The fundamental Saab question in 2007 – Saab 9-3 vs Saab 9-5

This came in via email just this morning from Paul R and he’s OK with me posting it here for your consideration:

Love the site, even though I know less-than-nothing about Saabs. What are the primary differences between the 9-3 and 9-5? My wife’s interested in one, so I’m thinking about getting her one for Christmas. However, I can’t figure out this ostensibly simple question.

My initial response was “Welcome to the question that has hamstrung Saab for the last 5 years.”

We have a whole bunch of recent model 9-3 and 9-5 owners here on the site, so I’ll delay posting my answer in deference to those that own the cars.

Comments are open….


One quick qualification for Paul’s sake….

The Saab “9-3” name was first used in 1998. This vehicle was a 3-door or 5-door hatchback and was replaced by the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan in late 2002 (as a 2003 model).

I think the assumption here is that we’re talking about the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan vs the Saab 9-5.

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  1. from my own experience, the 9-5 is a highway king. cruising is so plush, and fast, you can be going way faster than you need to be and not even notice!!! the way the gearing is set up also gives you pretty decent mileage 😀

  2. The 9-5 is better.

    For some reason I’ve always preferred the dash layout. It is (slightly) bigger on the inside, and even though it’s not a hatch, it still manages to look more “Saaby” than the 9-3SS.

    I’ve driven a couple of ’06 9-3’s (One straight off the dealer floor) and I must say that I thought even my ancient 9-5 was still holding itself together better. The 9-3 just didnt feel right.

    9-5 all the way! Now all I want is for Saab to put their new technology in their flagship car first! Where’s my V6 and XWD?

  3. the 9-3 is definetely a little more mainstream. The ‘Aero’ engine on both cars makes essentially the same amount of power, but the 9-3 has the 2.8T V6 whereas the 9-5 has the trusty 2.3T I4. Also, the 9-3 has the window controls on the drivers door whereas the 9-5 has them in the middle. Critical details!!!

    I agree, todays 9-5 is more ‘Saaby’.

  4. Having gone to the Aero Academy and driven the heck out of both of them, I would say that the 9-5 is plusher, smother, and quiter.

    Outside of those factors, the 9-3 is better in every way. Faster, more responsive, more nimble, and much less body roll around corners.

    If comfort is priority go with the 9-5. If performance is priority, go with the 9-3.

    Ironically, the 9-5 was more fun to drive on the track due to the challenges presented by its shortcomings. 😉

  5. The 9-3, especially the SS, is a little more sports-oriented… The 9-5 isn’t quite up with it in handling in my humble opinion.

  6. Definitely go for the 9-5 if you can. The 9-3 has the advantage of a lower price for roughly the same size, but the 9-5 has everything else going for it.
    The 9-5 is perhaps the last of the true European sports sedans, before everything got bloated and heavy and homogenized.

  7. As someone that recently compared the 9-3 to the 9-5 and chose the 9-5, I’d agree with Mikial. The 9-3 is faster, more sporting and more “new tech” while the 9-5 is almost as fast, but feels bigger and heavier.

    As Swade mentioned, there has been a significant market perception issue with the 9-5: that it’s just more money for not much more car. That’s more or less true at the moment.

    If it were my girl, I’d buy the 9-3 convertible. (I saw some great ‘verts available for under $10,000.) But that’s just me.

  8. The 9-5 definitely feels bigger and heavier, and more put-together. The controls feel more solid–less GM, more Swede.

    Plus, air-conditioned seats! Oh yeah …

  9. Having had my first direct comparison of these two cars in 2003 on Saab driving event on a small airfield in Germany, I found the 175 bhp engine and chassis in the 9-3 SS much more sporty and responsive than the ones in the 9-5 Aero (MY 04) estate of those days.
    But on the side of the looks: it’s the 9-5 (MY 04)! – The shape of the estate is just brilliant! Out of the new cars I would chose the 9-3 ‘vert at the moment.
    But, being Göteborg by now and watching the facelifted MY 06 9-5 again and again everyday, I can say that I get used to the new looks slowly…
    This adds up to: As long as it’s a Saab… 😉

  10. The 9-5 is certainly is less sporty and has a more conservative feel and drive. But when it comes to road dynamics and handling on the road, this car is a fantastic. It sits on the road better as it’s heavier and handles brilliantly. The 9-5 is my wife’s car for all these reasons and for the security aspect. But whenever possible I never miss the opportunity to borrow it and go for a drive. Distinctively Saab !!!

