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2001 Saab 9-3 REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Controls not always intuitive, offbeat image, severe torque steer in SE and Viggen models.

Pro: Comfy interior, versatile hatchback model, torquey turbo motor, quirky personality.

Edmunds Say: An offbeat alternative to the staid German sedans that dominate the category.

What’s New: The base convertible has been dropped for this year while all other models get two new colors. The OnStar telematics system and traction control are now standard.

Review: Despite some shortcomings, we're fond of Saab's uniquely styled coupes and sedans. The base 9-3 comes in three-door coupe and five-door hatchback while the convertible has been dropped for 2001. All come equipped with a powerful 185-horsepower four-cylinder engine. This turbocharged 2.0-liter produces stunning acceleration that can char the front tires into bits if the driver so chooses.

Move up to the even more feature-laden SE five-door or convertible, and you're opting for even more performance. All SEs are powered by a high-output version of the turbo four that spins an amazing 205 horses (that's better than 100 horsepower per liter of displacement!) through either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox. Perhaps even more impressive is that in stick-shift models, this motor makes its 209 foot-pounds of torque at an amazingly low 2,200 rpm, and then maintains peak torque all the way up to 4,500 rpm. Talk about a useable power band!

In addition to getting bigger wheels and tires, the uplevel SE also boasts a sportier look with a front chin spoiler, flared rocker panels, a low-slung rear valence, body-colored mirrors, chrome exhaust tip and a sports steering wheel. The SE Convertible models add a rear spoiler, while five-door versions come equipped with a specially tuned sport suspension for more responsive handling. For pure enthusiasts, Saab offers the high-performance 9-3 Viggen. With 230 horsepower and a healthy 258 foot-pounds of torque from its high-output turbo 2.3-liter, the Viggen can be had as a coupe, hatch or ragtop, and either in black, Steel Gray or Laser Red.

All 9-3 models feature Saab's patented pendulum-design B-pillar, which deflects side impacts away from head and chest areas; the world's first head-restraint system to reduce the risk of whiplash-type injuries; and seat-mounted, two-stage inflating head and chest side airbags.

The Saab 9-3 is a fun-to-drive, equipment-laden near-luxury car that competes against entries from Volvo, BMW and Mercedes. While the 9-3 is a good car in its own right, the problem is that there are plenty of good cars in the 9-3's price class. If your tastes run a bit on the eccentric side, however, this car's personality and quirkiness may be a better choice for you than a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C class. You'll certainly stand out more in the crowd, and have fun doing it.


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