OK, now let me say up front that this is an old test. Done in 2003. But it’s a sensationally written test and still relevant as the model is still the same. Anyone looking for info on owning a 9-3 Sport Sedan should check out the full test at European Car.
And whan I say full test, I mean FULL test. None of this have it for a week and thrash it stuff that most moto-pundits get into. EC had the car for a year and put 24,000 miles on it during that time. Now that’s a test!!!
If you’re interested in the 9-3 Sport Sedan or considering a purchase then go read the full article in 6 parts starting here with the intro and you’ll get a great idea of what’s to come. Below is a copy of the wrap-up, the final entry written when they had to face the reality of giving the car back.
You read this and you really. have. to. wonder. why GM could have trouble selling these cars.
Long-Term Wrapup: 2003 Saab 9-3 Vector
A tear-soaked goodbye to a trusty steed
Some goodbyes are easy. You shake hands, exchange a few hollow pleasantries and then split. Clean, emotionless, easy. Saying goodbye to our Saab 9-3 Vector is not like that. This parting is more a tear-soaked, clinging, ripped from your arms type affair usually seen when loved ones go to war or off to college.
As with any loved one leaving, we were concerned for the 9-3 Vector’s welfare. What if its new master mistreated it? What if it was parked under a pigeon flock’s favorite tree? What if it was driven hard and put away all wet and sweaty? What if…it wasn’t loved.
Over the last year and 24,000 miles, we’ve subjected the Saab to every kind of driving condition except for off-road. In addition to serving as my photo rig, a task which took me to many a godforsaken location, the 9-3 was a daily commuter vehicle, slogging across miles of the LA basin. It shuttled Hallstrom’s kids to dance, soccer and school. It served as a life raft of sorts as the temperature rose to 115*F at California Speedway, on a day that rendered Sport Compact Car’s highly modified test vehicles inoperable (their AC systems virtually melted). Five of us sat inside, bathing in cool air while the rest of the crew boiled. And it has made countless runs to The Home Depot, where its copious trunk space (and 40/60 fold-down rear seat ) made it a favorite among the DIYers of the staff.
During the 9-3’s active tenure with european car, only one thing broke–one of the windows would not open because of a faulty connection in the switch. It was replaced free of charge under warranty. The Saab’s engine and transmission remained absolutely faultless, continuing to perform with a hammer-like reliability despite the abuse bestowed upon them. And while gas mileage and performance car are rarely seen in the same sentence, the turbocharged 9-3 has performed miraculous feats of fuel economy, wringing out averages from 27 to 33 mpg. So while we fret where the Saab is ultimately headed, I suppose there’s really nothing to worry about. The 9-3 can take care of itself. Plus, how could anyone not love a car as tough and handsome as the 9-3 Vector?
Less than 12 hours after we took delivery of our Saab, it received a baptism by fire, literally. I drove 300 miles east on the I-10 freeway to the middle of the Colorado Desert. With three passengers and a trunkload of photographic gear, the car traversed miles of abandoned pavement, roads so beaten by the sun and wind they actually crumbled as the Saab flew across the surface. The 9-3’s suspension retained all of its composure, subduing whatever nasty dings in the asphalt it came across. Credit has to be given to Saab’s choice of wheels and their manufacturer: Given the nature of the obstacles we ran over, they should have been bent into pretzels. The Vector is equipped with 17-in. running gear, and its durability has been an admirable feat.
About half of the Saab’s total miles were logged on the freeway, usually doing 80 to 90 mph (just to keep up with traffic) with the occasional triple-digit burst. Few cars can compete with the 9-3 Vector’s suave high-speed cruising. It boasts a quiet composure on the open road, the cabin well isolated from both wind and wheel noise. No doubt the Vector’s pronounced aerodynamic aids and lower stance play a part in its missile-like stability, aided by nearly 3-in.-wider tracks at both the front and rear and an equal stretch of its wheelbase.
Exceptional handling can be achieved in powerful front-drive cars, as demonstrated by the Vector. The new four-link rear suspension keeps the car’s hindquarters well in step with its front legs, making cornering a precise point-and-shoot operation.
Oh, and did I mention it gets 27 to 33 mpg? That really helps now that gas prices continue to rise ($2.35 per gallon for 91-octane swill when this was written). It’s not so much that I mind paying for fuel, it’s just that I don’t like to stop, especially when I’m in "the zone," that Zen-like trance initiated by driving a fine automobile. When I had a substantial distance to cover, I couldn’t have found a better companion than the 9-3.
A few staffers argued that the suspension is too soft for really aggressive driving, and I agree…to a point. The Saab does exhibit a fair amount of body roll, but it never seems in danger of losing its grip on the road. Perhaps a slightly tighter damper would improve matters, but I’d think twice before dipping into the aftermarket. What’s there is pretty damn good. The steering is a tad light in the center, but the overall feel inspires confidence that the car will go where it’s pointed. Brakes? Never noticed them; they always worked without me having to think about them.
Saab has been building turbocharged cars for a long time, and the 9-3 benefits from this experience. The all-aluminum 2.0-liter turbo is great fun, providing gobs of torque across a wide stretch of the powerband. Although turbo lag is virtually gone, you definitely know this is a force-fed car when its power spikes around 2550 rpm. The six-speed manual is a terrific match for the motor’s grunt, but shorter throws would be desirable. And while Saab’s redesigned front suspension has done wonders to its handling prowess, you still need to hang on in boy-racer mode as the front tires fight for purchase. Torque steer is an ugly word, so let’s call it torque cheer, the sound the front tires make as you lay rubber down the street.
The 9-3’s four doors made it very popular among the staff as the ideal "run to lunch" car. It will comfortably seat four real adults and a fifth if he agrees to pick up the tab. The optional leather interior has stood up very well against everything thrown at it–Gummi Bears, juice boxes, fossilized French fries, dirty baseball uniforms….
The interior controls were mostly intuitive and easy to see and to use, and the dual climate controls were a welcome addition, especially when your driving partner likes it hellishly hot and you want it comfortable for humans. My only gripe was with the radio and CD functions. To this day, I still can’t figure them out. I also came to appreciate GM’s On-Star service as an information and safety aid.
We will miss the goodness and eye appeal of the Saab 9-3 Vector. This is one tough-looking car–low, black, menacing, with a singular appearance and appeal. The 9-3 Vector has been an exceptional part of our long-term fleet.