UK Car Road Test.
Saab 9-3 2.2 Vector Turbo Di 125 bhp.
Cost New 20495 Residual @ 3 years 52%
Produced from May 1 2002 to Current
This very stylish Swedish car has a long history and very
reputable build quality.
better than its GM cousins, the Vauxhalls?
The Saab 9-3 range is available in saloon and cabriolet bodies initially and now a sport-wagon version is available from September 2005. The body styles combine with several specification levels which pitch this Saab across the very competitive mid-range car market, competing alongside a myriad other models and making choice outstanding when buying. Is it special enough to shine brighter than the rest in a showroom full of bright lights and cheaper prices?
First sight of this car and I was instantly impressed. It has a very distinct look without being typically Saab in appearance, indeed it is very different to its previous model. The car sits very low to the road and has stunning and very large alloy wheels which suggest it means business. Even as a diesel (as this one is) it still looks a very credible sport saloon. The only reminders of a Saab are the front grille and the rear quarter which remind me of the 9-5 model from certain angles.
The interior on this Vector model has half leather trim with very supportive, sport-styled seats in the rear and extremely sporty seats in the front. The trim colour is light and this, combined with the larger than previous windows on the 9-3, allows a much bigger, brighter overall appearance. The front windscreen is also much bigger than earlier models, allowing a view more in keeping with a car and not an aircraft. Saab are getting better at this feature; I remember the first 900 I drove and it was positively claustrophobic - you felt like you were looking through a letter box but this one is nothing like, I am delighted to say. The seating is very comfortable and supportive apart from the centre rear one which, frankly, is only for short journeys. An attractive detailed steering wheel is fitted which, unlike many older models, is a simple, three spoke design, leather trimmed with a touch of aluminium effect and complete with subtle drivers airbag and remote controls.
This typifies the car, it is sporty in appearance, attractive to the eye, great to hold and modern in design. I cannot help but wonder why all makers don't put more effort into the steering wheel as it's the first contact we have with a car and is the main comforter when driving, allowing us to feel what is happening and giving something to hold onto for security when going too fast.
Overall, this mid range car has a very beefy, macho look about it, along with a very attractive style not usually credited to the most northern European manufacturers. The one tested was obviously in black which I personally liked, even the windscreen trims, mirror housings and bumpers were black which emphasize the striking effect of the silver 17" five spoke alloys. A very attractive car indeed, as well as being relatively uncommon on our roads and making this Saab a little different to own.
Saabs have been well equipped since the late seventies, including features such as electric windows and central locking, along with power steering. As time passes it's clear that car makers keep adding extras such as televisions and navigation, which poses the question - when will we be driving cars which are akin to camper vans, each one having a fitted toilet and sink?
The current Saab range consists of the 9-3 and the 9-5 series. These replaced the much older 900 and 9000, making it a simple and small range.
The current 9-3 series is very well equipped and, like its predecessor, is up there with similarly priced cars. This Vector model has many credible features as well as the electric windows front-rear, air conditioning with climate control and dual temperature controls, the stereo and driver information kit requires the handbook just to set the time; combine all the buttons of the ventilation and you have more switches than a lighting engineer at a rock concert. However, they are all easily understood and simple to use; for ventilation ease you can just select Auto. The information system will inform you of how much fuel you are using, how cold it is, how fast you have been going, what time you are arriving, how long you have been driving and more. Mmmm, not sure all that is necessary. What is definitely not needed is that it also insists that you wear your seatbelt by not displaying the stereo information until you do. It also shows a seatbelt reminder and beeps at you constantly. If ignored it eventually torments you close to insanity so that you have to give in and clunk/click. I accept the fact that this is good practice as, even to this day, I do not always wear my seat-belt. However, I don't want to be informed by a nagging computer which successfully irritates you into submission.
Overall, the cockpit is pleasant and well defined, the clocks are simple and modern in black with brushed steel surrounds. The switch-gear for the mirrors and windows is on the drivers door panel and is, again, simple and very easy to operate. The ignition key has several buttons for opening the doors and boot with an integral steel blade for emergency entry to the car but, in effect, it is an all-plastic modern affair. Nice but not classy. The cup holder, like other Saab models, is a masterpiece. It operates with a single push and unravels itself from the very small space it occupies in the dash. Push it back and it is better than a contortionist at folding into almost a fraction of its outstretched size. A very good design with elegance and practicality.
Saab have not yet manufactured their own diesel engine; they have been utilising Vauxhall's 2.2 diesel engine since 1998. It is a four cylinder 16V Turbo boosted unit which produces a respectable 125 bhp. The new 1.9 engine, I believe, is a Fiat unit which both Vauxhall and Saab are using. This 2.2 engine is fuelled by a direct injection system and will idle very smoothly although a little noisy. I have driven many Saab and Vauxhall cars with this engine and have found them all to be extremely reliable. There is no timing belt - it is a chain driving the camshaft which is more expensive to manufacture but does pay dividends with lower servicing costs and greater reliability.
Indeed, the only fault which I have experienced with this engine is on earlier models when the injector seals allowed the fuel to return to the tank overnight, thus making starting very difficult. One of my friends used to park his car facing downhill for years, if he parked facing uphill it would not start.
