Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan

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Keywords: 2003 saab 9-3 sport sedan,first drive,road & track,douglas kott,swedish sport sedan,

Description: The hatch gets the hatchet, but we get a significantly better car.

In fact, the new 9-3, which represents a $450 million investment and the largest factory expansion in 40 years for the Trollhättan-based auto-maker, has cleaned up its act in a lot of ways. Much has to do with Saab's early input in the design of the 9-3's Epsilon platform, to be shared with the upcoming. Pontiac Grand Am and Saturn L-Series.

Rather than being handed an existing pile of stampings and suspension bits and asked to make do, 's chassis engineers, headed by Ekkehard Schwartz, had a voice in integrating such baseline features as a 4-link independent rear suspension, a super-rigid hydroformed front subframe and lots of aluminum— in both cast and extruded forms— for suspension links and uprights.

Drive the new car and the differences pop out in bold relief. As a bonus to not having to arm-wrestle the driveline, the rack-and-pinion steering is light (yet not overassisted) and accurate, helped by relocation of the rack from the firewall to a much lower position on that subframe.

Where the old 9-3's twist-beam rear axle felt a bit like a hand truck towed along by the front wheels, the 4-link unit works enthusiastically with the front MacPherson struts to carve neat, clean arcs through corners. Under side loading, bushing deflection reduces rear toe-in, effectively offering some passive rear-steer. Heck, even the new cable shifter, with its crisp, well-delineated throws, lacks the toilet-plunger rubberiness of past Saabs.

If only we had such high praise for the body. Yes, the bold Saab grille leads the way and the high-set taillights evoke memories of past Saabs. Yet take these away and the new car could be mistaken for an Opel Calibra.



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