Collected thoughts: the 9-3 interior

UPDATE: email sent to Saab USA reproduced at the end of this article.


I’ve had some time to think about this new interior picture and read everyone else’s thoughts as well. There’s plenty of comments here at Trollhattan and a bunch at Saab Central as well.

2007 93 inside sml.jpg

First up, many have commented on the fact that this may be a photoshop picture. I’m quite sure it is. You may remember the 9-5 interior image that was leaked prior to the car being seen. It was quite crude and made this one look like a Rembrandt, but once we saw the official pictures there was no doubt that it was as accurate as it was crude.

The good thing about the 9-5 interior experience is that it looks much better when you see it in person than what it does in the photos. I’m taking this fact as a glimmer of hope that the interior we see in the 2007 9-3, in person, will be better that what I’m seeing in this image.

As it is, I’m pretty P’d off.

The current 9-3 interior is a fantastic environment IMHO. It’s an evolution of previous Saab interiors and it’s distinct from other manufacturers. Take away the central ignition and the badge on the wheel, and the only thing that suggests Saab to me in the photo above is the look of the door panels – and there’s nothing particular about them, it’s just that I’m familiar with them.

I’m fearing a real transition to blandness here. As a matter of fact, if I thought it would do any good whatsoever I’d start another Tell GM About It campaign and give everyone the chance to communicate their thoughts to the powers that be. Unfortunately the last TGAI campaign was met with a deafening silence and I’m not willing to bring you folks a false hope of being heard by starting another one.

The 9-3 interior needed just a few simple tweaks in a facelifted model. They could have just put a better quality audio system in, along with a better satnav system for those that want it. This is the last of the 9-3’s for Epsilon before switching up to Epsilon 2, so all they had to do was make the interior the best it could possibly be with the current infrastructure.

Instead, they’ve given us McSaab.

It’s not offensive and it’s probably quite functional. But that description would also apply perfectly to a Toyota Camry and it’s not what I expect from Saab.

I’ll be honest with you, if the future is more at this end of the scale rather than at the Aero-X end of the scale then my interests will be shifting elsewhere. I’ve got no time nor interest for a Scandinavian-flavoured Toyota. If there’s nothing to aspire to for the future then what’s the point?

Last night I went and picked up our 18 year old from work in my Viggen. As I sat there looking at the carbon fibre dash and it’s beautiful, functional layout, all I could think was “how the hell could they go from this to that?”

I’ll probably come around a little once I see it in the flesh. Right now it just stinks of someone thinking it’s OK to seek the lowest common denominator and apply it to a brand that was once revered for being so set on doing things right rather than doing things like everyone else did.


UPDATE: I’ve just sent the following off to Saab USA. I know the design stuff is done in Europe, but I lay this at the feet of Bob Lutz and Saab USA seemed to be the best conduit to (perhaps) get this through.

I’m not holding out a lot of hope for this, but can I suggest that you alert the powers that be (esp Lutz) to the overwhelmingly negative sentiment being expressed on the blog and at Saab Central over the leaked photo of the proposed 2007 9-3 interior.

This is pretty direct customer feedback and without actually counting comments at both sites I’d say the ratio is currently running at about 5:1 against. It’s not just old-timers like me either. The photo was posted in the 9-3SS forum on Saab Central. These are current 9-3SS owners – the ones that look to upgrade as new models come about.

I’d urge whoever’s in charge of decisions like these to resist dumbing down the interior of this car. Saab may have one of the most loyal customer bases out there, but I have a feeling that that base will erode steadily if the brand doesn’t remail loyal to itself.

Comments can be viewed at:

Trollhattan Saab:

Saab Central:


Steven Wade

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  1. I agree with ZIPPY. I particularly like this thought, “Right now it just stinks of someone thinking it’s OK to seek the lowest common denominator and apply it to a brand that was once revered for being so set on doing things right rather than doing things like everyone else did.”

    That’s the problem with American cars in general (and before anyone jumps on my let me state that I’m American): they’re designed by committee rather than by a designer and they’re the lowest common denominator. You get something nobody will object to, but nothing that really inspires either. BORING.

