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Headline:FastSaloons.com Saab 9-3 Aero sentronic road testDate:27/04/2004
Source:FastSaloons.com   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests
   
Review:FastSaloons.com Saab 9-3 Aero sentronic road test  

FastSaloons.com
Review


Saab 9-3 Aero sentronic

Test Date
2nd - 13th April 2004

Our Thoughts
If ever there was a car befitting a place on FastSaloons.com the Saab 9-3 Aero is it.

Even the brochure for the range hails Saab 93 Sport Saloon. It has the looks and should have the pace to wow us so how will it do ?



1st Impressions - Exterior Styling



Well Proportioned, Well Executed, Well Sporty
Put simply the standard 9-3 looks sporty. Add to that shape, the well proportioned Aero appendages and you get a very good looking car. There is no doubt of the cars intentions, even parked next to my M5 the Aero was more overtly aggressive. The dimensions of the car hang together well, which is quite rare these days.

The front gets a skirt that brings the front close to the floor; the side get similar treatment - making the car look very low and sporty. The rear gets a skirt and a subtle boot lip spoiler.

The crowning glory on the car goes to it's feet - the 17inch alloys are brilliant an really set the car off.

The exhaust is oval and inside is split into two.

The car is badged as 93 Aero on the rear only.

Interior Styling

Following the exterior of the car, the interior is no let down. The contrary in fact, it adds to the perceptions already stimulated by the exterior. What you get is a classy interior, focus around the driver, with lots of comfort and toys.

The colour scheme of this car is light grey below the window level, dark grey at the window level and the same light grey above that. The effect is to lift the interior which could be too much if you didn't have the light grey contrast.



Driver's focus and lots of toys


The leather seats match the interior of the car. The design of light grey seats with dark grey flashes works well as it makes the seats feel a bit special. Both front seats are heated and electrically adjustable in all directions, and also feature a manual lumbar support. The drivers seat has 3-memory settings which also effect the exterior mirrors.

It's not all good news however as I found the driving position awkward to get right. My main problem was the steering wheel adjustment, which first of all I couldn't find (it's quite a long way under the dash), and then once I moved it closer, to get my arm / leg setup into the correct proportions, still didn't feel 100% correct

Typical Saab-ness of ignition in the central console, funky cup holder, and night panel are all there. Night Panel switches off all non-essential controls (revometer, gauges and main computer screen) off, leaving only the speedometer lit and working. I am not quite sure if this is particularly useful or helps safety but just shows Saab is willing to think laterally. In connection with this, I was able to test out my theory about what night panel does when you are nearly out of fuel. Reassuringly it does leave the fuel light on.

The Navigation system fitted to the car was not touch screen like the one found in the 9-5 Aero. But did have an excellent hires screen. In addition it takes advantage of the eye level display that is positioned at the base of the windscreen. This display is used to show the time, temperature, computer information as well as the nav system. The display is green predominantly - but has a small section of orange for warnings and also the navigation systems route guidance. This is a really great feature and means you only concentrate on relevant information, don't get distracted by anything else on the dash and don't take you eyes very far off the road.

Sharing the sat nav monitor is a Digital radio (which amongst other things shows additional information about the radio channel you are listening to (varying text description); CD and if fitted phone. I found the bass on the stereo to be a bit weak which was a surprise.

The dashboard is very clear with white writing, metal rings around the grey dials. The revometer redlines just under 6.5k and the speedometer is graduated up to 160mph. As with the 9-5 Aero 0-90 uses a bigger scale and font than the rest of the dial. In addition to there is a dial made up of the engine temperature, fuel gauge and current turbo power gauge.

Other neat features include the wing mirror control, which is housed on the a-pillar. And the central locking button which is neatly placed over drivers door handle.

The car was fitted with a 5-speed Auto (Sentronic) with Steering wheel controls for changing gears when the lever is manual mode. The lever can also be used in manual mode (forward for upshift, back for downshift).

Ride, Handling & Steering



Hard ride - suprised a few people
The suspension on the car was quite hard and as a result the ride was more susceptible to large movements when you hit bumps in the road. In addition smaller imperfections were also telegraphed into the car. Several passengers remarked about this and were surprised that it should be the case in this type of car.

However on the flip side the car does not roll much and can string together corners well.

