Saab v Subaru – an owner’s story

It’s been a little while since we’ve had an owner’s vehicle comparison.

These get filed under the category: I drove a XXX and here’s why I’d still buy a Saab…

This one’s from Rogan, a relatively new commenter here on the site, and a recent acquirer of a very neat Saab 9-3 Vector in basic black.

Click the images to enlarge.


Saab 9-3As of about a month ago, I’ve been the proud owner of a 2003 Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan Vector. Let me first say that I’m 17, so I’m not in the Saab demographic.

I was given a first car when I got my licence, a 1989 Ford Probe GT, but told that I would be on my own if I required anything better. My first experience with Saab was in 2004, when my Dad (Age 50, Nuclear Physicist, totally in the Saab demographic) picked up a 2004 9-3 Arc with a 5-speed. I thought it was a great car, but not what I’d want to drive when I was able.

What I wanted was pretty much the same as every other teenage boy all across the world does: the Subaru WRX. Not having actually driven many cars, I thought that absolute performance was all I would ever need, and the WRX with 227 HP and AWD certainly delivered. I was infinitely jealous of my friend, when he picked up a silver 2002 WRX sedan.

Finally, after working as a computer tech and Opera usher for what seemed like eternity, I was able to take the plunge on a new car. At this point, I had driven my dad’s Saab, my friends ’02 WRX, and a ’02 WRX Wagon and an ’04 WRX Sedan. The choice would be obvious for any other boy my age. So why did I choose the Saab?

First of all, let me tell you straight off the bat, the WRX performs. If you just want to get in a car and drive like your pants are on fire, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the WRX. The car accelerates blindingly quick and handles like its on rails. In just high-performance driving dynamics, I’m sorry to say it but I think it beats the Saab. Somehow, I realized that this wasn’t all-important in a car. The wagon wasn’t an option, as any teenager in the US would understand. The sedan’s seats can’t fold down, so its useless in terms of practicality. And either way you go, the WRX is extremely ugly in my opinion.

The interior isn’t a great place to be, since it is essentially a souped up econobox. There are lots of cheap plastics and cheap fabric. The boost gauge is an option, and it’s bolted on to the side of the steering column. The shifter feels like it will bend if pulled to quickly. There are no power seats and no trip computer, so it was even a downgrade in some ways from my 1989 Ford Probe. Really, the only good things about the interior were the seats (which were good, but not as good as my Saab) and the 80W 6-Disk CD Changer (which is blown away by my Saab’s 300W 6-Disk unit).

When driving around normally about 95% of the time, the Saab feels much better then the WRX, much smoother and much better low end power. You can still get the car to move quickly when you don’t feel like high-performance driving and you just want to waft yourself home. The car itself is beautiful in black with the body kit and 17″ split-spoke rims, and gets me plenty of attention in the school parking lot.

It’s relaxing when it needs to be and very fast when I want it to be. The car doesn’t have quite as much grip as the WRX, but it handles much more smoothly and with less body roll when your not right on the limit. It doesn’t accelerate nearly as quickly at the low end, but its much smoother. Once in third gear, the WRX would be a fairly small spec in the rear-view mirror.

The level of equipment I have in the Vector is ridiculous. A car that I bought for less than a new Toyota Corolla gave me leather, heated and memory seats, six-disk CD, trip computer, aluminium trim, six-speed manual, 17 inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, and the list goes on and on.

Saab 9-3

In the end, the 9-3 was a pretty easy choice for me. My only complaint is the occasional rattle, but since it’s used and it’s an ’03, I’m not sure if I really even have the right to complain about that. AWD would be nice, but they’ve already gotten that under control, haven’t they.

In the end, I guess I’ve realized that Saabs are performance cars for real people. People that have lives other than their cars and need the car to suit them to. If my Saab was a person, it would defiantly be one of the most tolerant, willing and cheerful people I’ve ever met. The car can perform, and I can still throw my skis or mountain bike in the back. I can get 23 mpg in the city with the car, unlike almost any other performance car.

I love the Subaru WRX. It’s a great car and it has awesome performance. The Saab just betters it in almost every conceivable way. If it weren’t for my dad owning a Saab, it’s something that I would have never realized.

I think Saab could get a lot more younger drivers if they get out there and advertise. Saab vehicles aren’t a niche market. Saab just needs to get out there and let people know about their products. GM needs to support them in this area. Some of my friends couldn’t believe I had bought a Saab that wasn’t a hatchback, because they didn’t know such a thing existed!

