The first generation of Saab 9-3 was launched for the 1998 model year. It was then replaced by a redesigned second generation of the 9-3 for the 2003 model year. In total 608,878 Saab 9-3 were produced.
Saab 9-3 First Generation
Designed by a team led by Einar Hareide, the first generation of the Saab 9-3 was launched in 1997 for the 1998 model year essentially as a rebadged second generation Saab 900 (1994–1998 model), and succeeded by the redesigned 9-3 Generation 2 for the 2003 model year. It is not to be confused with the Saab 93 which was produced from 1955 to 1960.
The Saab 9-3 had been modified on a number of points compared to the 900, the most visible being the new design of the bumpers, the new grill, and that the registration plate’s location was moved to be between the taillights (previously it was placed under).
The electrical system used for the Saab 9-5 was also incorporated on the 9-3. While not done at the time of launch the more modern engine control system from the 9-5, Trionic 7, also replaced Trionic 5 which was previously used in the Saab 9000. Another feature that was taken from the 9-5 was the 4 cylinder 2.2 diesel engine.
The chassi was also updated, and the car’s crash zones were strengthened. In summary, the 1,100 changes were made to modernize the 900 and to make the car match 9-5 in appearance.
Saab 9-3 Viggen
In 1999 an even more powerful variant of the top model Saab 9-3 2.0T (200hp) called the 9-3 Viggen was released. It was named after the fighter aircraft Saab 37 Viggen.
The Saab 9-3 Viggen had an increased engine volume of 2.3 liters and delivered 225 hp. In 2000, the car’s engine power was increased to 230 hp. Other differences between the Viggen and the Aero (which was launched in 2000) include better coupling, harder shock absorbers, other springs and various appearance changes, such as rear spoilers.
The Viggen model is available in six colors: Lightning Blue, Monte Carlo Yellow, Steel Gray, Silver, Black and Laser Red.
Saab 9-3 Second Generation
In 2003 a brand new Saab 9-3 was launched. The car was well received and lauded for its good driving characteristics. New engine options were added, both with and without turbo.
The Saab 9-3 generation 2 is available with two “global” gasoline engines, a four-cylinder straight engine and a six-cylinder V engine . A proprietary fiber-optic electric/electronic system, the possibility of AWD (dubbed Saab XWD) are just a few of the features that are exclusive to the Saab 9-3.
The most drastic change from the former generation was the elimination of the hatchback design. The second-generation 9-3 is available as a four-door saloon, an estate (known as the SportWagon, SportCombi or Sport-Hatch dependant on the market), and a two-door convertible (introduced in 2004).
In the 2006 model year the 9-3 Sport Wagon was introduced together with the 6-cylinder B284 engine with variable intake camshaft phasing (CVCP) and a twin scroll turbocharger.
In the 2007 model year a new instrument panel was introduced with amongst other things the SID integrated with the MIU. The SID functions are now controlled using the steering wheel buttons.
In 2008 the 9-3 was given a major facelift, with a brand new exterior look. For the same model year the XWD system (all-wheel-drive) was also introduced along with new BioPower and V6-engines.
Unique features for the Saab 9-3
XWD was introduced in model year 2008 and is an active system for all-wheel drive which has been developed to optimise the vehicle’s responsiveness and stability in all driving conditions. It optimises the transfer of drive torque between front and rear wheels according to the requirements of the circumstances, providing the driver with improved control.
It is controlled by its own electronic control module which works together with the ECM, TCM and ABS/ESP control modules. For the driver, this means maximum traction and strong, even acceleration with unnoticeable shifting of the drive torque between the wheels.
The Saab 9-3’s also used Saab Automobiles unique fuel system Saab Biopower. Introduced in 2007 it uses ethanol/petrol mixes with up to 85% ethanol (E85). Together with a turbo the engine and the fuel system can take advantage of the higher octane levels in the ethanol and that way achieve an increase in engine capacity. For example, the 1.8t BioPower engine for the Saab 9-3 offers 150 hp when driven on petrol and 175 hp with E85.
