Full 2012 Saab 9-3 Griffin Review
What's New for 2012
For 2012 and effectively the 9-3's final year, all models receive a boost in power and all automatic transmissions now have six-speeds. Minor feature shuffles between trims styling changes to the front bumper and interior trim also debut.
Among other entry-level luxury cars, the 2012 Saab 9-3 lineup is sadly outdated as it enters its ninth year of production of a model that never really impressed us.
Changes are few for the 2012 model year, which include slight improvements to the engine and transmission, as well as some minor styling tweaks. But these upgrades do little to overcome the Saab 9-3's sluggish acceleration, interior refinement and in-car technologies that are behind the times.
Among the 2012 Saab 9-3's positive attributes, we count its unique styling, large cargo capacity and sharp handling for Aero trim models at the top of our list. Also praiseworthy is the 9-3's variety of body styles; from a sedan, to a convertible and SportCombi wagon. But even these traits aren't all that unique among competing cars.
If for some reason, after weighing the aforementioned pros and cons, you still find yourself considering a 2012 Saab 9-3, we think the company's uncertain future -- for now Saab's bankruptcy has resulted in the 9-3 ending production -- should sway you towards nearly any other car in its class. Our top picks in this segment include the 2012 Audi A4, 2012 BMW 3 Series, 2012 Infiniti G Coupe and 2012 Mercedes C-Class. If you really want a Scandinavian slant, we'd suggest the Volvo S60 and C70.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Saab 9-3 is available in three body styles: sedan, convertible and a wagon known as the SportCombi. The base Turbo4 trim is offered on all body styles, while the Aero trim is offered on the sedan and convertibles. The convertible is also available in Independence trim. The SportCombi wagon is offered in Turbo4 and 9-3X trim.Front-wheel drive is standard on all, but both sedan models can be equipped with AWD (dubbed XWD).
The base Turbo4 sedan comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, front foglamps, a rear foglamp, heated mirrors, automatic wipers, headlamp washers, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat with lumbar adjustment, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a cooled glovebox, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Comfort package available on all Turbo4 trim levels adds an eight-way power passenger seat, a universal garage door opener, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The 9-3 Aero includes the Comfort package features and adds adaptive xenon headlamps, a sunroof, sporty exterior trim enhancements, a universal garage door opener, two-tone leather upholstery and an 11-speaker Bose surround-sound system with a six-CD changer.
Also available is a Convenience package for Turbo4 models (and similarly a Premium package for Aero trim) that includes power-folding auto-dimming outside mirrors, driver seat memory functions, rear parking sensors, and adaptive xenon headlamps (already standard on Aero trim).
The convertible models are identical to sedan trims and add a full power soft top and rear parking sensors. The Independence trim adds 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires, additional leather interior trim and the Premium package features. The SportCombi wagon in Turbo4 trim also is essentially the same as the sedan, while the 9-3X trim adds more rugged exterior trim and roof rails.
Options for all 9-3 models include OnStar, Bluetooth and a navigation system. Most features on range-topping models are available on lower trims.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2012 Saab 9-3 models are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 220 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard on all but the 9-3X, which is all-wheel drive. AWD is also optional for the sedan. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with a no-cost option six-speed automatic.
With the manual and front-wheel drive, the 9-3 sedan returns an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. The automatic drops to 19/29/23 mpg. Opting for all-wheel-drive, a convertible or SportCombi drops that figure by one to two mpg overall.
Standard safety features for the 2012 Saab 9-3 include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, active front head restraints and side airbags. The sedan and SportCombi include side curtain airbags, while the convertible features taller side airbags that cover the head of each front occupant. OnStar emergency telematics is optional on the 2.0T and standard on the Aero.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 9-3 sedan the best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests and a second-best score of "Acceptable" in roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Saab 9-3's cabin offers comfortable front seats (especially in the Aero) and good ergonomics, but the quality of the interior materials doesn't measure up to that of competitors in the class. Fit and finish also leaves something to be desired. The sedan and wagon are sufficiently roomy, but rear legroom is limited in the convertible.
Stereo and climate controls are a model of simplicity (a welcome departure from past Saabs), but in a class where topping the competition's high-tech features is commonplace, the 9-3 is practically standing pat. There's no iPod interface, the navigation system is antiquated, there's no real-time traffic and Bluetooth is packaged with OnStar. At least there are a few remaining kooky Saab features, like the console-mounted ignition and the "Night Panel" function that dims most instrument lighting (except most of the speedometer) for nighttime driving.
The Saab 9-3 does carry more cargo than many cars in its class, offering 15 cubic feet of trunk space in the sedan and 12.4 cubes in the convertible. The wagon offers 29.7 cubic feet of storage space with the backseat up and an impressive 72.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded flat. That's more than most compact crossover SUVs.
Despite an increase of power output from 201-hp to 220-hp, the 2012 Saab 9-3's turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is still expected to be underwhelming for this class of car. Ride quality is also disappointing, as the suspension can lose composure over especially bumpy pavement. The steering is a bright spot, as it is light and quite accurate. Body roll around corners is excessive with the base 2.0T model -- so much so that the term "mushy" could be applied. The sport-tuned Aero model improves things considerably -- as does the added traction of XWD all-wheel drive -- but even here the 9-3 can't quite match the athleticism of its rivals.