9-3 Road test and that radio

The Chicago Sun-Times has a pretty down-to-earth review of the 9-3 Sport Sedan. I’d imagine it mirrors what a lot of people that love it are feeling about the car.

Our reviewer is Jill Ciminillo and she is, in her own words, embroiled in a love affair with the 9-3. She has been for 4 years now. But the 9-3 is slowly slipping in her esteem and it’s most-favoured-car status is almost in jeopardy.


While much of the Saabness remains, I am starting to see some GMification.

The most obvious place the 9-3 has been GMified is the audio interface…..it’s generic and unattractive.

….Some of the interior materials have also been GMified. By that I mean they do not show the level of quality that should be associated with a luxury brand….

….Then there was the issue of the sliding armrest….. I don’t know if it was broken or poor planning, but either way it didn’t win any points with this driver.

Jill points out that there’s still plenty to love about the 9-3 and she’s 100% correct. I’m more of a SportCombi fan myself, but the sedan still makes for great value, especially in the US market with the 60th Anniversary package included.

She had the 2.0T four cylinder version, and she’s not the first reviewer I’ve read to say that it provides more than enough horsepower for her needs. At 210hp and with the 6-speed gearbox I could well understand that point of view. That 210hp engine, whilst not being the biggest that Saab offers, is no slouch and provides a pretty decent value-for-money argument in the US model range.

But GM do need to fix those interior issues like the corporate radio. A review like this where a motoring writer is in a diehard love affair with the 9-3 and is starting to blink…… it’s got to be a wake up call, hasn’t it? If you’re not going to listen to us, then at least listen to them.


A quick search through the site sponsors, Dealix, shows a base invoice price of just under US$25K and for 210hp and everything else that the 9-3 offers, I think that’s pretty darn good. Chuck in some SaabUSA incentives and it has to get even better.

For what it’s worth, US$25K translates to about $30,000 here in Australia – and our base 9-3 sells for $39,990.

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  1. I just have to say that the new face of the 9-3 follows what I have seen over the years on the concept cars. Granted the chrome was not a part of it, but I think it looks great. I just hope that GM will allow some room for the fantastic designers at SAAB to create the fantastic cars that we all dream and know that they can create. I love the new look. Cheers!

  2. GM has obviously chosen to compromise the interior for overall value of a great driving car. I often wonder, though, just how much more the car would cost if they just put in a nicer dash? It really isn’t much more complicated than that, is it?

    I know myself and a lot more folks would be willing to shell out a few more bucks for a quality product (i.e. Apple Computer) that would likely make a difference in overall sales numbers.

    Maybe I am missing something…

  3. Jeff, I agree with you 100%. Great comparison to Apple, many of us would rather pay more for a quality product than compromise and our Saab is no exception.

    The old slogan (my favorite) “We don’t make compromises, we make Saabs”, unfortunely definitely does not hold true, but the underlying principals behind that idea need to resurface. We have all heard countless times from countless people how cheap the interiors are. I’ve never heard one single person say that the materials were quality. Not one. With the radio, we all know that needs to change. Not even a “faceplate” will be acceptable.. A totally unique radio for us MUST happen — Even Cadillac has their own but we’re stuck with GM rationings.

    I hope that with further press attention, GM can fix these problems in the future and we can start giving Saab the proper treatment it deserves.

  4. Am I the only one that actually likes the new radio? I never really thought the radio was well planned out. I feel that my og93 radio is a heap of buttons and a knob thrown together, this new one has a nice cohesive symetrical layout. Although I do like the radio display as part of the sids. I think it is the sids that we should be mourning the demise of then the radio as it was the sids that set the current 93 appart from most other cars.

  5. Saab and Apple are in no way alike. Apple computers are just PC’s with a different operating system. Saying Saab is like (or, God forbid, SHOULD be like) Apple is like saying that Saab should make a Toyota, only make it prettier with a different set of radio controls. Think about it, anything you can get in an Apple computer, you can get in a regular PC, except the operating system. The basic platforms they’re sitting on are the same. Apple has always been notorious for gouging prices on things that aren’t really all that special, but are in pretty cases and have a “cool” factor. I want people to like Saab for reasons other than sheer hipness and how they look. Saab should be like Linux, not Apple. Cheaper than the “usual” models, but more functional and less common.

