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SAAB 9.3 SE 5-DOOR (1999)

By Matt/Bob Hagin


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 31,700
Price As Tested                                    $ 32,775
Engine Type          Turbo DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/ST*
Engine Size                                 121 cid/1985 cc
Horsepower                                   200 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               209 @ 4600 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.6"/67.4"/182.2"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3137 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  16.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     205/50ZR16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
Domestic Content                                Two percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
city/highway/average                            19/27/23          
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 mile (E.T.)                     16.5 Seconds @ 91.0 mph
Top-speed                                           140 mph

* Saab Trionic (Electronic fuel injection)

(The Saab started out as a "quirky" car when the Swedish aircraft company first got into auto making in 1948, according to Bob Hagin. Matt Hagin says that these days, it's called bring "individualistic.")

BOB- I didn't see the original '48 Saab sedan in person, but its photos looked like a '30s comic strip car of the future. Its engine was a two-cylinder, two-stroke unit and a "free-wheeling" three-speed transmission was mated to it. That car never came to the U.S. but I later owned a '58 Model 93 that was almost the same. It too was front-wheel-drive and used a two-stroke engine but by then they came with three cylinders instead of two.

MATT - Saab has always done things its own way, but now all Saab engines are turbocharged, and they come in a variety of sizes. The 9-3 has a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine with a twin-cam, 4-valve cylinder head that puts out 200 horsepower. It's very strong for its size, and the 209 pound-feet of torque it generates is equally impressive. The car isn't a lightweight at 3200 pounds, but its 7.5 second 0 to 60 time isn't bad for a family car. Saabs utilized turbocharging 20 years ago, which makes it an early pioneer in the use of the system on family sedans.

,b>BOB - The 9-3 is actually an ongoing revamp of the old 900 model, so it still has a rather narrow body design and the awkward on-the-floor location of the ignition switch. But I don't think repeat Saab buyers would have it any other way. The heavy torque-steer tendency that some high-powered, front-drive cars suffer from isn't evident as much with this car and that's probably because Saab cars are designed around Swedish weather and road conditions. Heavy torque steer on icy roads can be downright scary.

MATT - Our test car's five-speed manual transmission is a great performance boost over the automatic version we tried two years ago. But that model was a 900, wasn't turboed and was down 30 horses from this current car. It was sluggish by comparison. General Motors has had a financial interest in Saab starting in '93 and since then the cars have been based on European G.M. car platforms.

BOB - The bulbous shape of the 9-3 creates lots of room inside. You can load lots of cargo through the hatchback, and the 60/40 split rear seat fold down to create almost 50 cubic feet of cargo room. That's like having a pickup with a trunk. And if there's a need to carry passengers, this is a true sedan that will hold two in back comfortably, three in a pinch. I still can't figure out why people these days don't like hatchbacks even though very practical. Maybe it reminds people of the station wagons that were popular when they were kids riding in the back seat. But now that true station wagons are making a comeback, perhaps the popularity will rub off on hatchback.

MATT - I particularly liked the tilt and telescope steering, which made it easy to find a comfortable driving position. And the heated front seats make cold-weather driving more comfortable. Leather upholstery is standard on the 9-3 SE, and the dashboard is upright and flat-faced. And an interesting safety feature is built into its head rests. If the 9-3 gets hit from behind, the headrests swing forward slightly. This shortens the distance a person's head has to travel to meet the headrest, so whiplash danger is reduced. The anti-theft system is pretty clever in that the switch "reads" the ignition key and won't let the car start unless that particular key has been pre-programmed.

BOB - The handling of the 9-3 is a little "quirky" too. There's considerable front-drive understeer unless there's a couple of passengers in the back seat. Then it neutralizes nicely. In hard turns, the chassis heels over quite a bit but it doesn't seem to affect how the car sticks to the road. Saab has used front-wheel-drive in all its cars since it got into the business 51 years ago. When I was a kid, very few cars used front-wheel drive.

MATT - That was true even when I was young, Dad. When you were a kid, there were very few cars of any kind.