Quirky and sharp with understated Scandinavian style, Saab has long been the brand of choice for buyers seeking a quality product that marches to its own distinct beat. Its uniqueness quotient has diminished somewhat since GM took full ownership of the brand in 2000, but Saab still has a lot to offer those seeking something different from the usual list of German and Japanese choices.
The manufacturer's signature hatchback body style is history, but the 2007 Saab 9-3 is still easily identifiable as a Saab car by its familiar body lines and aircraft-inspired cockpit. The car is available in three configurations: sedan, wagon and convertible. Saabs are known for their turbocharged engines and the 9-3 continues this tradition, giving buyers two to choose from. A base 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder generates 210 horsepower (though it feels more powerful than this rating suggests); those seeking more kick may opt for a 2.8-liter, turbocharged V6 that turns out 250 hp. Upgraded steering and suspension designs have all but eliminated torque steer (a tendency of a powerful front-drive car to pull to one side under hard acceleration), and the 2007 Saab 9-3 shines as one of the better-handling front-wheel-drive cars on the market.
Revamped for 2007, the Saab 9-3's cabin boasts a clean, contemporary look. Lots of high-tech features are offered, including a rollover protection system in the convertible. The sedan and SportCombi wagon boast more passenger space than the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, while the sedan's trunk is one of the biggest in its class.
If you're seeking maximum athleticism, you'll be better served by a BMW 3 Series; if you're craving the most luxurious cabin, go with Audi's A4. But those in search of a truly distinctive entry-level luxury car that offers excellent handling, multiple body styles and low-key flair will be happy to park the 9-3 in their garage.
Saab 9-3 buyers have the choice of sedan, wagon (called the SportCombi) and convertible body styles, all of which come in 2.0T and Aero trim levels. The 2.0T trim offers full leather seating, a 150-watt stereo, stability control, an eight-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and 16-inch alloy wheels. The sporty Aero model adds bolstered sport seats, chrome instrument surrounds and interior trim, a lower body kit, a lowered sport suspension, an upgraded stereo and 17-inch alloy wheels. Convertibles come with a fully automatic power top. Options across both trims include seat heaters and a navigation system.
The 9-3's cabin offers decent ergonomics, but materials quality is not up to par with others in this class. The sedan and the wagon are sufficiently roomy, but legroom can be tight for adults seated in the back of the convertible. The Saab 9-3 can carry more than most cars in its class; it offers 15 cubic feet of trunk space in the sedan and 12.4 cubes in the convertible. The wagon offers 29.7 cubic feet of storage space with the backseat up, and 72.3 cubic feet with the 60/40-split rear bench seat folded flat.
Two engines are available on the 2007 Saab 9-3. Standard on 2.0T models is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 210 hp and 221 pound-feet of torque. Aero models get a 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 capable of 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. All models get a standard six-speed manual gearbox. A five-speed automatic with manual-shift capability is optional on 2.0Ts, while Aeros are eligible for a six-speed automatic.
The 2007 Saab 9-3 is one of the better-handling front-drive cars on the road. A stiff chassis translates into a car that's easy to place in the corners and satisfyingly precise on the highway. Still, we wish the sporty Aero model felt a little sharper when driven aggressively on twisty roads. Both engines deliver a strong pull throughout their power bands. The V6 is especially impressive, though it suffers from turbo lag at low rpm. The automatics downshift quickly but can be slow on upshifts, while the manual transmissions shift just fine but tend to feel rubbery through the gates.
The Saab 9-3 features active head restraints and front-seat side airbags. The sedan and SportCombi wagon come with full-length side curtain airbags, while convertibles get a rollover protection system that integrates pop-up roll bars, reinforced A-pillars and the front seatbelt pre-tensioners. Antilock disc brakes and traction and stability control are standard on all models. The Saab 9-3 sedan received a "Good" rating (the highest possible) in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests conducted by the IIHS.
For 2007, the Saab 9-3's interior gets a redesign, with a restyled instrument panel and updated trim and chrome details. OnStar has been added to the options list, as have a couple of new wheel designs. Satellite radio is now standard on Aero models and optional on the 2.0T, and a Bose sound system is now available on all 9-3 sedans.