    I don’t like Apple and I never have. I don’t like how they sell pretention. Apple is like Mercedes, to me: Too expensive, too much emphasis on looks, and the people that use them tend to be really smug about it.

  6. Good God man, I only made the comparison for the sake of quality vs. a loyal user base willing to pay a little more for a well-made product.

    For those of us who wouldn’t know a command line from our elbows, Linux is useless. (Also, I use Photoshop 4-6 hours a day, and last I checked it wasn’t available on Linux, Windows is still a pile of sh*t, and OS X is gorgeous, intuitive, and never breaks/never crashes on me mid-use.) A lot more companies should be like Apple, not just Saab.

    GM needs to turn a profit, so I am afraid an open source sport sedan will have to wait until our driving is virtual.

  7. Oh no. Here we go again….

    Similar debates have already happened on Saab sites, including this one around November of last year when I was looking for a new machine.

    I ended up buying my first Mac. I love it too, but I also really like my HP Windows based laptop that I’ll be taking with me next month.

  8. Jeff, I think you have a very simplistic and poor view of apple, and I for one feel sorry for you. A number of people have been making this correlation between Saab and Apple for a number of years, and Saab could really learn a lot of things from the Apple success story.

    To say what that about apple is very short sighted and you really should spend some time “driving” one to learn the differance. But put simply what Saab needs to take from apple is, when they were in dire staights they returned to their roots, found a niche emerging technology and exploited it with cleaver design, which is now causing a halo effect on their other products.

  9. Ok, I was just annoyed about Apple. Let’s see…

    Jeff: I don’t use Linux. I use Windows. My laptop has never crashed, and intuitiveness is kind of subjective. I’ve been around Macs all my life and I’m still shaky when I try to use one. Windows, however, I know like the back of my elbow :p. Apples, by the way, aren’t well made. The actual hardware tends to have problems that people ignore because they have Apples. It’s like when people ignore little problems with their Toyotas because Toyotas are supposed to be so reliable. Sorry I jumped down your throat, though, I tend to get defensive.

    Swade: I’m glad you like your Mac, and I’m glad you aren’t a full-on Mac evangelist also.

    Twat: I’ve used Macs. I’ve used a lot of them, in fact. Recently. I hate them. I hate them so much. Look, Saab could build the best cars on the planet, and there would still be some people that would drive something else because they just don’t like them. That’s how it is. I just HATE OSX, and nothing will change that. Many of the reasons that I hate it are reasons others love it, too. As for Apple’s resurgence, all it means to me is that I have to hear Steve Jobs’ pretentious keynotes again. I hate Steve Jobs so much and I can just taste him in every one of Apple’s products.

    I don’t think Saab should be open-source, I think they should be cheaper than BMW’s and be more powerful and less common. Like how Linux is to Windows. Running your car by command line probably isn’t a good idea, though :p.

    Yeah, I kind of went overboard there. Forget I said anything about Apple and let’s just get back to loving Saab.

  10. Horses for courses guys (and gals?). Different makes cater for different demands. I would no sooner use my PC for art shop graphic design than i would use a mac for a business information system (no flexibility-scalability).

    Bottom line is that SAAB needs to strike a balance between being different and practicality.

    The practicality part will help ensure its existence. If the styling becomes too “quirky” it will alienate the many potential buyers out there.

  11. Can anyone enlighten me as to why there is an apparent $10000 premium on the SAAB linear (above) on top of that paid in the US?

    I wouldn’t have thought that transportation would cost that much extra.

  12. No prob, Jeff. My apologies for making a tired comparison.

    Every analogy breaks down eventually, anyway…

    Totally agreed on the less expensive than BMW and less common. I really want Saab to do well, though there will always be a part of me that likes the moderate obscurity and “indie” status the brand has. (Yeah, I know, they’re signed to a major label now. :p)

  13. Jeff, just curious, why do you have Steve Jobs so much? Do leaders that are that innovative and visionary turn you off just becuase they are successful?