The car cockpit is very well sound-insulated from the engine and, once inside with radio noise, you would not notice you were in a diesel. That is, until you drive it. First gear easily propels the car along with a little engine knock being audible, second gear is much more powerful and the diesel knock starts to diminish by fourth gear making you wonder why anybody buys petrol cars anymore. The car has lots of mid range ooommmphhh and gets quieter the faster you go. I know that this car will not compete with Saab's HPT (high pressure turbo) petrol brothers it has but it does give the lower bhp models a run for their money. It is even quicker in gears when the gas is applied at low rpm's when torque and pure grunt is required.
The engine is transversely mounted and drives a five speed gearbox which supplies the power to the front wheels. The gearbox is much better than previous Saabs, it is lighter, smoother and lacks the notchy selection present in earlier models. I still found myself selecting reverse gear when removing the ignition key but, thankfully, this is no longer required.
Around town this car will perform well, it is not like older generation diesels - the fumes are clean, the noise level is more than acceptable and the engine idle speed is low and vibration free. It will, if required, zoom from one set of lights to the next in rush hour without any frustration of being carved up because it will wind up quickly enough to keep its place in the traffic. On faster, more open roads I found myself flooring the throttle, not because the car needed to be urged along, but because I enjoyed the performance it produced and was encouraged by its ability to power along with ease and with great reward. All this power and from a diesel which will achieve up to 56.5 mpg. Very rewarding indeed!
Motorway cruising is excellent as the engine only revs at 2,200 at 70 mph and this is just at the start of its max power production. There is lots more power and revs available if required. This Saab is a diesel and will speed up and overtake with aplomb. You also have to be cautious with your speed as Saab's engineers have done a remarkably good job in the lack of sound produced at speed, making it very deceptive. When I looked at the speedo a few times I doubted its reading until I zoomed past other cars and confirmed the speed I was travelling at.
Being front wheel drive would suggest the Saab would be
unbalanced and inept. It was certainly not. It has fully independent
suspension and power assisted steering which gives a great feedback and
The brakes are ABS assisted and would stop this car with ease from any speed. The assistance is nicely balanced without you having to pull onto the steering wheel for more effort or having to ease off because the assistance is over-effective. The mammoth wheels again attributed to the general feel when stopping. I can't imagine how you would stop this car on snow with such large wheels and tyres as it would simply plough the snow, confuse the ABS and follow its course irrespective of driver input. It seems strange that a car produced in such a cold climate would be set up for roads in other countries. Unless in Sweden you get two sets of wheels or snow chains come winter. Or maybe Saab are aiming more at foreign markets than its own.
One point about the brakes is the handbrake, it works well but the operation of applying it is as quirky as anything Saab have produced in the past. First thing I had to do was find it! When it's off it forms part of the console trim, creating a smooth line which matches the other side of the gear-stick. When you put it on, it feels a little strange because the release button is under the handle and not at the front of it. This resulted in me squishing my thumb when releasing the brake lever down because my thumb was over the end (where it traditionally is). I gave the car to two other people to drive without forewarning them of this strange design and they both trapped their thumbs.
Saab and safety are synonymous. Older models were extremely strong and generally a class above most other models. Today, with NCAP testing it is clear that the gap has been reduced between most makers and safety is greatly increased. One thing is very clear though, NCAP safety is pre-determined testing with shunts and collisions at fixed measured speeds. Of course, knowing this, car makers simply strengthen their cars to appear good in testing. I remember an article when Saab themselves condemned the testing by saying just that. If I were to choose between a Renault Megane with a 5 star testing and this Saab with ###### I would choose the Saab every time for its safety should I be unfortunate enough to be in any high speed collision.
Airbags are fitted in almost every available space around the car's occupants. This Saab has the drivers and passengers, it also features airbags in the door frame above the seatbelts and in the rear quarter panels for passenger protection. The seats and seatbelts on this Saab are also designed for impact and even the headrests help prevent whiplash.
The body itself is strengthened in key places and the doors have credible bars running through them. All of the items greatly increase the chances of walking away from this car in the event of a collision.
I can't say I have ever heard of Saab cars being stolen, earlier models had to lock the gear-lever in reverse before you could remove the key and the locks have always been very high quality. This Saab, thankfully, has scrapped this strange security measure and relies upon the high quality locks to resist entry and a state-of-the-art immobiliser to prevent the car being driven away. The key is also unique and, unlike most other cars, it does not have a steel blade to put into the ignition, it is a shaped piece of plastic with a chip inside it to communicate with the cars computer to allow starting when the key is turned. A great security feature and one which works very well with no driver effort at all.
All in all this car is a great alternative to the run-of-the-mill Vauxhalls and it has a much better build quality and a greater status in the used car market. Diesel and Saab are now being recognised and the demand for them is good. Running costs are very low with servicing being affordable, using independent garages.
The bodywork is leagues ahead of any Vauxhall, it is very resilient to stone chips and the paint finish is of a very high quality.
Of course, Saab is not to every man's taste with older models perhaps tainting people's impressions. This one is certainly worth a look when considering your next car change. You may be "smitten" much more than any Vauxhall driver.
This Saab is definitely a driver's car, it will impress you enough in looks to sit in it and when you do you will probably be very surprised with the overall quality and response. When driving, the road holding is outstanding and the interior is extremely well finished with a distinct lack of rattles, squeaks or whistles. The price tag is very affordable second hand but there's not too many available to buy and that, in itself, I think, is a good thing for residual value when you own one.
UK Car Road Test Saab 9-3 2.2 TDi Vector 2004
UK Car Road Test Keywords: diesel saloon9-3 2.2 TDi Vector