Premium compact car; Built in Austria, Sweden
  • 2-door convertible
  • 2-door convertible
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • transverse front-engine/front- or all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $4,100 – $28,000*


2003 Saab 9-3


2004 Saab 9-3


2005 Saab 9-3


Saab 9-3 interior

Pros:
  • Acceleration (210-hp)
  • Build quality (solid convertible construction)
  • Handling/roadholding
Cons:

Its front-wheel-drive layout prevents the 9-3 from competing with the best-in-class for ultimate handling prowess. Then again, front-drive has been a Saab hallmark for decades. Key rivals offer all-wheel drive for better handling all-weather security. Still, this is a dynamically capable, fun-to-drive automobile–especially the solidly-built convertible. Though it trails rivals for overall value, the 9-3 is a non-conformist alternative to Acura, Audi, BMW, and other near-luxury brands.

Overview

Saab redesigned its entry-level near-luxury car for 2003, retaining front-wheel drive and hallmark turbocharged four-cylinder engines, but dropping its traditional hatchback body style in favor of a conventional sedan. The new 9-3 was the same length overall as the outgoing version, but had new styling and greater width, built on a wheelbase almost 3 inches longer.

A four-door sedan replaced two- and four-door hatchbacks, though the previous-generation two-door convertible carried over temporarily, pending a redesign for 2004. General Motors owns the Swedish automaker, and the 2003 9-3 introduced GM’s Epsilon platform, which would soon host a redesigned Chevrolet Malibu.

Saab’s base version, introduced first, was called Linear. Luxury-oriented Arc and sporty Vector models followed in spring of 2003. All had 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The Linear’s engine produced 175 horsepower, with a choice of a five-speed manual or a new five-speed automatic. Arc and Vector models used a 210-hp version, with the automatic or a new six-speed manual gearbox. Automatics had a separate gate for manual shifting. Vectors included redundant steering-wheel-mounted manual-shift paddles.

Antilock four-wheel disc brakes were standard, along with traction control and front side airbags. Saab’s first curtain side airbags protected front- and rear-seat passengers. Alloy 16-inch wheels were standard on the Arc and optional for the Linear, to replace 15s. Vector sedans had 17-inch rubber. All had a 60/40 split folding rear seatback, with a ski pass-through and leather upholstery (leather-cloth in the Linear). The Arc added wood interior trim.

GM’s OnStar assistance system was standard. Rivals included the Acura TL, Audi A4, and BMW 3-Series.

The carryover convertible had a power top with heated glass rear window. It retained a 205-horspower engine and SE trim, but a new option package mimicked the appearance of the previous year’s high-performance Viggen version.

Yearly Updates

2004 9-3
Saab’s best-selling line added a convertible for 2004. This year’s 9-3 sedan came in three versions: Linear, luxury Arc and sporty Aero. Convertibles came in Arc and Aero form, including a “one-touch” power top with heated glass rear window. A rollover bar popped up if sensors detected an impending tip. Aeros with an automatic transmission included manual-shift paddles on the steering wheel. Aeros had a sport suspension and 17-inch wheels, which were optional on Linear and Arc models in place of 15s or 16s, and included a tire-pressure monitor. Sedans had front side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags. Convertibles replaced those units with head-and-thorax side airbags. All 9-3s had leather upholstery; the Linear got cloth inserts. Convertibles had a lockable pass-through to the trunk. OnStar assistance system was standard in the Aero, and optional elsewhere.
2005 9-3
A base-trim Linear convertible joined the 9-3 group for 2005, and a navigation system was newly available for Arc and Aero models. Linear models moved up to 16-inch tires. Wood interior trim moved from standard equipment to the option list on Arc models. OnStar and a tire-pressure monitor could no longer be installed.
2006 9-3
9-3 got a wagon bodystyle, called the SportCombi, for 2006. Also new was a turbocharged V6 made available on Aero models.
2007 9-3
All 9-3s got revisions to the instrument panel and interior trim for 2007.
2008 9-3
The 2008 Saab 9-3 got freshened styling and for the first time was available with all-wheel drive. AWD came packaged with a 280-hp 2.8-liter turbocharged V6, and the combination was standard in the new Turbo X sedan and wagon and optional in the Aero sedan and wagon.
2009 9-3
The Turbo X model was dropped, but AWD was newly available on the 2.0T sedan and wagon. All Aero models except the convertible now came standard with AWD and the 280-hp 2.8-liter turbocharged V6; the Aero convertible used the same engine but came only with front-wheel drive.
2010 9-3
The 2010 Saab 9-3 lineup saw a number of mid-year changes, including revised powertrain and all-wheel drive availability. The Aero’s turbocharged V6 was discontinued and all-wheel drive was no longer offered on the regular SportCombi wagon; instead, it was standard on the new 9-3X, a raised-suspension version of the wagon.
2011 9-3
The 2011 Saab 9-3 was largely unchanged.
2012 9-3
All-wheel-drive versions of the SportCombi wagon returned to the 2012 Saab 9-3 lineup to replace the raised-suspension 9-3X wagon, which was dropped. The convertible added a top-line Independence trim level.