  11. I’ll agree with Mikial and Eggs. Last month I took my 2004 9-3 Aero in for service and was given a 2007 9-5 Aero for the day. I was immediately impressed with the comfort of the seats and the car was perfectly sized. After a while, I could tell this was a far better long-range cruiser over my 9-3.

    Halfway through the day (I had work off so I was running errands; going the long way of course) I began to realize that the 9-5 reminded me of my 1978 Alfa Romeo Sedan, only a modern-day example. The fit and finish is a bit crude, and it’s not the quietest car, but it is very fun to drive, and extremely comfortable. You could easily drive for miles on end and not get fatigued.

    So by the end of the day I was very smitten with the car, thinking I could see myself upgrading to this car today! That is until I got back in my 9-3 and drove home. The feeling was night and day; the 9-5, as mentioned, was a great cruiser, but the 9-3 offers a more sporty, younger-feeling, more alive driving experience.

    But I’m still torn. I’m going to wait until the new 9-5 come out before I replace my 2004. Take them both out and drive them for quiet some time and I think the difference will become apparent to you. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either of them!

  12. The 9-5 is essentially a more luxury appointed 9-3 with a few gadgets specialized for the 9-5: cooled glove box, ventilated seats, etc…

  13. Please understand that I really like the 9-5. Comparing them head to head (a la CWilson) the handling and perfomance characteristics of the 9-3 are clearly better.

    The irony of the Aero Academy is that the ‘sloshing’ of the 9-5 (especially the wagon) made it a blast to drive around the track.

    Whichever you choose, I don’t think you can do much better for the money.

  14. Get the 9-5 if you are a grandparent and don’t care about how the car looks, because its a dinosaur that needs to die a quick death.

    Now ask me how I really feel?

    9-3…no brainer. Cheaper, more contemporary looking, and well, its absolutely gorgeous!

  15. I recently test drove a bunch of Saab cars over a 2-3 month period (thanks to SOH for their patience – really nice guys!) and I found the 9-3 to be more responsive, sporty, and “fun” than the 9-5. You can draw a parallel to the Audi A4 vs. A6 or VW Jetta vs. Passat.

    Saab does have a problem in how they position the 9-3 vs. the 9-5. The 9-5 is bigger and I suppose a more comfortable car…perhaps even Laurence Olivier might give up his Benz?

    If the Saab 9-3 competes against the BMW 3 series, then I’m not sure you can really equate a 9-5 to a 5 series BMW and that is where Saab’s problem lies.


  16. I also want to agree with Mikial regarding the desire behind the car (comfort or performance).

    I think the 9-5 a superb car that gives you very respectable acceleration and handling, and a VERY good ride- the longer you drive, the better the ride gets! The 9-3, with ReAxs and its smaller size, provides more nimble, sharp handling. But don’t be mistaken- the 9-5 isn’t a boat car either! Still very good handling. (Perhaps a test drive is in order for you to experience it for yourself? 🙂 If there’s enough time, of course.) Really both have great handling and comfort, it’s just a matter of which has the edge:

    Quick/Nimble: 9-3
    Sporty Cruiser: 9-5

    Oh, if you pick the 9-5 please try to get the ventilated seats, not just the heated seats. Actually, you gotta have both! She will thank you. Heck, you’ll thank you- they’re that nice to have.

  17. We have both at home! A 9-3ss 2003 (wife) and a 9-5 sportwagon 2005 (mine).
    Love them both, the 9-3 is a bit more fun on the twisties and the 9-5 is very smooth on the long trips.