The steering was light and quick, but in my opinion the steering wheel seemed too big. This had the effect of detracting from the experience. Under acceleration there is some amount of torque steer.

The car is equipped with ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and the system rarely showed its face. In fact it was really only under heavy first gear acceleration.


Engine, Gearbox and Performance

The 2.0-litre turbo engine powering the Saab produces a commendable 210bhp and 221lb ft of torque. Pretty respectable numbers, that compare well with the other cars in the class. However the car in this form only manages to hit 60mph in just over 8 seconds, which hints at the anchoring effects of the 5-speed auto.



2.0 turbo, 210bhp - but a bit disappointing aurally
Another downside of the car is that the engine is soulless - there is no character to the engine noise and certainly nothing to will you on, or more importantly distract you from the less than blistering performance. So not great news I am afraid, but it gets worse…

The gearbox simply doesn't change quickly enough. If you don't push too hard then the manual auto works reasonably well. Push harder though, and the shifts are too slow. So slow that you need to change at 5,500rpm at the very latest, otherwise you hit the rev limiter (6,500rpm). Even in automatic mode, with full acceleration the gear change between first and second is at only 4,500rpm. But…

Putting this in perspective, none of the auto boxes we have tested, with maybe the exception of the Jaguar 6-speed ZF box are brilliant. In comparison with these boxes the Saab is not really worse - it is just that we had so many high hopes about the car, we are kind of gutted that it failed to live up to our expectations.

Getting over the disappointment of the box and settling down to extracting the most from the car on quick B-roads, progress can be pretty quick. The steering wheel flippers come in handy when things get twisty but aren't ideally positioned and are sometimes quite awkward to reach.

On the other hand the brakes are very good, offering a good pedal feel combined to good stopping power. In fact they also appear to not suffer from brake fade, even after several high-speed stops. The brakes are a definite plus point for the car.

Official performance is quoted as 0-60 in 7.5secs for the 6-speed manual and a slower 8.3secs for the 5-speed auto tested here. Top speed is 146mph for the manual and 143mph for the auto. Our figures were:

Acceleration0-30 0-40 0-50 0-60 0-70 0-80 0-90 0-100
Saab 9-3 2.0T Aero sentronic (2 (03 - ))
(8.3)
Saab 9-3 2.0T Aero sentronic (2 (03 - ))
FastSaloons.com

(3.29)

(4.98)

(6.53)

(8.86)

(11.14)

(13.70)

(17.19)

(20.97)
*All FastSaloons.com stats are performed on private roads and repeated several times with the average displayed.

Practicality




Size, Space and Economy
Front and Rear space is good; boot space is 425 litres and so pretty much spot on for its peers.

Economy wise the Aero returns a combined 32.8mpg in the manual and 29.4mpg in the auto. This corresponds to 207g/km and 232g/km respectively.

The figures for the manual put it into diesel territory, whereas the auto's slightly higher emissions still compare quite favourably.

Insurance-wise the Saab is rated as 16E.

Conclusion

The Saab 9-3 Aero promises so much and in equal amounts disappointed so much. It is a masterstroke of design incorporating aspects to ensure it has Saab-ness, whilst also having a slick modern look. The car looks good and sporty in every profile. Inside this is also true, the car panders to the driver and the dash is full of toys and unique features.

However all this does is raise your expectations of how the car will drive and whilst there is nothing particularly wrong with how it drives, there is nothing actual too good either. In a car that should tempt you to drive it (cue the TV advertisements) this is a distinctly lacking. Whether this is entirely attributable to the auto box, is yet to be decided. Although, the manual 9-3 1.8t we tested earlier in the year, certainly felt more fun to drive.

Priced at £23,595 for the manual and £24,795 for the automatic the Aero compares well against rivals. Evo VIII 260 (23999), Mercedes C240 (24540), BMW 325i sport (24190), Jaguar X-type 2.5 sport (24000), Audi A4 3.0 Quattro (24,840), Jaguar S-type 2.5 V6 (24950).

For me in case you haven't realised the car left me feeling flat - hopefully I will feel differently after we test an Aero fitted with the manual box.


Neil











Pic a pic
Links:

Our Review of the Saab 9-5 2.3 HOT Aero

Saab 9-3 Aero Advert

View all photos taken during this test










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