2008 SAAB 9-3 Vector Review

$8,880 $10,560 Dealer
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2008 SAAB 9-3 Vector Review

Park it anywhere, the 9-3 draws a lot of compliments.

Model tested:

  • 2008 SAAB 9-3 Vector Sedan 1.9 litre turbo diesel automatic - $52,400 (RRP).
  • Metallic Paint $1300 (Fitted); Sport Chassis $750; Premium Leather $4000; Bose Stereo Upgrade $2500; Electric Front Seats (with Memory) $1350; Folding Wing Mirrors $550; Sunroof $2300; Bi-Xenon Headlamps $1600; Alarm Upgrade $800.

Sleek Body, Decent Performance, Comfortable Ride

Big Turbo Lag, Road Noise, Questionable Pricing

CarAdvice Rating:

- by Matt Brogan

It's a summer day and you stroll in to the local gelato bar for a cool, refreshing treat. In your over zealous haste you mix in a few too many varieties and once outside, the blistering sun has its way with your frozen scoops. The ensuing creation of molten traditional and contemporary flavours creates an odd tasting combination which now doesn't seem quite right - this is how the 9-3 feels to me.Take the 9-3 on face value and the car is quite impressive, rather stunning to look at and surprisingly comfortable to ride in, but start blending the various parts and practicalities together as a whole and you soon realise a few things could have been done a little better.But before we get in to the nitty gritty, let's take a quick look around the car. It's a neat package over all, modern, sporty looking, and rather sleek, with a curious habit of standing out in a crowd. The angular front end, large clam shell bonnet and bold headlights really make a statement drawing much of your focus from the profile around to the fore end of the car.

Smooth parallel shoulder and hip lines carry unbroken through the length of the vehicle to a well finished rear end sporting frosted tail lights and high boot line. The bold tail end suits the vehicle's proportions and makes a nice change from regular cars who's designers seem to have fallen asleep by the time they draw the back of the vehicle.

Inside the cabin is well presented, has a lovely ambiance and with the possible exception of the outdated dashboard and instrumentation panel, really does make you feel as though you've done well in choosing the 9-3. The heated leather seats are comfortable, well textured to the touch and lose none of that vital support.

The front seats are well proportioned dimensionally which makes for very pleasant longer trips and the driving position is excellent, almost sporty. Unfortunately the rear leg room is a little on the tight side for adults, more so if your front row buddies have long legs.

Climate Control, Cruise, and all the expected powered goodies do a fine job considering their design age, though I would option the Bose stereo were it my car as the standard six disc unit (with iPod plug in) leaves a lot to be desired, especially in terms of clarity at volume. It may also help disguise some of the annoying road noise.

Boot space too is rather generous for a mid-sized sedan and the rear seats fold 60:40 to allow greater flexibility when required. If you need extra carrying capacity the 9-3 can be optioned with removable roof racks and/or a 1,600kg (braked) tow kit, which I'm sure the torquey diesel would have no trouble pulling.

Upfront the 110kW 1.9 litre common-rail turbo diesel does a brilliant job of keeping things on the boil once moving and with thanks to a healthy 320Nm, pulls rather strongly mid gear. The down side however is that the performance suffers incredibly from (initial) turbo lag.Whilst this is a trait of many turbo diesel engines it is most especially noticeable in the 9-3, so much so you even feel it when trying to exit slower corners. It's disconcerting really, much more evident than it should be, and whilst it can be managed with the use of manual mode when in motion (say on tight windy roads), is something you really need to be mindful of from stand still (like when tackling a busy intersection).

Swapping cogs for you is the Sentronic six-speed auto. It's capable enough, and smooth when allowed to carry its own pace, but try and stir it up a little, even in sport mode, and it can become annoyingly slow to respond. Thankfully the remedy is a click away, and if you're in need of sharper response, the thumb shift 'M' mode (manual - steering wheel mounted) is a far better option.The suspension too isn't quite there in terms of overall ability. It may be comfortable enough, and does a fair job of soaking up lumps and bumps, but on the handling front is rather nervous. There's a fair bit of body roll, especially on high speed sweepers, and the car will tend to under steer if the turn-in speed isn't quite slow enough, which can make for hard work considering the heavy power steering.Braking though is good, reassuring, and a lot better than the 9-5, but the pedal feel is still somewhat firm and requires far more input than similarly priced European or Japanese rivals. Still the ABS with Brake Assist, Cornering Brake Control and Electronic Brake Force Distribution, brings the 9-3 to rest confidently and drew little in the way of messy black dust all over the sporty 17" alloys which was nice for a change come clean up time.

In all though the 9-3 is a great looker, is cheap to run and is surprisingly comfortable. Whilst it does lack some of the driving finesse you'd expect of a premium brand, and though it could do with a little tweaking to satiate the needs of a fiercely fought price bracket, it's has one unique thing going for it - people just love to admire it.Parking from place-to-place this week the Vector has drawn plenty of compliments, most especially from the type of person who understands where SAAB is at, and what owning one affords you in terms of social status. It's a rare thing these days with prestige cars being so common and if you can live with the 9-3s compromises, that feel good buzz could mean owning one is right for you.

CarAdvice overall rating: How does it drive: How does it look: How does it go:

  • Engine: 1910cc four-cylinder turbo diesel
  • Power: 110kW @ 4,000rpm
  • Torque: 320Nm @ 2,000 - 2,750rpm
  • Transmission: Sentronic Six-Speed Automatic
  • Driven Wheels: Front
  • 0-100km/h: 11.0 seconds (Claimed)
  • Top speed: 210km/h (Claimed)
  • Safety: ESP (with TCS); ABS (with BA, CBC & EBD); Front, Side and Curtain Airbags
  • NCAP rating: 5 Stars
  • Turning circle: 10.8 metres
  • Wheels: Alloy 17" x 7.5" (As Tested - Usually 17" x 7")
  • Spare Wheel: Space Saver
  • Fuel tank: 58 litres
  • Fuel consumption : 6.8 litre / 100km (ADR Combined Average)
  • Fuel type: Diesel
  • Towing Capacity: 1,600kg (Braked)
  • Weight: 1,509kg (Tare)