  14. I owned a 9-3 Sportcombi & I have to agree w the reviewer re the sliding armrest. When my wife first drove it she asked me if it was broken as it was prone to slide forward rapidly when any pressure was applied. Anytime anyone else drove it they would also comment on it & hope that they hadn’t “broken it.” Is this a 9-3 issue or one that plagues all Saabs as well. My brother owns a 9-5 w the sliding armest but it functions properly, that is you got to give it a bit of a push before it moves, rather than being the ‘pushover’ that the 9-3 is. Curious to know other folks’ experiences…

  15. There is one major design fault with the stereo. In strong sunlight it is almost impossible to see the data on the display. It’s like the coating on the plastic/glass surface of the digital display attracts the sunlight and hides everything on it.

    I find this most annoying!! Didn’t have these issues with the old system.

    Apart from that, I prefer the new layout to the old layout. If only they would sort out those materials 🙂

  16. You don’t need an armrest if you are driving your 9-3 properly. Both hands belong on the wheel please and please no yacking on the cell phone. I can’t recall the last time I actually moved the armrest except to get some chewing gum or a CD out of the cubby underneath.

    It is like the too many buttons issue on the old radio. Once you get the radio and climate control programmed (“radio on” volume, preset stations, speed sensitive volume, auto seat heater, auto rear defrost, auto wiper sensitivity) you don’t use 95% of the buttons ever again. Yeah it is a lot of buttons, but who notices after the first couple of months?

    Ah for the days of yore when cars came with a radio delete option and had standard holes or DIN openings so you go could to Crutchfields and buy the one you wanted. It think this “maunfactures making outrageous radios” thing is the same issue as with seats and wheels. The manaufactures found out they were missing a lot of sales to aftermarket seats, wheels and radios, so they are trying to pull in some of that dough. Although you can’t fault Saab for the seats in the Aero’s.

    Almost forgot…. I don’t care for Macs either…. nor do I like Bill Gates.

  17. No, my new MY06 9-3SW is the same, the arm rest is so easily moved back and forth – worse yet, when you lift it to access the storage, you can see the staples on the underside! Cheep. That siad, very comfy long with the seats. Window lift buttons are my bugbear – cheap feeling and all the same to feel when you’re driving and looking ahead – how manhy times have I opened a rear passenger window instead of the front! And as for the buttons, I like the sheer awesome number of them, but in use, most of them remain untouched – but it is eyecatching for 1st time passengers, esp at night. Not very Saab though, growing up in 99s and classic 900s, I can see why GM has reverted to rotary controls and welcome that for ease of use, but maybe not as wow-factor?

  18. As for the armrest, on my 85 900T it didn’t exist, so I added an aftermarket one. It works fine.

    On my wife’s ’01 9-3 the armrest doesn’t slide. And it’s too far to the rear of the car to actually function as an arm rest. I can barely get an elbow on it and I’m not short (5’10-1/2″). I don’t know if they designed the placement for 6’2″ Swedes or if they just weren’t thinking.

    There are many ergonomically-incorrect things in the OG9-3 that really bother me. Very un-SAABlike. For example, the sun visor is much too short. When the sun is in the driver’s side window you move the visor over and the sun is still beaming into your eyes past the end of the visor.

    Another thing is the cupholder (I hear groans) under the armrest. You just try driving, pulling the drink out and putting it back. Talk about awkward!

    Back onto the armrest thing (we were discussing ergonomics a bit here it seems) I was thinking about adding the accessory sliding armrest so I could actually get my arm onto it, but it’s my wife’s car and she doesn’t want it. However, I’m the one driving on long trips and my right arm (LHD) gets really uncomfortable. Wish I had somewhere to rest it.

  19. My car doesn’t have an armrest. It had a plastic lid that folded over the cupholder, and I suppose that COULD have been an armrest, but it broke off a long time ago. I noticed that the only thing holding this huge, heavy piece of plastic to the center console was one screw in a flimsy plastic crossbar. That’s just bad design.

    Seth: Steve Jobs isn’t visionary, he’s power hungry, and he masks his megalomania in a veneer of spacy farsightedness. He talks as if every one of his Apple products is going to “change the world,” when they’re JUST COMPUTERS. Sure, the iPod was a gigantic hit after the first generation. It changed the consumer world, maybe, but not because it was a visionary product. It was just at the right place at the right time. Anyway…where you see innovation and vision, I see an overinflated ego. Who’s to say which of us is right? It’s all about perception.

    Also, Bill Gates is pretty successful, and I love him :p

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