Saab's 9-3 Takes Off in a New Direction

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Physician's Money Digest, January15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 1

Product development takes anew direction with Saab's 9-3. It's built on the Epsilonchassis, which will be used worldwideby different divisions of GeneralMotors. The new 9-3 has 3 modelvariations: the Linear, the Arc, andthe Vector. And while the whole carhas changed, the look and the handlingare characteristically Saab.

PLEASING INTERIORS

Walking toward the 9-3 you willnotice a modern and sporty sedanwith steeply raked front and rear windows.With an overall length of 182.5inches and a width of 69 inches, the9-3 competes well againstother carsin its category: the BMW 3-Series,the Audi A4, and the Lexus ES300.

A strong element of the new 9-3 isgood lighting. Hella halogens arestandard, and the optional extremelybright bi-xenon lights are on bothlow and high beams. The headlightshave small sensors in them that automaticallyadjust to avoid blinding oncomingtraffic. For example, duringhard acceleration the headlampsautomatically adjust downward tocompensate for changes.

When you sit in the driver's seatand close the door, you'll notice theinterior is void of straight lines. Thecockpit hugs the driver, and theinstrument panel arcs around in thesame ergonomic fashion. The dialsare clear, and white on black with atouch of green illumination for safetyat night. The instrument panel iswrapped in a gentle oval shape.Toward the center of the dashboard,above the center console, is a secondaryovoid that houses navigation,air controls, and the entertainmentsystem (an optional in-dash 6-diskCD changer is available on all models).Also on top of the dash, close tothe windshield and center-mounted,is an additional information displaythat shows time, temperature, radio,and warning lights.

The 9-3's roomy interior is simple,yet very well designed. Drivers get tochoose between 2 interior colors forall 3 models: parchment or gray. Andeach model has its own interior personality.The Linear is Scandinavianmodern, the Arc is more textured andluxurious with leather and real wood,and the Vector concentrates onperformance cues with chrometouches.The seats in all 3 models arebody hugging and very comfortablewith a high level of support. Optionalheated seats with 3 temperature levelskeep everyone's seat happy. In addition,the rear passengers get their ownheating air vents, storage armrest,cup-holder, and reading light.

ENGINE POWER AND SAFETY

The 9-3's aluminum 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine provides 175 hp inthe Linear, and 210 hp in the Arcand Vector. The 175 hp is tied to animproved manual 5-speed, and anall-new 6-speed manual is connectedto the 210 hp. A new 5-speedautomatic is an adaptive system; aSentronic manual gearbox is optional,and steering wheel touchcontrols come standard with theSentronic automatic when orderedon the 9-3 Vector model.

Saab, known for its turbocharging,delivers more torque and powerwith a lighter, more compact enginein the 9-3.The turbocharger now hasa new location behind the transverselymounted engine for quicker warmup and go. And the new 9-3 Sportsedan's stiff chassis gives a solid drivingfeel.This front-wheel drive has anall-new suspension, giving back alower amount of road noise andvibration while in action.

Along with a solid ride, Saab providesthe driver with a host of addedsupports, including a traction controlsystem (TCS), antilock brakes(ABS), electronic brake force distribution(EBD), cornering brake control(CBC), mechanical brake assist(MBA), and an electronic stabilityprogram (ESP). What all this alphasoup means is better handling andstability, especially on difficult roads.In addition, passive rear-wheel steering is attained by tuning inboard andoutboard suspension bushings,which avoids oversteer and returns amore sure-footed response.

Of course the new 9-3 wouldn'tbe complete without safety innovations.Load sensing, dual-stage frontair bags with side curtains, and seat-mountedside air bags all contributeto the new 9-3's safety. So does atough rigid body. Active head restraintsare second generation andintegrated into the seats. Other smartinnovations include door mirrorsthat tilt when in reverse for easy parking,the ability to close windows andsunroof remotely (and a push of theremote will also turn up the exteriorlights), and footwell lighting andpuddle lights at the bottom of thefront doors for increased safety.

The 9-3 Linear Sport is the leastexpensive of the 3 models, and startsat $25,900. The Arc falls in betweenprice ranges at a reasonable $29,995.And, finally, the Vector leads thegroup in price at $32,495. The 9-3Vector comes with its own tire pressuremonitor on the instrument panel,something every car should have. Theold body style 9-3 is still available exclusivelyas a convertible through thisyear. The new 9-3 will eventually havea convertible, an SUV, and a sportywagon. This compact luxury sportsedan is a true driver's car with greatemphasis on a fun-to-drive experience.And yes, it is fun to drive.

Ashly Knappand Jean Swenson, one of the

nation's longest-running husband and wife

auto-writing teams, are principals of Auto

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