- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

STOCKHOLM The new 9-3 Sport Sedan is ready. With that model Saab is entering the largest (midclass) segment of the premium car market. With the 9-3 the Swedes are ready to compete with the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Jaguar X-type and the Volvo S60.
As more than 60 percent of this segment is sedans, Saab chose to bring its sport sedan version to the market first. Next year we may expect the 9-3 Convertible, followed by the Sport Wagon in 2004 and a four-wheel-drive crossover model based on the 9-3 X concept car in 2005.
With the 9-3 sport sedan, Saab aims at younger customers than with the 9-5. They must be attracted by the new car's fun-to-drive feel and sporty character. Therefore, a lot of effort has been put into the chassis dynamics and turbo-charged performance.
I drove the 9-3 Aero to its limits in the area north of Uppsala in Sweden. There, for a short time, it felt as if speed limits did not exist. As always, I started the test drive with a lane change, to feel the balance of the car and to know how hard or soft the suspension was set up. I rated the 9-3 as "comfortable," so I started to be a bit careful with the throttle on the winding roads with narrow and short bends.
It did not take long to gain confidence and step on the gas. The new Saab proves to be stable and very safe, even for a sporty driver in a great hurry. I was impressed with the good balance of the new 9-3. Not too stiff to allow the driver a change of heart in the middle of the corner (or to allow a mistake). I loved the confident behavior without even a hint of any mean reactions.
My companion for the day was equipped with the version with the 2.0t Aero engine that delivers 210 horsepower with its high-pressure turbo. The maximum torque of this new aluminum engine is a pleasant 21 foot-pounds at 2500 rpm. The Aero engine is teamed to a six-speed hand-shifted gearbox (automatic transmission is also available). No speed limit, eh? Well, to be honest, I accelerated from 80 to 130 mph more than once and cruised at forbidden speeds. That was without any engine hesitation.
When I later talked to one of the chassis engineers, he asked if I could feel the rear-wheel steering. I had to acknowledge that I couldn't. But he smiled and said it wasn't possible to. The ReAx passive rear-wheel steering system, however, improves handling and stability. That I could confirm.
The 9-3 Aero T engine impressed me with its eagerness and smooth performance. This version will hit the markets in January 2003. In the fall the 2003 9-3 Sport Sedan will be available with the 2.0t, the light turbo version with 175 horse power and 195 foot-pounds of torque.
I also drove the 9-3 2.0t, teamed to the new five-speed automatic transmission. That engine does all you want to do with the same smoothness as the Aero. You can feel it is less powerful but not that much less eager. On both versions the steering feel is light, response is quick and braking is safe.
The interior of the new 9-3 is what you would expect from a premium car: excellent quality, nicely done and well-thought-out details.
As you may also expect of a Saab in this class, the 9-3 has extended safety equipment with an anti-lock breaking system, traction control, ESP, CBC (cornering brake-force control), active head-restraint system, safety pedals, front air bags, side air bags and curtain air bags in the front and rear.
We'll have to wait for the U.S. specifications on the standard equipment and prices. They will be issued in a month or so.

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