    SAAB really does seem to be doing things the GM way…

  2. The comparison of your Viggen with this new dashboard ads more pain to the wound. I’m not so fortunate to own one but can understand the irate feelings. Simply there is no comparison. The worst bits in my view are the A/C controls and their surroundings. That is where the biggest insults lie. Sometimes I simply sit without driving on my 9-3 or 9-5 to admire the dash and interior. I hope you are right and the new dashboard does look a lot better in the flesh than on this shot. I won’t be spending any time looking at this in admiration.

  3. I think this is cool. Fiat are gonna make a new Fiat 500. On the web, people can make suggestions and have a saying on the development. Talk about feedback…

    Imagine Saab doing the same. Asking people what they want, what they like about the design and so on…

  4. Whats with all the shiny silver stripes and knobs? And SID going back to the radio face? As many have said, first-timers in 93s always make favorable comments on SIDs current location…Saab, dont(or let Deetroit) shoot yourselves in the foot yet again, your running out of toes…

  5. I hope your e-mail and our collective comments have some sort of positive impact on this interior issue. For me personally, and I think this pertains to quite a few of us, the proposed interior doesn’t just represent generic design, cost-cutting, etc, it reaffirms our deepest suspicions that GM does not have SAAB customers’ best interests at heart, and also that GM truly has no concept of how to manage different brands while still preserving each brand’s identity and integrity. As for the specifics of the interior issue, I LOVE the SID being situated on the dash as in my current 9-3 SS. I love the “complexity” (never understood why so many people use this word to describe the SAAB control panel, do other cars have squishy toy controls on their dash?) of the various buttons on the control panel. I could go on and on. One thing I dislike about most newer cars is the overabundance of aluminum trim. I hope SAAB limits the usage of this trim in Non-Aero models. On a final note, let’s hope GM starts giving SAAB’s customers the credit they deserve and stops dumbing-down and stripping the brand that even surveys have proven has “the most educated customer base.”

  6. Rather late then never: If I want to have the interior of a 9-5, I would go and buy a 9-5 and not a 9-3 sport sedan. But I think the common denominator is that the rest of the rather bland machinery on the road is following the same: take a look at the new Volvo S80 V8. The floating center stack tells me it is borrowed from the smaller MY05 S40/V50 so the front design and other elements. Look at BMW – the entire series from 3, 5, 7 smacks of the same language including engine configurations, but that is an entirely different story. Is it a question of economies of scale and using uniform common platforms like VAG has done so successfully to satisfy the shareholders but deny the customers the individual design language Saab so successfully pioneered and refused to budge until the General acquired the biggest controlling stake and squandered the opportunity in the interests of satisfying the shareholders?

  7. At the risk of stepping in front of a freight train, IMHO the responses to this hypothetical interior are a touch exaggerated.

    There are a couple of things going on here, one of which is to: (a) have a consistent interior design throughout the brand, and (b) save money by doing so. The 9-3 and early 9-5 interiors were extremely similar, for the same reasons. It makes sense for Saab to standardize on a new look.

    Despite the reaction here, the current 9-3SS interior has not been well-received by many, if not most, of the automotive press. Almost every review of the 9-3SS I’ve read can be summarized as “good car, too many buttons.” Most reviews also criticize the integration of the parking brake handle into the trim design — and in my opinion the weakest part of the new design is the continuation of that element.

    Saab is trying to make a car that gets a good review from Car and Driver or Road & Track. It’s debatable whether trying to hit that bullseye is a desirable goal, but that’s what’s going on here.

    The idea that Saabs can sell cars by being “different” has been oversold IMHO. The 900’s and 9000’s that sold so well in the late 80 and early 90’s were appealing not because they were hatchbacks, or because (in the case of the 900) the key was in the middle. They were appealing because Saab was getting class-leading power out of the turbocharged engines and that “halo” effect lifted the public’s perceptions of the brand’s relative technical sophistication.

    And that’s the marketing problem that Saab has right now — it is the jack of all trades but the undisputed master of none.

    That’s why the debate over the interior is a bit of an irrelevancy in my mind — Saab’s path out of the wilderness should be paved with the BioPower/hybrid convertible, diesel, and (I hope) the variable compression engine (or some similiar technical advancement).

