2008 Saab 9-3 Review

Pros & Cons

  • Quiet ride, accurate steering, responsive all-wheel-drive system, supportive front seats, available in three body styles.
  • Subpar interior materials and build quality, too much body roll on Aero model, ride can be choppy over bumps.
List Price Estimate
$1,424 - $2,835

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Edmunds' Expert Review

A tasteful retouch makes the 2008 Saab 9-3 one of the most attractive entry-luxury cars on the road, but it can't disguise the car's advancing age and lack of refinement in the face of hugely competent German and Japanese rivals.

Vehicle overview

Though the 9-3 is the most mainstream car ever sold by Saab, it remains a niche choice among entry-level luxury sedans, wagons and convertibles. This works both to its benefit and detriment. On the upside, the Saab 9-3 has a distinct Scandinavian charm. Its styling looks as modern as any peer's, yet its design cues are a refreshing break from the mainline aesthetic. On the downside, its middle-of-the-road driving dynamics and interior furnishings are forgettable in a class that demands excellence. With a full redesign still a couple years off, Saab has attempted to extend the 9-3's shelf life by giving it an exterior makeover and an all-wheel-drive option for 2008.

A new grille, a more rounded hood and revised body-side moldings are the most noticeable components of the styling refresh. We suspect Saab fans will like how the grille's design pays homage to much-loved past Saabs like the 99 and 900. More interesting, however, is the all-wheel-drive system available on the 9-3 Aero sedan and wagon midway through the year. Saab calls its system "Cross Wheel Drive" and abbreviates it as XWD. At a steady cruising speed, XWD sends more than 90 percent of engine power to the front wheels. Under acceleration or in low-grip situations, the system's electronic brain sends torque rearward to enhance traction. Buyers also have the option of ordering a rear electronic limited-slip differential (known as eLSD) that further improves grip on slippery roads and tidies up the car's cornering line on dry pavement.

The sophisticated new XWD system is a bright spot, as it adds a level of driver involvement that has been absent from Saabs for years. Additionally, when equipped with XWD, the 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero picks up a higher-boost version of the turbocharged, 2.8-liter V6 rated at 280 hp. But even with its newfound grip and power, the 9-3 Aero XWD isn't hard-edged enough to be considered a true sport sedan or sport wagon. This could change with the Turbo X, which has the firmer suspension the 9-3 has always needed. We question Saab's decision to leave the 9-3's interior unchanged during this refresh. The cabin is attractive at a glance, particularly with the two-tone leather option, but closer inspection reveals low-quality plastics and inconsistent fit and finish.

These are critical weaknesses when you're up against meticulously executed cars like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS 250/IS 350 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Even slightly less expensive players such as the Acura TSX, Infiniti G35 and Volvo C70/S40/V50 edge past the 2008 Saab 9-3 in performance, ride dynamics and cabin quality. To be sure, the new all-wheel-drive system is capable and useful enough to make the 9-3 Aero XWD and Turbo X interesting dark horse candidates, particularly for buyers in wet-weather climates. But if you want an entry-luxury sedan, wagon or convertible that's buttoned down on every detail, we'd advise you to shop around a bit before buying a Saab 9-3.

2008 Saab 9-3 models

The 2008 Saab 9-3 is a compact, entry-level luxury car available in sedan, wagon ("SportCombi") and convertible body styles -- all of which come in 2.0T and Aero trim levels. Front-wheel drive is standard on the 9-3, and later in the year, an all-wheel-drive system will be available on Aero sedans and wagons.

The 2.0T model offers 16-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, wood-grain interior trim, an eight-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and a seven-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. Sedans and SportCombi wagons have a split-folding rear seat, while convertibles come with a fully automatic power cloth top. In addition to a turbocharged V6 engine, the 9-3 Aero model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, firmer suspension tuning, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, front sport seats (with power adjustments for the passenger), metallic interior trim and an upgraded Bose stereo with an in-dash CD changer. Aero sedans and wagons have a sunroof.

Many of the Aero's features are available on the 2.0T via the options list. Options across both trims include a navigation system, rear parking sensors and seat heaters. Buyers who opt for a 9-3 Aero XWD can also get an electronic limited-slip rear differential.

Another alternative for buyers who want all-wheel drive is the limited-edition Saab 9-3 Turbo X sedan and wagon. It's equipped similarly to the regular 9-3 Aero XWD, but has 18-inch wheels; a lowered and firmer suspension with self-leveling rear shock absorbers; larger brakes; black leather seats and faux carbon-fiber interior trim.