I’m glad that Saab resale value has been bad enough up to this point to allow me to get into such a phenomenal car. I realize how little I paid for a 5 year old car that this awesome, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be able to pick a Turbo-X for the same price in six or seven years. On one side, I hope so, but on another side, I hope that Saab can get out there and make people “get the point” of Saab, so resale values won’t be so poor.

Anyway, I consider myself extremely lucky for knowing how great Saab is, and I hope there are many other drivers like me who follow in my footsteps, realizing what really makes a good car.

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  1. Rogan,

    Looks like good taste in cars runs in your family 🙂 . Good for you, now all you have to do is convince your peers that Saab is cool. I hope your experience is so good that you continue with the brand. The world needs more young Saab-ers.

  2. And don’t forget the importance of style. How do you wanna pick up your date? In a japanese plastic wannabe-racer turned hoon-mobile? Or in a class act like a Saab, showing that you have style and manner? It’s the same difference as between a sawn-off shotgun and a sniper rifle… 😉

  3. “…In the end, I guess I’ve realized that Saabs are performance cars for real people. People that have lives other than their cars and need the car to suit them to. ”

    Says it all really. But it must be noted that there are jap cars which fit this bill. SAAB has the style over most though, they just need to get the interior quality right.

  4. I’ll be 20 in May, and started with a 1995 Saab 900s. I’ve been in Viggens lately(currently in a 9-5 until I finish my blue viggen). Saabs so it all, it the right proportions. Now I think they could up it more and compete at the highest levels to take over some demographics and fill the gaps. AWD is one, but they need to offer it on more trim levels and models in general. I love Saabs!!

  5. And I’ve also got my two best friends to get a 1999 9-3 and a 2003 9-3, and one’s girlfriend to wans a c900(I don’t want her to as it will become a POS and trashed). Also, another great friend of mine really wants a Viggen, even though he is hardcore into VWs

  6. Thanks for the praise. I’m so glad that I’ve been lucky enough to get this car, and I enjoy it more and more every day.

    ctm is right, this car is good for the ladies 😉

  7. good job!!! I like the whole write-up… you should be destroying wrx’s from a roll… drivetrain loss!!

    as a teenage saaber, im gona have to disagree with the following

    “The wagon wasn’t an option, as any teenager in the US would understand.”

    what gives!! we’re supposed to be converting the wagon hates to the realistic cause!

  8. Congrats Rogan,

    Great writing.

    I want to make an off the point comment – you kids in the US are so lucky you have cheap car prices.

    In the UK, unless mom and dad are REALLY rich (then they’d be getting BMWs), teen can forget about a Saab, think Vauxhall Corsa instead… If someone had a Ford Focus then he’s probably ‘quite well off!’

    I’ve been to Saab USA’s website last night, and price of 9-3 Aero makes me weep. The MSRP of an Aero is cheaper than UK’s base Linear model by £900.

    *%&^ the UK pricing, they don’t even need to ship it across the ocean.

  9. I’d like to join in for some praising. Not only is Rogan’s write up well thought out and well written, it shows a lot of maturity for someone his age, realizing, amongst other things, that all out performance «wasn’t all-important in a car». This is why I don’t think Saab (or any car manufacturer ) needs a 300-hp car or a V8, other than for marketing reasons. Frankly, with the speed at which the ice is melting at the poles, I’m surprised we are even having this discussion but I guess humanity only evolves when it gets scared. In that respect, I wish everyone looked at the last report on climate change. You will get scared in a hurry if you do.
    On a lighter side, a Saab Sport Combi is very cool and I’m sure even US teenagers will understand that…eventually.
    On a final note, I hope Rogan got a good extended warranty, not because it’s a Saab. I would not buy ANY European car without one. On the other hand, with the great prices used Saabs go for, which is not surprising, given the cash on the hood which usually accompany them when bought new, you can make out very well even with a few unexpected repairs down the road. Enjoy the car Rogan! It’s way cooler than the ugly factory ricer, which by the way, is not reputed the most relaible car on the road.

  10. Yay under-21 Saabisti. I just turned 20 2 weeks ago.

    Sure wish I had the money for a new-old Saab, mine is threatening to roll over and die. There’s no guarantee at all that I’ll end up with another Saab if my baby dies, either.

    Though maybe I’ll end up with an old IROC or something, I can probably get used to that. :p

  11. Rogan, You have learned well from your Dad and your own observations. I have owned three Saab convertibles. I just traded in my 02 for an 04 Arc convertible. Love the car, love the look, love the ride and most of all love the safety and total package that comes with owning a Saab. I think that it’s safe to say, you will stick with the Saab’s for a long time to come. One other thing, as Lance will tell you, you wouldn’t want to be hit in that Subi, they are soft, very soft…

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