Engines

transverse front-engine/front- or all-wheel drive

Two turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines have been available under 9-3 hoods. A 175-horsepower version went into the Linear edition, with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Vector/Aero and Arc models got a 210-hp four-cylinder, with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 175
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 195
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic
22/31
22/31
21.8-23.5
Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 205
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 207
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
23/33
21/29
Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 210
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 221
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
6-speed manual
5-speed automatic
22/31
21/30
Turbocharged dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 170/2.8
Engine HP 250
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 258
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual
6-speed automatic
18/28
17/28

Road Test

Ratings

Model Tested: 2004 Arc sedan w/auto.

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 - 6
60%
Steering/Handling - 7
70%
Quietness - 7
70%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Front - 7
70%
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
40%
Cargo Room - 4
40%

Other

Value - 5
50%

Total: 58

Specifications

2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
102.6 182.3 67.4 56.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
12.5 17.0 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.9 37.9 42.3 33.0
2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
105.3 182.5 69.4 56.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
12.4 16.4 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.0 37.1 41.5 31.9
4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
105.3 182.5 69.0 56.8
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
14.8 16.4 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.9 37.0 42.3 35.1
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
105.3 183.2 69.4 60.6
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
72.3 16.4 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.9 37.0 42.3 35.1
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A

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 N/A
Injury N/A
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. (2003)
Cold-starting problems
Description: Cars equipped with an engine heater may be hard to start when the heater runs but the temperature is at or above freezing (23 degrees F) requiring reprogramming of the engine control computer. (2003)
Ignition switch
Description: The key will not come out of the ignition if it is turned off while the vehicle is still moving. (2006)
Manual transmission
Description: Difficulty shifting manual transmission up or down into 2nd gear requires adjustment to the shifter mechanism. (2003)
Oil leak
Description: Oil leaks from the timing cover, valve cover or main seal due to excessive crankcase pressure require installation of ventilation kit. (2003)
Steering noise
Description: Snapping or popping noise from steering shaft requires removal and reinstallation of steering shaft joints using thread locking compound on bolts. (2003)
Suspension noise
Description: Banging from front suspension over bumps may be due to faulty thrust bearing on the tops of the MacPherson struts. (2006)
Water leak
Description: Water may leak into the driver’s side kick panel shorting out the acceleration position sensor resulting in lack of power and illumination of the check engine light. (2005-08)
Water leak
Description: Water may leak into taillights due to poor fitting trunk gasket. (2004-05)
Wheels
Description: A campaign to replace the right-front wheel sensor harness was conducted to prevent corrosion of the connector. (2006)
Windows
Description: Side windows may be noisy, may go up slowly or not at all, may leak in rain or carwash because window support bar is weak and gets twisted or breaks. (2003)
None
Description: Rough idle and/or low engine speed may be due to the brake booster vacuum hose coming loose from the intake manifold. (2006)
None
Description: If the ignition key is turned off while the car is still coasting, the key cannot be turned to the lock position. (2006-07)
None
Description: It may be difficult to maintain proper temperature coming from the left and/or right side due to cracked blend door shaft(s). (2004)

Recall History

2003
Description: Engine in some cars can stall.
2003 9-3 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.
2003-04 Sedan
Description: Seat belt retractor may have been damaged during manufacture; over time, automatic tensioning cable could break, preventing belt webbing from retracting.
2003-05
Description: Vacuum pipe check valve for brake booster on some cars may fail from high-temperature exposure, which could result in sudden loss of power brake assist.
2010-2011 9-3 vehicles manufactured from June 2010 through December 2010.
Description: Certain fuel pumps installed as original equipment may have internal components with incorrect specifications. The subject fuel pumps can seize causing the engine to stall which increases the risk of a crash. Saab will replace the defective fuel pumps free of charge.

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.