2008 Highlights

All 2008 Saab 9-3s benefit from an exterior refresh. Notably, all body trim is monochromatic this year. A more significant development is the January 2008 arrival of an optional all-wheel-drive system for 9-3 Aero sedans and wagons. These AWD 9-3s get a more potent, 280-horsepower version of the turbocharged V6. In addition, Saab will offer a limited-edition version of the AWD sedan and wagon called the Turbo X. Only 600 will come to the U.S. and they'll be identifiable by their black exterior paint, 18-inch wheels, lowered suspension, larger brakes and unique interior trim. The Turbo X sedan gains a rear spoiler. Other updates for 2008 include a 5-hp bump for front-drive Aeros and minor changes to the standard and optional equipment lists.

Performance & mpg

Standard on Saab 9-3 2.0T models is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder that makes 210 hp and 221 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel-drive 9-3 Aero models get a turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 capable of 255 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive Aero sedans and wagons get a higher-boost version of the turbo-6 rated at 280 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on all 9-3s. A five-speed automatic is optional on 2.0Ts, while Aeros are eligible for a six-speed automatic. Both automatics offer separate sport and manual modes.

Safety

Every 2008 Saab 9-3 features antilock disc brakes, stability control, OnStar telematics, active head restraints and front-seat side airbags. The sedan and SportCombi wagon come with full-length side curtain airbags, while convertibles get a rollover protection system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Saab 9-3 sedan and wagon at four out of five stars for frontal-impact protection. In the side-impact category, the 9-3 received five stars for front-occupant safety and four stars for the rear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 9-3 "Top Safety Pick" honors based on its "Good" ratings (the highest possible) in the agency's frontal-offset crash, side-impact crash and head-restraint effectiveness tests.

Driving

Both the 2.0T and the 255-hp turbocharged V6 deliver a healthy pull throughout their power bands, but performance is nothing special for this class. The higher-boost version of the turbo V6 on 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD models adds some excitement to the range, as it delivers noticeably sharper low-end response. The automatic transmissions can be reluctant with downshifts in "D," but they respond with reasonable haste in sport mode. The manual transmission is easy to shift, but the shifter's rubberiness through the gates detracts from a sporting feel.

The 9-3's ride is smooth and quiet over well-groomed pavement, but the suspension loses composure over bumps and ruts. Steering is light and accurate, but body roll around corners is excessive even on the more athletic Aero model. Enthusiasts would be wise to wait for a 9-3 Aero XWD or Turbo X, as the all-wheel-drive cars' exceptional grip makes for a more engaging driving experience.

Interior

The Saab 9-3's cabin offers decent ergonomics and very comfortable front seats, but neither materials quality nor fit and finish are up to par for this class. The sedan and wagon are sufficiently roomy, but legroom is tight for adults seated in the back of the convertible. Given the choice, we'd go with a Turbo X sedan or wagon, as those models have more aggressively bolstered front seats and a softer-grip steering wheel.

The Saab 9-3 can carry more than most cars in its class; it offers 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 72.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded flat.


Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the Used 2008 Saab 9-3.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Great Drop Top for Weekend Drives
New Jersey Saab Owner,05/18/2016
2.0T 2dr Convertible (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)
For a weekend driver the Saab price was a bargain. Why spend 40 grand (what this listed for when new) to get that wind in your hair feeling, when you can get a used Saab that has some class to it? Granted it can get expensive, but I do a lot of my own work, brakes, filters, oil, plugs, belts etc. The car itself is solid, tight steering, easy to work on, hugs the road, very quiet for a cloth top, and the 2.0 turbo has plenty of punch. MPG is terrific. The car is a looker, easy to park, gets plenty of comments and you don't see many of them around. The trunk with the top down can hold enough luggage for a long weekend. This is just right if you want a nice looking car gets plenty of attention, and if taken care of the 2008 has good reliability reviews. Since my original post in February I received two recall notices, one for the airbag and another for the seat belt, both of which were repaired by our local dealer. The Saab sat in the garage all winter and was started up every week. I am using synthetic oil, replaced the spark plugs, new battery, put on new brakes, and enjoying the ride. Now the warmer weather is here, it has been driven several times with no issues and look forward to the weekends. I now have 98,000 miles and it still runs like a champ. I has a MR2 which was a good car, but had no trunk or room for storage. The Saab is easier to get into, small enough to park in tight areas, yet big enough to carry a few bags of groceries. The back seat isn't roomy, but is big enough for guests on short notice on a spur of the moment trips. We are very happy with this vehicle it, was inexpensive as a used rag top, you don't see many on the road, we get lots of compliments, great gas mileage, and enough storage for a weekend jaunt for two retired people. The only drawback is you need the OnStar feature for the Bluetooth to work. Since GM no longer services Saab, the buttons are useless. It doesn't affect the performance of the vehicle and isn't a crucial factor for me. Here it is 2018, and the Saab is still running great. A great car for a weekend jaunt, and love the compliments especially with the top down!
Why the hell didn't I consider a Saab before?
Al,03/09/2016
2.0T 2dr Convertible (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)
I was in the market for a new car and was looking through all of the usual suspects; BMW, Mercedes, Infinity, Cadillac...blah, blah, blah! I had a very strict amount that I was willing to spend because of kids in college and having to purchase another vehicle for my wife and another for my daughter who gets her license in less than a year. So, while I was looking I happened to come across a couple of used Saab convertibles. I did some research and I could not find one really negative review. That was cool. I then called a trusted Euro Repair shop in my area. We discussed the Saab turbo 4 cylinder engine, reliability. maintenance fees, convertible top reliability - a basic rundown of his experience of this car. His overall input was that it was very reliable, fun and easy to work on car. He stated that if I took care of it and was REALLY methodical about changing the oil every 2.5K miles, it would last a very long time. So, with that I went to go take a look at the car. It was Silver with Black interior and it was in phenomenal shape. 82K miles. Very good maintenance records and it had been taken care of. Car Fax showed everything was clean. Away we went for the test drive! I immediately noticed that the instrument cluster is laid out very logically and easy to read. I absolutely love the ignition being in the center console. It's different! I fire it up, drop it in drive and head out on the test. Tight steering, front wheel drive 'pull' feels different than rear wheel drive 'push', but it bites and performs really well. Quite, low road noise and surprising performance are things that hit me right away. Seats are very firm but comfortable. I approach the freeway and push the pedal down. Wow! Nice! Great acceleration, handling and we quickly reach 85mph in no time and all of this while not even being in 'Sport' mode. I've driven and owned pretty much every import and I am embarrassed to say that I never looked at a Saab before. The fact that the company is no longer around makes me wonder if they would have been a little more Marketing savvy, if they would still be around. Who knows!!?? What I do know is that I love this car. Convertible top works flawlessly, it looks great, it performs incredibly well. Gas mileage is exceptional given the performance. Bang for the buck, I could not have made a better choice. I'm looking forward to many road trips in this awesome ride! Great fun!
Earned Respect
saabtech,12/07/2011
2.0T 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)
I had never planned on buying a Saab and in fact all I could remember at the time was how ugly the older Saabs looked. A friend of mine had a 2005 Saab 9-3 and the first time I rode in it I was truly surprised. It was far from the hatchback design of the S900 and it was quick and had nice fit and finish. This began my passion for these cars. I have driven a 2005 9-3 2.0T a 2006 9-3 aero, and two different 2008 9-3 2.0T. All the cars I had were great although I did experience less than stellar performance in the Pirelli and Continental tires that they were putting on the cars until 2008 when the TMPS sensor option was included. I have been very pleased with the reliability of all the cars I owned and feel that the 2008 and up Model Years to have the best long term reliability. This is why I went ahead and purchased one after my lease on my first 08 9-3 ended. The overall fuel efficiency of this car is excellent and seems to beat many other makes for the power output that it gives. I worked for VW and Audi and have driven many of their cars and just don’t feel that their 2.0T has as much power as the 9-3. Even though the 2.0T for Audi and VW has been rated very high I know internally that there are still issues with oil consumption and slug in models that this engine has been used in, and that’s why I would never purchase anything containing their 2.0T. The new styling in 08 really for me was a winner. I had appreciated the older design, but wasn’t a fan of all the plastic rubbing strips and trim that was visible on the outside of the car. I was happy to see that the facelift was focused on the outside and left the interior relatively untouched. The only thing that I wish had been standard on the 2.0T is visible sports exhaust, and xenon option. I really enjoy the interior and the only thing I would have like to see is a little less plastic and more leather covered surfaces like on the door handles and the front panel that surrounds the radio and instrument cluster. The leather I’ve noticed stays in good condition if you maintain it, however if you don’t after about 100,000K the driver’s seat gets pretty rough looking. In older VW models that have leather it holds up much better probably due to several seemed portions on the seat bottoms rather than one large piece that tends to get stretched like in the 9-3.
My First Saab
DoninVirginia,11/21/2010
Aero 2dr Convertible (2.8L 6cyl Turbo 6M)
After researching manufacturers such as Audi and BMW, I chose the Saab Aero Convertible. My criteria included 1) fun to drive, 2) performance, 3) curb appeal, 4) amenities, and 5) price. The 2008 Aero Convertible had it all. The 6-speed manual is fun to drive, and performs like a champ. It has a great look, small on the outside, but comfortable on the inside. I love the Xenon lights and the Bose Stereo. 2008 was the right price point. And this vehicle, steel gray with black top, had been meticulously maintained, with only minor wear noted. The key fob is also really cool. Although the interior materials may not be up to others, it is not worthy of the criticims.

