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Used car focus: Subtle Swedish style

The Saab 9-3’s appeal lies in its image. It’s less flash than a BMW and less brash than a Mercedes-Benz.

It’s the subtle choice for the free-thinking buyer looking for distinctive, understated style, and a comfortable, but sporty drive.

This is also one place where the Swedish safety cliché is true: the 9-3 is one of just a handful of cars in this class to have a five-star Euro NCAP rating.


The 9-3 has a simple model line up, with Linear, Arc and Vector standard trims and a performance Aero model. Linear models get 15in alloy wheels, CD/radio, headlamp washers, and leather steering wheel.

Arc adds 16in wheels, leather upholstery, front fog lamps, cruise control, on-board computer, and climate control with chilled glovebox. Vector models gain a metal-look interior trim, colour-coded body mouldings, 17in alloy wheels, leather/textile sports seats, sports steering wheel and gearknob. Sport Aero models get 17in five-spoke alloy wheels, sports kit and a rear spoiler.

Driving and performance

Like previous Saabs, the 9-3 is based on a Vauxhall – this time it’s the Vectra. But although it shares underpinnings, it’s far better to drive and it has a ‘Saab feel’.

The ride is excellent, smooth over every surface, without being wallowy. The handling doesn’t suffer, either, with good cornering and light, direct steering.


Saab still makes comparisons with its fighter jet heritage, but the link is becoming increasingly tenuous. There’s a hint of cockpit to the dash, but the only true link is the night-panel switch, which dims all backlit controls. The driver will find it easy to find a comfortable driving position thanks to outstanding adjustable seats and a multi-adjustable steering wheel.

It’s pretty impressive in the back, too, where there’s enough room for three to sit in comfort.


The 2.2 diesel combines torquey urge with good economy - unsurprisingly, it’s been a strong seller. 2004 saw the launch of a new 120bhp 1.9D and a 1.9 TiD with 150bhp, which are now starting to appear on used forecourts.

Petrol engines are refined and lively. The 1.8 and 2.0t will be fast enough for most and are able motorway cruisers. 2.0T turbo provides vivid acceleration.


The 9-3 has a five-star Euro NCAP rating. The body is tough and all models come with driver, passenger and side airbags, ABS and EBD, strong deadlocks, unique-fit stereo and advanced alarm/immobiliser.

On the forecourt

Fast movers
2.0t Arc: A petrol engine with performance.
Trade 0252-0454: £9,400-£12,700
Retail 0252-0454: £12,000-£16,200

2.2 TiD Plenty of these punchy and economical diesels around.
Trade 0252-0404: £8300-£13,000
Retail 0252-0454: £10,600-£16,600

Ones to avoid

Base Linear models.

In the workshop:
Generally very reliable, but watch out for ECU problems causing a lack of power and electrical gremlins.

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