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2012 Saab 9-3

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2012 Saab 9-3 Review

Competent, but needs an update

Reviewed by Automotive on

The aging Saab 9-3 soldiers on for 2012, amidst a cloud of uncertainty for its survival as well as that of its parent company. The entire range gets a new name: all 9-3 models are now badged as the 9-3 Griffin, which applies to the sedan, SportCombi wagon, and convertible ranges.

There's even a new model of the 9-3 out: the 9-3X, which is a tougher SportCombi with plastic flares, more ground clearance, and Saab's XWD that continuously routes power to individual wheels based on varying traction conditions. It shares the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as the rest of the range, which now produces 220 horsepower.

The sedan is still a fun drive, especially in turbocharged all-wheel-drive guise, but its age is showing. Despite sharing the same turbo engine in its only available model, Aero, the convertible looks better than it drives. Both SportCombi and 9-3X models are practical family wagons, with an available manual transmission for a bit more fun on the side. Despite incremental improvements such as new "ice block" headlights, tweaked bumpers, and a new center console and interior trim, the Saab 9-3 has been long left behind by its competitors--and its high price of entry isn't doing it any favors.

The Range

Body styles: Sedan, wagon, convertible
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
Transmissions: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, five-speed automatic
Models: Turbo4, Aero, 9-3X

What's New

The 9-3X is the only way to order a 9-3 wagon with the Saab XWD, which is also available on higher-spec sedans. Convertibles are a strictly front-drive affair, even though they come with the same turbocharged engine as the rest of the lineup. All 9-3 models are now badged as the Griffin, relating to the mythical fire-breathing creature on Saab's logo. Whether this name change is enough to spur new customers is probably unlikely, but it's worth a try.


All 9-3 models get styling that's been inspired by an array of Saab concepts, which includes cleaner front lines and some brightwork around the reworked fog lights. The look is still familiar, uncluttered and Scandinavian. The 9-3X gets rugged-looking plastic trim around the lower bumpers, and a higher ride height.


The conventional Saab interior gets a minor upgrade: titanium trim blankets the center console, gearshift knob, steering wheel and doors. Aero models get a darker graphite trim. Highlights include power leather seats, MP3 connectivity, automatic climate control, a tilting and telescoping wheel, and a cooled glove box. Build quality and visibility may be issues.

Performance & Handling

The 9-3 range still drives well with its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 220 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. Turbo lag has been tamed from years of development, but the 9-3 still lacks refinement. The Haldex-based XWD system performs admirably in all conditions, with just a hint of understeer.


Driver and passenger front and side airbags are standard on the 9-3, along with front and rear head curtain bags. Active head restraints, traction control, and OnStar Automatic Crash Response is also standard across all models.

EPA Fuel Economy

Convertible manual, sedan AWD manual, 9-3X manual: 20 mpg city/33 mpg highway
Convertible automatic, sedan 5-speed automatic, wagon 5-speed automatic, 9-3X 5-speed automatic: 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Sedan AWD 6-speed automatic, 9-3X 6-speed automatic: 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Sedan FWD manual, wagon FWD manual: 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Sedan FWD 5-speed automatic: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway

You'll Like

  • Aggressive styling
  • Good mileage
  • Nice-sized trunk
  • Advanced 4WD system

You Won't Like

  • Soft ride for a sports sedan
  • Interior has little build quality, visibility
  • Expensive
  • Uncertain future for car and company

Sum Up

Competent, but needs an update

If You Like This Vehicle

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