Safety

NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver4 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver5 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    Rollover4 / 5
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Good
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Good
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test
    Good

More about the 2008 Saab 9-3
More About This Model

Everyone has that fun ex-girlfriend you keep going back to even though you know she's all wrong for you. Or that reality show you can't stop watching even though you know it's rotting your brain. You like them, but doing so doesn't make any rational sense.

Well, welcome to the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X Sport Combi, a really fun car with a really long name that makes as much rational sense as Jenny and America's Got Talent. It's a sport wagon with Mt. Denali high points and Death Valley low points. We walked away liking it, but knowing that we could only recommend it to a guy named Sven who has two kids and lives at the top of Latigo Canyon Road.

Of course, the 9-3 Turbo X is only going to be produced for 2008 in teeny-tiny numbers -- 600 sedans and Sport Combi wagons, to be precise -- which might make you wonder why we're even bothering to road test it in the first place. Well, for most folks, the sorta-mass-produced 9-3 Aero Sport Combi XWD will seem mostly identical to the Turbo X edition. The added bits and pieces between the two cars can really only be appreciated when tearing through a serpentine road. A firmer and lower suspension, self-leveling rear shocks, larger 18-inch alloy wheels and larger-diameter brakes all do a tremendous job of turning the 9-3 into a true sport sedan/wagon with superb handling potential. Of course, if you can't enjoy said potential, the Aero and its more comfortable ride should do you nicely, while still offering the same turbocharged V6, smart all-wheel-drive system and communicative steering.

So does that mean the Turbo X is the ex-girlfriend, while the Aero is the gal you should take down the aisle? Well, no. All of the Turbo X's major low points are actually shared with the Aero -- cramped backseat, disappointing fuel economy, chintzy interior and most of all, an absurdly high price. According to Edmunds True Market Value® pricing for August 2008, both the 9-3 Aero and Turbo X on average sell for $2,000 below invoice, but at about $41,000, that would still make our Turbo X test car too expensive given similarly priced competitors. The Aero is no different.

If we were to buy a 2008 Saab 9-3, there's no doubt that we'd track down one of the very few Turbo X Sport Combis. But that's a pretty unrealistic if. No amount of adept handling, wagon utility and Saab funkiness can make up for such huge drawbacks. We just couldn't marry Jenny.

Used 2008 Saab 9-3 Overview

The Used 2008 Saab 9-3 is offered in the following submodels: 9-3 Sedan, 9-3 Convertible, 9-3 Turbo X, 9-3 Wagon, 9-3 Turbo X SportCombi. Available styles include 2.0T 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M), 2.0T 2dr Convertible (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M), Aero 4dr Sedan (2.8L 6cyl Turbo 6M), 2.0T SportCombi 4dr Wagon (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M), Aero 2dr Convertible (2.8L 6cyl Turbo 6M), Turbo X 4dr Sedan AWD (2.8L 6cyl Turbo 6M), Aero SportCombi 4dr Wagon (2.8L 6cyl Turbo 6M), and Turbo X SportCombi 4dr Wagon AWD (2.8L 6cyl Turbo 6M).

What's a good price on a Used 2008 Saab 9-3?

Price comparisons for Used 2008 Saab 9-3 trim styles:

  • The Used 2008 Saab 9-3 2.0T is priced between $10,995 and$12,800 with odometer readings between 58000 and61774 miles.

Shop with Edmunds for perks and special offers on used cars, trucks, and SUVs near Ashburn, VA. Doing so could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Edmunds also provides consumer-driven dealership sales and service reviews to help you make informed decisions about what cars to buy and where to buy them.

Which used 2008 Saab 9-3s are available in my area?

Shop Edmunds' car, SUV, and truck listings of over 6 million vehicles to find a cheap new, used, or certified pre-owned (CPO) 2008 Saab 9-3 for sale near. There are currently 2 used and CPO 2008 9-3s listed for sale in your area, with list prices as low as $10,995 and mileage as low as 58000 miles. Simply research the type of car you're interested in and then select a used car from our massive database to find cheap prew-owned vehicles for sale near you. Once you have identified a used vehicle you're interested in, check the AutoCheck vehicle history reports, read dealer reviews, and find out what other owners paid for the Used 2008 Saab 9-3.

Can't find a used 2008 Saab 9-3s you want in your area? Consider a broader search.

Find a used Saab 9-3 for sale - 1 great deals out of 10 listings starting at $10,957.

Find a used Saab for sale - 8 great deals out of 12 listings starting at $16,301.

Find a used certified pre-owned Saab 9-3 for sale - 9 great deals out of 16 listings starting at $20,240.

Find a used certified pre-owned Saab for sale - 5 great deals out of 12 listings starting at $16,967.

Should I lease or buy a 2008 Saab 9-3?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Saab lease specials
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