Looking at a used executive saloon car under $10,000? Well the obvious choices would be the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. While these are all solid choices they've become all to common, they also have a price tag to match their popularity.
Well I have a Swedish proposition, the Saab 9-3 Aero. It's not mainstream and the looks are either love or hate but this translates to bargain prices and I mean sub $5000.
The 9-3 is well equipped with Aero models post 2000 receiving a full exterior body kit, power (memory) heated leather sport seats and 6-speaker premium audio system. 2001 models have Woodgrain dashboard whilst 2002 onward have carbon fibre dashboard.
The 9-3 in hatch trim is also incredibly versatile with a massive boot and then some. The seats do fold down to make this bigger however their is a lip and they won't fold completely flat unless your relatively short in stature. Rear passenger legroom is reasonable for is class however it can be cramped with three passengers in the back.
In terms of front seat confront the seats live up to Saab's reputation and are incredibly comfortable and great on long drives. The heated seats are also great but lack a range of temperature settings. The driving position is also odd however not uncomfortable. It is relatively high which feels surprising for such a low car. Some may find it hard to find a good position, which is contributed by the lack of heigh adjustment on the steering wheel, it does however have reach adjustment.
In terms of safety the 9-3 scored a 5 star ANCAP rating at the time of testing. It comes equipped with driver and passenger front and side (seat) airbags, two rear ISOFIX points and TCS to help with understeer situations.
As standard the Aero trim comes with 2.0L high pressure turbo engine which can be mated with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual. This engine can be described as smooth, punchy and fun. At 210bhp It has lots of usable power with minimal effort, this makes overtaking and entering freeways a breeze. This car has certainly put a smile on my face, surprised my passengers and fellow motorists at traffic lights. The trade off with this is poor fuel consumption, I average 10L per 100km's doing a mix of in town and freeway driving.
In terms of handling the 9-3 keeps things tight and fun, however due to being front-wheel-drive the 9-3 suffers from understeer as well as torque steer. These do hinder the driving experience and on certain models can cause excess movement in the steering rack and cracking of the firewall. This is fixable with a brace which both prevents damage and improves steering feel.
The 2.0L B205R engine is fairly solid as long as they've been maintained so make sure to look for examples with full service histories. If not maintained issues such as oil sludge can occur which is very costly to repair. Other common failings include fuel pumps, bearings and general wear and tear items. Turbo's can also be another major issue on unkept cars.
Servicing of these cars is dependent on where you service it. Dealers will charge around $400-500 for a minor service but these can be done for far cheaper at your local mechanic ranging from $150-250.
Part costs may not be what you expect either, as this Saab is of GM era many mechanical parts are shared with the Holden Vectra. Parts are readily available and a lot of money can be saved by sourcing them yourself through various specialist wreckers of Saab's or even from Saab themselves now known as Orio AB. Overall this makes the costs of maintenance compared to its rivals is far cheaper and more move liveable.
In summary, if your looking for an older luxury sedan on a budget have a look at the Saab 9-3 Aero. It has timeless look at a bargain price with lower then expected servicing costs and a plentiful parts supply.