    And on the merits I actually like the new interior. New 9-5 owners have responded quite well to the new HVAC controls, which are more intuitive than the old controls and use (drum roll please) fewer buttons !

  8. Saab doesnt make cars for automotive press, especially NOT for USA press.

    It will be sad day when they change this approach. Customer first, idiot press later.

    Of course interior is not that important for Saab core values, technical details matter most.
    But its ironic that GM hails now interiors as nominator that values is the car good or bad. Just like idiot press.

  9. The interior of the current 9-3SS looks too cheap against even the Honda Accord. Improving the design would be beneifial. The only problem with providing the driver with so much control over the radio, is that the passgners complain. The handbrake does lose Saab sales. A couple came in while I was waiting for my car to be serviced, because they had arithatisis they could operate the handbrake (required too much strength), so they went to buy a vovlo instead.

  10. So looking more expensive is always better? Then we can just as well just give up and let Saab be just another brand with customers who don’t really care.

    I like the dashbord in my 9-3 because it’s smart, ergonomic and helps me being a safer driver. Maybe everything is black, maybe it’s all buttons, maybe it don’t look expensive, but it does the job better for me then anything else I tried. And it sure as hell doesn’t do the job better with dials and chrome just because it’s the latest fashion. And what’s the problem with buttons anyway? I want it warmer – I press red arrow; i want it cooler – I press blue arrow. How hard can it be? Why exactly is a dial better? Saab didn’t think it was better 5 years ago, so what did change? The way mankind think and act? No, they changed it because other companies did. That (in my opinion) sucks – big time.

    And what exactly is the problem if the dashboard in a 9-3 is similar to that in a 9-5? If Saab design a good, ergonomic, safe dashboard, should they redesign it just because it _should_ be different two years later? Then what’s the point making it ergonomic and safe in the first place if you not gonna use the result of the research as a brand identifier?

  11. I doubt the Saab guys did this because they wanted to… more like GM telling them, “This are the parts you will use because they are cheaper then what you had before…make it work”

  12. Jeez, even the SportCombi concept interior had the cupholders blocking something! I like the drama of the butterfly cupholder unfolding, but can they finally design one that won’t block any instrumentation or controls!? Or one that doesn’t infringe into the passenger’s legspace? Or one that holds something larger than a can of beverage?

  13. A couple of things on the U.S. 9-3 combi dash/interior/controls after 7000 miles.
    1. I use maybe 5-8 buttons tops. So I guess there are too many. The CD/radio & climate control take care of themselves and once you get your customizations set (RTFM), you don’t need to worry about all the buttons.
    2. There is a real cup holder in front of the center console. DUMP that silly one in the dash! Apart from my 2 year old, I’ve yet to see anyone else who likes it. Anyone who has to drive and use it that is. We had to by a smaller coffee cup just to fit it in my wife’s 9-5SW. And you’d think if they were looking for cheaper, that would be the first thing to go.
    3. Don’t get me started on the phone buttons.
    4. Keep the auto up/down windows and one touch sunroof controls.
    5. More cars should have front & rear fog lights that don’t stay on after you turn the car off. IT IS NOT FOGGY turn the suckers off!
    6. Cruise control not should not be designed by laywers as in the 9-5. The Combi is very good. It stays ON and it remembers my speed!
    7. Love the “open the sunroof and windows from afar with the remote” trick
    8. Why would they NOT program the A/C to go turn off the external air intake when you turn on the wind screen washers as the default? That crud stinks and you should not have to pay the dealer (who did not RTFM) to get that cool feature enabled.

  14. God that new design stereo system is ugly! Looks worse in person than it does in the pics too.

    I know knobs are probably more intuitive than a heap of buttons but whether you’re talking the 9-3SS or the previous 9-3, they never took more than a couple of seconds to figure out and gave the dash a real unique look – the dash is a real “Saabism” that needs be protected and refined, not assimilated.

    I personally love the SiD high up near the windscreen, it’s in your peripheral vision where you can see it easily without taking your eyes off the road. In fact I like ’em so much I’m trying to design one I can fit to my C900 :-p

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