Premium midsize car; Built in Sweden
  • 2-door convertible
  • 2-door hatchback
  • 4-door hatchback
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,800 – $7,500*


2000 Saab 9-3 SE 2-door convertible


2001 Saab 9-3 4-door hatchback


2001 Saab 9-3 Interior


2000 Saab 9-3 SE 4-door hatchback


2001 Saab 9-3 2-door convertible

Pros:
  • Acceleration
  • Cargo room (except convertible)
  • Rear-seat room/comfort (convertible)
  • Brake performance
Cons:
  • Turbo-engine performance
  • Build quality (convertible)
  • Rear-seat entry/exit (except 4-dr)
  • Rear visibility

All models have their charms, but are compromised by turbo-engine performance. Saab loyalists are likely to love the quirky 9-3, but a Volvo S70 sedan or V70 wagon might be a more prudent choice for near-luxury motoring in the Swedish mode.

Overview

Saab’s updated compact, near-luxury 900 series was offered with a new name for 1999. The new front-drive 9-3 series came as a 4-door hatchback or a convertible in base and plusher SE trim, accompanied by a base 2-door hatchback.

All models used turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, with a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. With manual shift, SE models had a 200-horsepower engine, while others were rated 185 hp. Manual-transmission models had a numerically higher axle ratio for stronger standing-start acceleration.

Standard safety features included antilock braking, front side airbags, and Saab’s front Active Head Restraints–claimed to minimize whiplash injury. convertibles had a power top with glass rear window and defroster. During the initial model year, a high-performance Viggen 2-door hatchback joined the lineup, with a 225-hp, 2.3-liter turbocharged engine (manual shift only).

Yearly Updates

2000 9-3
Because General Motors owned Saab’s car-making division, GM’s OnStar satellite-based assistance system became available in 9-3 models. Four-door hatchback and convertible versions of the high-performance Viggen joined the 2-door hatchback body style. SE editions now had the previously optional 2.0 High Output Engine, which got a boost from 200 to 205 horsepower. The Viggen engine also gained 5 hp. All SE models got new lower-body skirts, the 4-door added a special sport suspension, and a standard rear spoiler went on the convertible.
2001 9-3
Traction control and GM’s OnStar system became standard this year. The lineup included base 2- and 4-door hatchbacks, uplevel SE 4-door and convertible, and the high-performance Viggen in three body styles. The base-model convertible was dropped.
“Generation 2.6” OnStar added a voice-activated Internet connection to access web-based information, as well as voice-operated phone and e-mail functions. Traction control was designed to apply brakes and retard the throttle to restore traction when a front wheel began to slip.
2002 9-3
The 185-hp base-level models were gone from Saab’s “junior” line for 2002. 9-3 was redesigned for ’03.

Engines

transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Base engine was a 185-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, while the SE got a High Output 200-horsepower version (205 hp in 2000). Viggens benefited from a 2.3-liter turbo four that produced 225-230 hp. Viggens came only with 5-speed manual shift, but other models could have an optional 4-speed automatic transmission. The 185-hp 4 cyl was gone from the lineup for 2002.

Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 185
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 194
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
19/27
19/25
19.4

Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 200-205
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 209
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual

20/27

21.3

Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.3/140
Engine HP 225-230
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 258
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual

19/28

Road Test

Compact Saabs deliver sporty driving in a space-efficient, if somewhat quirky, package. Overall acceleration is good. Base models are responsive but calm. A manual-transmission base car accelerated to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, and averaged 19.4 mpg even in hard driving. High Output models are slightly faster. A 4-door averaged 21.3 mpg. Viggens react with serious spirit. On the downside, the turbocharger does not yield extra power until the engine reaches 3000 rpm or so, and “turbo lag” (delay after flooring the throttle) makes smooth driving difficult. Unruly steering-wheel tug occurs when pushed hard, too, unless front wheels are pointed dead-ahead. Handling is sporty, responsive, and predictable, with good cornering grip. SE models (and Viggens) ride quite stiffly. High-performance tires transmit a lot of irritating thump and jiggle on small, sharp bumps. Base models have softer tires and should be noticeably more compliant and comfortable on any road. Braking is swift and powerful. Relatively narrow and tall, hatchbacks have fairly ample space for five, plus cargo room that rivals a wagon. Convertibles seat only four, with very limited rear leg room. Rear visibility is so-so in hatchbacks and awful in top-up convertibles. Gauges and controls are well-located. The floor-mounted ignition switch is a longtime Saab hallmark. Sadly, so is the SE’s obstinate automatic climate-control system. Detail finish is good and materials are classy. A test convertible suffered excessive body flex over bumps, but other Saabs have felt rigid and mostly rattle-free.

Ratings

Model Tested: 2002 Saab 9-3 SE 4-dr hatchback

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 7
70%
Fuel Economy - 5
50%
Ride Quality - 5
50%
Steering/Handling - 6
60%
Quietness - 5
50%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Front - 7
70%
Room/Comfort Rear - 6
60%
Cargo Room - 7
70%

Other

Value - 4
40%

Total: 58

Specifications

2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
102.6 182.2 67.4 56.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
28.3 16.9 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.9 37.9 42.3 33.0
2-door hatchback
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
102.6 182.2 67.4 56.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
46.0 16.9 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.3 37.9 42.3 34.1
4-door hatchback
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
102.6 182.2 67.4 56.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
46.0 16.9 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.3 37.9 42.3 34.1
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 9-3 4-door hatchback

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Front Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 107
Injury 70
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: The A/C compressor may fail to engage or fail to disengage due to a faulty thermo contact, which is now available separately from the compressor. (1999-03)
Automatic transmission
Description: A recall was issued to replace the shift-lock solenoid that prevented the transmission from shifting out of park. (1999)
Brakes
Description: If the brake-fluid reservoir cap is not installed properly, fluid can be sucked out of the reservoir through the cap’s check valve. (1999-01)
Climate control
Description: There were several problems with the HVAC controls ranging from stiff controls to ticking motors to loose knobs and broken spindles. New parts were being installed under warranty. (1999)
Oil consumption
Description: A banjo bolt in the crankcase ventilation system should be replaced to prevent oil from possibly entering the combustion chamber (causing emissions) or starving the turbo bearing. (1999)
Wipers
Description: The rear wiper may get loose or fall off unless thread-locking compound is applied to the hold-down nut. (1999)

Recall History

1999 w/manual front seats, made March 4 – October 17, 1998
Description: Failure of “Easy Entry” cable in front manual seats can cause seat fore/aft adjustable mechanism to be unlocked, reducing the restraint capability of the safetybelts in a crash.
2000-02 w/B205/B235 four-cylinder or B308 six-cylinder engine
Description: Overheating and burnout of isolated gated bipolar transistor may occur, most often at engine start-up.
2000-02 sedans and convertibles
Description: The fuel pump retaining tabs holding the fuel lines were damaged during production. Over time, this could cause the fuel lines to loosen from the pump resulting in fuel leakage. Dealers will install a bracket that will secure the fuel lines to the fuel pump.
2001
Description: Airbag alert labels may not be permanently affixed.
2002
Description: A loose tie rod could result in a sudden reduction or total loss of steering control.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.