New Car Review of the 2004 Saab 9-3 Compact Sedan and Convertible
Description: Compact Near Luxury Sedan and Convertible
Base MSRP Range: $24,929 - $42,500
Invoice Price Range: $24,929 - $40,078
The 9-3 series of compact-class cars, representing the largest product development program in the history of Saab, begins with the Epsilon platform employed for various products of General Motors. It features a long wheelbase and wide track with world-class chassis dynamics and superior handling traits.
First to emerge for what will become a family of models, the four-door 9-3 sport sedan rolled out in 2003 revealing the sleek wedge-shaped silhouette of a racy coupe with windswept lines and wheels pushed to corners with little overhang apparent.
For 2004, three versions of the sports sedan return with revamped wheel packages and new paint choices. But the line expands to encompass a new open-top premium convertible in two trims.
Actually, Saab developed the convertible 9-3 concurrently with the sedan so there are shared features like chassis and powertrains, although the drop-top was fortified with a ring of steel around the cabin to unify its structure and maintain rigidity in the absence of a roof. Added safety elements for the convertible include front buckets with seatbelts integrated into the seat frames, two-stage side-impact air bags large enough to shield torso and head, and Saab's active head restraints that help counter the painful whiplash effect during a rear-end impact. Then a new DynaCage concept goes to work in the event of a roll-over incident with pop-up roll bars concealed at the rear of the cabin, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and reinforcements built into the windshield pillars.
Saab 9-3 as a sports sedan offers a choice of two aluminum engines, each a 2.0-liter four-in-line design with dual overhead cams and a turbo-charger tacked on to boost the muscle while still economizing on fuel. The base 9-3 Linear sedan draws from a version rated at 175 hp with five-speed manual shifter. Two other sedans (Arc and Aero) as well as the convertible's two trims (also Arc and Aero) get the more powerful plant for 210 hp. With Arc trim a five-speed manual is stock but for Aero a six-speed manual applies. A five-speed automatic is optional for all, as is Saab's Sentronic manual shift mode with shifter tabs pinned to the steering wheel.