    I got the 9-5 for the leg room and it was one of the few cars in which I can place a rear facing infant seat behind the drivers seat and still have the seat all the way back!! (I am 6′-4″). Can’t do that on our 9-3. Also love the look of the wagon and I have lots of room for my photo equipment (another must for me). It has more space then most of those huge SUV’s!

    I love taking the 9-5 on long trips and just love the feel of a solid and well handling car.

  18. Very accurate comments before mine. I bought a 9-5 2.3T sedan in February after considering a 9-3sc. The 9-3 (esp. 2008) is a super car and indeed nimble. Very close to the BMW 328 Cabrio I sold. One person alluded to space. If you plan to put adults in the back seat and can afford the difference, the 9-5 is heads and shoulders and knees better than the 9-3 or Audi A4 or Acura TSX or TL, or BMW 3xx, but it is definitely less nimble. the trunk is enormous. The 9-5 will also run perfectly on regular (87 octane) gas, making up for its slightly greater thirst. Finally, and I hope this does not jinx it, but at 20,000+ km our 9-5 has been in the garage for exactly 2 oil changes (slightly ahead of the required rate), one bent clip on a windshield wiper, and a wheel alignment. It’s rock solid and devours highways–use the cruise control! For around town or with kids, a 9-3 2.0T is quite is sufficient.

  19. If you’re looking for a MY08, I’d buy the 9-3 without the blink of an ene. It’s more modern and far better looking. If you need a lot of space, especially for cargo at the back, buy the 9-5, otherwise, go for the 9-3. Especially now with the excellent TTiD! the MY08 “eyebrows” makes the car really stand out in the dark!

    But having a MY04 9-5 Estate for my second daily driver (it’s actually my father’s, but I use it twice as much as him, and far more than I use my 9000CD), it’s a great cruiser for long distances, although not the nimbly racecar for tight twisty roads if you catch my drift..

    If you’re looking for a used, older car, please do consider the 9-5, as it is a truly great car, just not as up-to-date and modern as the 9-3SS or its competitors.

    And the 9-3 is a direct competitor to the 3-series and the Audi A4, while the Saab 9-5 is a competitor (although very dated) to the BMW 5-series and Audi A6, Volvo S80 / v70.. Perhaps you ought to wait for the new gen-9-5 to arrive..

  20. One thing to consider safety-wise is if she will be hauling children the 9-3 has side curtain air bags in the rear, and they are not available on the 9-5. The rear seats are a bit lacking on legroom in the 9-3 however.

  21. Oh, and just to rant a bit about Saabs in general, in my family we’ve had a 1987 Saab 9000, a 1994 Saab 9000CD and I have a 1995 Saab 9000CD while my father bought a new 9-5 Estate in 2004. And we haven’t had any troubles with any of our Saabs. At all. Just regular service at the dealers. Can’t see a reason to buy a Toyota when our Saabs have been just a reliable, and better rustprooof and safe.

  22. The 9-5 is a relic but like the last alfa romeos to come with the alfa v6, that’s a very good thing, the car has a certain character and feel to it that the 9-3 SS simply lacks. The engine is the traditional H engine with it’s trademark deep, throaty and burbly exhaust note and it makes an incredible hp/liter number especially considering that it lacks any sort of VVT system, variable intake or direct injection setup. The rest of the car just feels more like a saab than the SS, the dash is more classic saab and less mainstream, the driving position is unusually low for a sedan of it’s size, and there are many, many other little things that make me absolutely love my aero.

    Furthermore it’s a relatively inexpensive midsize luxury/sport sedan that you can still pick up with a manual transmission, and while the saab shifter has a reputation for being rubbery the GS shift bushing brings it up to par with any VAG shifter. That counts for alot and says just as mush about the brand, as I love the idea that I can get a big highway cruiser like that and still have a 5-speed option.

    Don’t get me wrong, the 9-3 SS, especially the new XWD one model is clearly a superior car in every possible way, at least on paper. That still doesn’t change the fact that the 9-5 is a real breath of fresh air compared to the other midsize sports sedans out there, a last island of simplicity in an increasingly overcomplicated world.

