Quick Drive – Saab 9-3 Griffin

Last week I finally took a long-overdue opportunity to drive the latest iteration of the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan, the 9-3 Griffin.

The 9-3 SS is a car that’s being regarded by some as a tag-along car in Saab’s range. The rest of the product offering from Saab is quite new, whereas the 9-3 was originally introduced as a 2003 model year car. There’s a temptation (that many succumb to) to write the 9-3 off as being ‘old’ before one even jumps into it. Don’t do it.

The Saab 9-3 Griffin shares little but the bare bones from that original car.

The design, as is usually the case with Saab, still looks fresh and contemporary even after all these years. Some might consider that it’s all just details, but it’s the details that finish the car and the work done on the Griffin sedan makes the whole package look quite distinctive.

The grille, headlamps, foglamps, bumpers, air intakes, badging and wheels have all been changed and all to great effect. A rear spoiler is standard on all sedan models and you get twin exhausts poking out the back, too.

On the inside, there’s new seat trim with leather/textile seats and contrasting stitching (super smart looking and super comfy), new dash panelling, a new graphite effect dash surround to replace the silver strip. There are new treatments on the doors, gearshift and glove compartment, too.

As with the exterior, each of these enhancements is a small modification when taken on its own, but it’s the details that make the whole package that much more impressive.

The exterior and interior enhancements make the car look and feel better as you approach the car, but it’s the drive that really had me looking forward to experiencing this car.

The 9-3 Griffin has a new petrol engine under the hood. It’s the same 2.0T inline four cylinder engine that’s found in the new Saab 9-5, with a tin scroll turbo, variable valve timing and direct injection. The engine’s available with either 163hp or 220hp, the second being the one that I drove last week.

I was really looking forward to this drive. I’ve driven the 9-5 with this engine in it and it was my favourite version of the 9-5 in terms of being a driver’s car. It’s much lighter than the V6 and makes the car feel much more nimble IMHO. Plus, the engine seems to be incredibly elastic, pulling well from low revs and in a really smooth manner.

Transplant those characteristics into the smaller Saab 9-3 and you get an engine that offers a much more satisfying drive than its predecessor. It’s only 10hp more than the old 9-3 four-banger, but it’s all in the way it delivers that extra power and torque. It’s so smooth, quite eager to please, and so easy to keep in the power band.

The car I drove was also equipped with Saab’s XWD system. The Haldex system made its worldwide debut in 2008 on the Saab Turbo-X and is still the most advanced all-wheel-drive system there is. Buyers of the more regular 9-3 petrol-driven models now have access to the XWD system and you should definitely give it some consideration.

For those who are unfamiliar, the XWD system is an all-wheel-drive system that uses an electronic limited slip differential to distribute power not only between front and rear wheels, but also between the left and right rear wheels. It uses sensors on all four wheels to detect slip thousands of times per second and distributes power where its needed to get the optimum grip, balance and stability.

Mate this XWD system to this new 2.0T engine and you really have the best driving Saab 9-3 we’ve ever offered and my quick drive last week backed up all the anticipation I felt prior to driving this car. It’s smooth, it’s quick, it’s very comfortable and it just can’t be moved from where you point it.

If you’re thinking of a new Saab, maybe your first new Saab, check out the 9-3 Griffin 2.0T. You won’t be disappointed. The Griffin is the best Saab 9-3 we’ve ever offered in terms of a standard product and it offers the absolute latest in terms of powertrain technology and driver comfort.

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11 Comments

  1. The 9-3 was always a enjoyable car to drive but the look really came together with the 2008 refresh that used the Aero X design language.  And since the original 2003 introduction, there has been increases in horsepower.   Now with 220 hp, the availablity of XWD and the other interior and exterior upgrades that were mentioned, this is the be best 9-3 yet.  And, with time, all sorts of things have been worked out.   For example, much less brake dust left on the wheels compared to the past. 

  2. Thanks for sharing the test drive Swade. Griffin looks very good. And I really like to see it at the nature like on your pics. I have XWD (Finally) on my 9-3 and it sure is effective all wheel system. It makes the whole car one step up. And 2 liter turbo is what Saab is all about! Great car. I hope you´ll be able to start production really soon.

  3. I like the 9-3 very much, me myself drive a 2010 9-3 and i am very happy with it 🙂 And Saab will make it, hope you can share som more news. Cheers, and once again: Thanks for the ride in the 9-4X on the 1st of october on the octoberfest =D

  4. Where have you been driving? That forest makes me homesick.
    It reminds me of the small roads on the hill near my mothers house (Sävar, for those who know where that is) where I used to drive around when my license was new. Two-stroke or V4 or even 99.  Lovely.
    I’d like to try a Griffin there someday. 🙂

  5. I have an ’07 Anniversary Edition 9-3 (my first Saab; my first car) and it is AWESOME. If later models are even nicer than mine… I just CANNOT WAIT to see what Saab has up its sleeve!!

  6. I actually have a 9-3 SC Griffin (in Oak) with the 180 hp TTiD4-engine myself, one of not that many that has produced. I took delivery of July 1st and has so far done about 11000km with it, about 1500 of that with a caravan in tow. I’m extremely pleased with it so far, the ride is great, it’s not hard on the diesel (about 5,5l/100km (mixed) right now, constantly decreasing with basically every tank) and there plenty of power when you need it. It hardly noticed the caravan (1360 kg GVW) during the holiday, I had to watch the speedo most of the time to keep the speed somewhat close to legal (80 kph here in Sweden).

    Basically, Saab have made an already good car even better with the Griffin. And, as a bonus, it’s also very good-looking. 😉

  7. So sad about Saab–what can we do to save Saab.  I had a 1980 black 900 GLE (5-door) loved it, but totaled it in 1986 in a crash with a Volvo.  Bought a Subaru 4WD wagon after that.  Have been a Saab enthusiast, but lost the fervor in the GM years.  Now can only look forward to a Subaru WRX hatchback–a car that resembles and reminds me of the Saab 900–quirky and supercool–that is what Saabs were.  Now I drive a classic Volvo, but always had fondness for Saab–the old Saab.  In fact, Saabs were a lot like Subarus, quirky non-mainstream cars with a loyal following.  But now Subaru is so successsful, whereas Saab is going to disappear.  What a shame.   

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