The chassis has been tuned with extreme precision and the XWD and ESP have been integrated with the focus on delivering optimum road holding and performance.
You might know the streamlined Saab 9-3 second generation as the car that embodied the song Release me by Oh Laura.
You should also know that in 2008 a limited version of the 9-3 was built. It was called 9-3 Turbo-X and was equipped with a 280 hp V6, AWD with a unique exterior.
Keeping your Saab 9-3 in top condition
The Saab 9-3, like most Saabs in fairness, are hard to beat when it comes to comfort, reliability, and safety. Saab Automobile has always done things their own way, and thanks in no small part to that even today they’re still up to date in terms of equipment and ride comfort.
Whether you already own, or are thinking about buying a used one, here are a few things you can think about to ensure that it stays the same special car as when it was produced.
A common misconception around Saab cars is that there are no longer afterservice or parts available for them. This is simply not true, as there are parts available and qualified Saab workshops to keep your car in top condition. Through Orio AB, the company behind Saab Original, and the authorised Saab workshop network you have access to both highly skilled mechanics specialised in Saabs and approximately 47,000 unique lines of Saab parts. So even in that sense owning and buying a used Saab 9-3 continues to be safe.
All cars are complex constructions and have their quirks and to list everything that could possibly go wrong is simply impossible for any vehicle. However, there are a few things worth knowing about these Saabs that can increase the enjoyment you get from them and save you time, money, and frustration.
Make sure to change the oil regularly because not doing so decreases the lifespan of the engine. Infrequent oil changes have a negative impact on timing chain wear, piston skirts, and crankshaft bearings. It is easy to get stuck in thinking that oil changes cost a lot of money – but if you think about it, you can buy a lot of oil for the cost of an engine replacement.
An authorised Saab workshop will be able to advise you on the optimal frequency for the changes (you can also read more in our comprehensive service guide) and help you with the change. As an added bonus cars with service histories backed by stamps from authorised Saab workshops have a considerably higher resell value than those without.
If you are looking at convertible Saab 9-3 it is worth doing an extra round of checks because of the complexity of the hood mechanism. Specialist Saab workshops are well placed to help you with this since they have the special tools and equipment designed just for Saab. For example using Tech 2, the technicians can get all the information needed – even how many times the roof of particular car has been raised and lowered.
For more things to look out for, read our service guide here.
Advice for buying a Saab 9-3
A piece of advice that holds as true for Saab as with any used car is that the service history of the car is generally more important to look at than any equipment or engine specification. Having said that, here are some other things to consider when buying a used Saab 9-3.
Generally Saabs are well-equipped compared to a lot of other makes. When buying a used car it means that a Saab is a lot of car for the money you pay, since used car prices are mostly based on model year, service history and mileage rather than equipment level.
Always run a diagnostics check before buying a used vehicle. Authorised Saab workshops have tools and diagnostics equipment developed specifically for Saab cars, and can help you ensure that the Saab you are considering buying is in good shape.
Engines for the first generation
All turbocharged engines for the Saab 9-3 utilise Saab’s Trionic engine management system which works hand in hand with the Direct Ignition’s IDM module (mounted to the top of the engine, directly engaging the spark plugs).
From the beginning the most common engine found was the B204, which had also been used in the Saab 900. After 2000 the B205 which had been used first in the Saab 9-5 was fitted instead along with the engine system Trionic 7.
In 1998, a 2.2 diesel engine option (pictured) was also introduced. This engine has been appreciated by those seeking good economical value from their Saab.
Engines for the second generation
The second generation of the Saab 9-3 exists with two ‘global’ petrol engines, a straight four-cylinder egine and a six-cylinder V-engine.
The most commonly used engine is called B207 (pictured). It is a 4-cylinder, 2.0 litre turbo charged petrol driven in-line engine of aluminium with 4 valves per cylinder, 2 overhead camshafts, and 2 balance shafts integrated in the cylinder block.
For certain markets there is also a BioPower Variant.
The B207 engine family is a series of turbocharged engines:
- B207E – 150 hp Ecopower
- B207L – 175 hp full turbo
- B207R – 210 hp hi output turbo for Aero models
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