    I just hope that the next-generation 9-5 still has the character and overall “saab-ness” of the current one, it would be a real shame if it comes out as sterile and generic as the 9-3ss did (I will concede that I loved the pre-facelift 9-3ss’s looks and I still think that it’s one of the best looking saabs ever made).

  23. I am in the Toronto area in Canada and have a MY’00 9-5 and a MY’07 9-3 Sportcombi 60th Anniversary edition, both in black on dark grey leather. I love both of my cars for different reasons. I think that you have to look at the history of the brand to understand the two cars and their lineage.
    The 9-3’s of the last few years, including the current models try hard to emulate the feel of the old Saab 900’s, 99’s etc. They succeed to a point by achieving a tight driving feel, reasonable fuel efficient, a high consideration for safety, a sporty and dynamic chassis, attractive styling, and in the case of the combi, Swedish practicality. This really everything that my MY’91 16v turbo 2 door hatch was (the coolest looking car every built IMHO). I remember driving a MY’06 9-3 for the first time and thinking that I had found a car that drove alot like my old 900 did. The old upright windshield is gone unfortunately, but the car is quick and nimble and even the dash is entirely reminiscent of the old 900’s (minus the more recent GM low grade Stereo). The 9-3 is easy to drive, park, and live with. The rear seat is small but then again, that is also the case with the A4 and the other competitors. You should also know that that GM’s involvement is noticeable. This car does not feel as solid as my 9-5 does. I think someone let the bean counters at GM fly over to Trolhatten and they got a bit to close for comfort. This is evident in the cheap looking GM radio interface which you will also find in other GM models. In truth though, you can always change that if you want, and that does not make car anyway. All in all, this a very good effort on Saab’s part to make a car that will sell well but that still maintains some cache that is really what Saab is all about.

    Turning to the 9-5, you have to remember that it was brought into production in 98′ to replace the 9000, which was Saab’s answer to the luxury car. As stated above, the 9-5 is a bigger and more plush package, all while still offering sporty driving. I still love the look of my 9-5 from 2000, frankly better than later years. Why couldn’t the grill stay chrome like the old 900’s??This is a perfectly proportioned car with a very distinctive european look and a limousine like back seat with great leg room. I echo the previous posts regarding highway cruising. It is bar none the most confortable highway cruiser I have ever driven. This car is also very well put together and it has quality materials. I don’t care at all for the cut and paste job they did with the dash in the 06’and 07′ 9-5’s, with the afformentioned cheap GM radio which looks horrible. The shape of the dash is still the same, the whole thing looks cheap now, especially the controls. I am also still not crazy about the chromization of the front lights and the way it makes the front end of the car seem to stick out soooo far over the front wheels. Notwithstanding these negative comments, you can’t argue with the value quotient of this car. If the bugs haven’t been worked out of this car in the last 10 years, then someone please wake up the engineers in Trollhatten (or Detroit…shivers!!!). In Canada, we are down to one model only which is essentially the AERO package. You can’t get the base model 9-5 anymore like my 00′. There is a lot of value here though, with everything being pretty much standard on these cars now…260hp…leather aero seats, everything you would ever need really.

    I say that if you want a rock solid car and you like the looks (and interior) of the 9-5 then I would go for it as you really can’t go wrong. The 9-3 is also a great choice, if you want a more modern and nimble driving experience, and don’t mind the tigher interior.

    I don’t have your dilemna because I have both so I get to drive whichever one my wife doesn’t feel like driving, which depends on her mood. Maybe you should eventually get one of each as well and that would solve your problem 🙂

  24. No comparison, the 9-5 is the best. I’ve owned both (’04 9-3SS and ’07 9-5 Aero SportCombi). My 9-5 is extremely comfortable and does not have the generic look that plagues the 9-3. I use to see my 9-3 in a busy parking lot and it looked just like the same year model Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. The 9-5 is TOTALLY unique and can’t be confused as anything but a Saab. The vented seats are WAY more comfortable (to bad they deleted that option in the US on ’08 models) and the back seat leg room blows the 9-3’s out of the water. The recline angle of the back seats also makes them a great place to be. When you’re in the driver’s seat of the 9-3, your head feels very close to the door’s window, not so in the 9-5. The navigation system is better in the 9-5 compared to that of the pre-07 9-3’s nav. The 9-5 rides like a dream and handles as well as a 9-3. I won’t be going back to a 9-3.

