 gal.
    Price: $36,715 (includes $745 destination charge and $1,350 for automatic transmission)

    The Bottom Line: " The friendliest Saabs I have driven lately, even with its quirky transmission hump-mounted ignition. Performance is very good with regard to power and handling. Styling is less Saab-ish with the Aero package. In the past, I have found Saabs, especially the 9-3, to be disappointing. They were very good cars when I first drove them, 15 or so years ago, but the iconic Swedish manufacturer has done little to improve, or even change, their models. The union with GM has brought the 9-7 sport utility vehicle, but that's really a Chevy in disguise, so that doesn't count.

    I know I've driven the Aero package on the Saab 903 before, but the one featured in this week's Auto Page is a great improvement over previous editions. First, it doesn't look that Saab-ish, and to me that's a good thing. Saab's styling, to my eye, has always needed improvement, and the slight tweaks over the years have really done little to improve it.

    The Aero package, however, puts a new spin on Saab design. Yes, it's truly aerodynamic, and the side profile shows a rakishness that's unusual for Saab. It may be more American looking, but that's not a bad thing. Saabs of the recent past have relied too much on the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. True, this engine has been modernized and updated so that it now develops 210 horsepower, but it's still overworked. The 9-3 Aero I drove recently had a (again turbocharged) 2.8-liter double overhead cam V6 that develops 255 hp. While it still needs a turbocharger to gain maximum power, this engine is larger and, therefore, working less hard to get that power. The result is smoother performance and decent economy.

    We did encounter some torque steer on hard acceleration. Torque steer is the tendency of the engine to try to turn the wheels when you apply maximum power. It isn't as serious in the 9-3 as it has been in some cars I've driven, but it still was there. Once you recognize it, it becomes almost invisible as you get to know the car better.

    The engine is connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. The manual mode makes use of paddles mounted on the steering wheel to upshift or downshift. To upshift, you push the paddle on the right, to downshift, push the paddle on the left. The steering is quick enough that you don't have to move your hands around the wheel to keep it on the road, so the paddles are always within reach.

    Besides the shift paddles, the smart steering wheel has information and phone switches on the left side and audio controls on the right. As with most GM-based vehicles, cruise control is on the turn signal stalk.

    The instrument panel is clean, with three major dials; a tachometer, speedometer and oil pressure/water temperature/turbo boost. There's an information center in the center that gives fuel economy, distance to empty, etc.

    There's one cupholder, mounted in the dash. While I would have preferred more, the one is neat because of the way it operates.

    The audio system was excellent, even though we kept it primarily on XM. There's also an AUX input to go with AM/FM and CD.

    The front seats are comfortable with good side support and neat styling, that includes contrasting stripes by the seat bolsters. There's excellent head room in the front, as it should be. In the rear, knee room is tight with the front seat at a reasonable position. There is good side support to the rear seats. The rear head rests are mounted low when there are no rear passengers, but can be adjust upward when there are. Rear vision for the driver is thus not impeded.

    I like the integrated hand brake that looks like it simply matches a similar structural member on the right. The sliding center console top doubles as an adjustable arm rest.

    As with most Saabs, trunk capacity is excellent. The rear seat backs fold to increase capacity, ad the releases for the backs are in the trunk, to make them easily accessible.

    To sum up, the Saab 9-3 Aero is a nice car, if overpriced. Performance is decent, economy isn't bad, and it's comfortable.

    2008 The Auto Page Syndicate

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