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New Car/Review


Saab 9-3 SE Sedan (2001)

SEE ALSO: Saab Buyer's Guide

By Matt/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 32,175
     Price As Tested                                    $ 32,750
     Engine Type        DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter turbo I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 122 cid/1985 cc
     Horsepower                                   205 @ 5750 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               184 @ 5700 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.6"/67.4"/182.3"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3375 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  17.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                           205/50R16 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.34


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            21/28/25
     0-60 MPH                                        7.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          15.5 seconds @ 94.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           140 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(Saabs that Bob Hagin owned decades ago were "different" from other cars of the era. Matt Hagin says new versions are "different" too.)

MATT - Saab has always marched to a different design drummer and its new 9-3 sedan still marches to its own beat. The traditional Saab high-tail, low-nose silhouette that first began in the early '70s is still evident today. When General Motors bought Saab a few years back and began using a GM global platform, it retained the Saab "look" and Saab enthusiasts like it that way. The new 9-3 sedan we tried out lives up to this tradition. It's distinctive and definitely not a "cookie-cutter" car.

BOB - It also lives up to the Saab tradition of utilizing a relatively small engine and turbocharging it to put out plenty of power. Our 9-3 was a powered by a 2.0-liter version of the four-banger that's the mainstay of the Saab line this year. It uses dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder and the cam drive is by a sealed and , lubricated chain, a system that I prefer over the fiberglass belt that's in common use today. The engine uses an iron block, a fact that surprised me somewhat in this era of all-aluminum engines, and it's mounted transversely. Front-wheel-drive is used, just like all Saabs since the company showed its initial prototype in 1947. We asked to test the base "low-pressure" version of the sedan, but instead we got the hot-rod. The base model puts out 185 horses, which is probably more than adequate, but our SE "high-pressure" model has 20 extra horses.

MATT - Our SE version came equipped with an optional four-speed automatic transmission that carries three different "modes." Normal is selected for everyday driving while Sport extends the shift points for spirited driving. The Winter mode starts the car off in a higher gear and uses traction control to limit off-the-line wheelspin on snow-covered or icy roads. For buyers who prefer to shift for themselves, a five-speed stick is available as standard equipment. As is usually the case with high-powered front-drive cars, there's a bit of torque-steer on takeoff, but it gets going at a lively rate and can get to 60 mph in around seven seconds. The SE is the sporting model, with tighter suspension settings and 205/50R 16-inch all-season tires mounted on alloy wheels.

BOB - The interior has some interesting features and "gizmos." The front seats are more like living room chairs than most of the sports sedans we've tried, and the front headrests instantly reposition themselves somewhat forward in the event of a rear-end collision. Saab bucks another trend in that both the two and four-door versions of the 9-3 sedans are really hatchbacks and the trunk lid is actually a fifth "door." The back seat can be folded flat which gives them a massive 46 cubic feet of internal cargo space. The instruments are business-like round dials and the dash lighting has a Night Panel mode which lights the speedometer only so that the driver isn't distracted by other dash lighting at night. This is said to also be used on Saab aircraft, though I bet the dash layout is much different on Saab airplanes.

MATT - Saab has always been hot on safety and even goes so far as to have washers and wipers on the headlights which must be handy in those areas where winter weather gets really bad. The General Motors Onstar communications system is standard on Saabs this year, which helps keep drivers from getting lost and is very handy if the driver is in trouble and needs help. The automatic-off feature of the headlights is also helpful for absent-minded drivers who forget to turn off their headlights. There are redundant radio controls on the steering wheel, and the Environmental Protection Agency lists this SE sedan as a mid-sized car which in itself is kind of interesting. The Saab SE convertible two-door we recently tested is basically identical to our sedan and even weighs a couple of hundred pounds more, yet the EPA lists it as a sub-compact. I can't figure out why they do that.

BOB - After many years I've given up trying to figure out why the government does anything, Matt, especially when it involves new cars.