  25. I’d go withthe 9-3 for resale value, as the 9-5 will depreciate faster due to the reliability issues noted with early cars. 9-5s older than 3 years here in Oz aren’t hardly worth a cracker. Most have been eclipsed in value by 1978 VW Kombis.


  26. MY first Saab was the 9.5 after I switched to 9.3 SS Aero which was far away from the quality of the 9.5. Today I’m sitting again in the 9.5 and now I know what I missed the the entire time while driving the 9.3

  27. If money is important, then the 9-3 probably have a better resale value. But the 9-5 is a little bit more “Saab”. Despite being almost similar in size (as Swade pointed out in a post long ago), I feel the 9-5 is a bit roomier. If a comfortable, relaxed, and very safe car with a unique design is what she wants – buy a 9-5. If she prefer a more sporty, tight, and very safe car for active driving – buy a 9-3.

  28. Sit in the seats. Once you do that you will know the differences between the vehicles.
    The 9-5 seats (2005 is my favorite year) are more comfortable than a lot of expensive recliners. They still have plenty of support, but you could easily live in them for a week if you were taking a long trip. I always say, “If I had to go cross-country in a car and STAY in that car – eating, sleeping, and driving – for the entire trip… and I could pick ANY car for it, I would pick the 9-5.” There aren’t many cars I can handle sitting in for 8+ hour stretches, but the 9-5 is an exception.
    The 9-3SS seats are not that comfortable. They trade a small amount of that comfort for added support (especially at the sides of the seat). This is iconic of what the 9-3 is supposed to be. A bit cheaper, slightly less comfortable, but give a more “sporty” feel to the drive.

    Note that one is not much faster than the other, however. They weigh almost the same.

  29. Get both?!?!? In 2006, I did. ;P

    I no longer have a 9-3. This is primarily due to the size of the vehicle and having a family. I can’t wait to go back to Aero Academy though and get a 9-3 wound out in the autocross. Which reminds me … I need to get on the “stick” and get the manual shift points figured out in my 9-5’s auto tranny.

    I’m happy to say we’re still in the Saab family for both cars. A 9-5 for a highway cruiser. A 9-7x for a family hauler. The 9-7x makes the in-town runs. Using 87 octane, the 9-7x is costing about the same as the 2006 9-3 V6 running premium (92 octane).

  30. You know, I don’t think that this really is the Saab question of 2007 for me, because I can’t afford either of them :p

    For me, the Saab question of 2007 was: “Will my Saab make it through 2007?”

    Anyway, go with the 9-5 unless your wife just wants to drive like a total nut. Because then you’d want a 9-3.

  31. I’m just not sure how folks say the two cars are so similar in size. Maybe it is because the wife and I have wagons???? We have a 2006 9-3SC Aero parked next to a 2004 9-5SW 2.3T (big “T” not the little “t”) in our garage and all you have to do is look. There are significant considerable differences: Taller, longer, wider, and heavier (well, maybe lifting as well as looking). Have you guys looked at the 5-series and 3 series? The Volvos, the M-Bs? Maybe it is because Saab only has 2 cars? Get inside… There is a huge size difference, especially in the back seat. Open the back lift gate. You can fit almost twice the stuff in the back of the 9-5. Get on the gas, the 2.8-l 9-3 leaves the 2.3l 9-5 in the dust. (Both ours are manuals) All lot more dust than you’d expect from 29 HP. The 9-3 does get worse gas mileage though in town and back and forth to work, but since our 9-5 is not the Aero, maybe that is why. Both ours get over 33 MPG on the HWY though. They are two very different cars with two seriously different personalities. I think some of the other posts have covered the personalitieswell. One friend who’s wife also had a 9-5SW called it a pig, a velvet pig. Now I don’t agree with that 100%, but the husband did have a WRX STI at the time.

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