Saab is now wholly owned by General Motors, and one obvious result of the new ownership is that GMs OnStar satellite-based communication system is now standard rather than optional on all Saab models.
For 2001, OnStar adds premium services that allow voice-activated phone calls and access to e-mail, stock quotes, news headlines and other Web-based information. GM provides the premium service at no charge the first year.
Traction control also is now standard on all versions of the 9-3, a compact-size car that comes in two- and four-door hatchback and convertible body styles, all with front-wheel drive.
GM owned 50 percent of Saab for 10 years before acquiring the balance of the Swedish automaker last spring.
All three body styles have the same 102.6-inch wheelbase and 182.3-inch overall length despite their different configurations.
The base convertible model is gone, leaving SE and Viggen versions of the convertible. A power folding top is standard.
The 9-3 may have compact exterior dimensions, but it is big inside. The functional, upright design provides 111.3 cubic feet of interior space in the hatchbacks enough to be classified as midsize cars by the EPA. There also is enough room to fit five adults without packing them in like sardines.
Cargo space is 21.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat in the hatchbacks. The space expands to 46 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, rivaling some small station wagons. The convertibles trunk holds 13 cubic feet of luggage.
One of Saabs traditional features is a floor-mounted ignition lock on models with the manual transmission, which some find strange and others think is cool. The transmission has to be shifted into reverse before the key can be removed.
Under the Hood
All models have turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. Base models have 185 horsepower, and the SEs have a 205-hp version. The high-performance 9-3 Viggen Swedish for thunderbolt is the muscle car of the group with 230 hp.
Saab is known for its safety features, and the 9-3 has its share. Antilock brakes, side-impact airbags that protect the head and chest of front-seat occupants, and Saabs active head-restraint system are standard. In a collision, the head restraints move up and forward to reduce the chances of whiplash.
Saab prides itself on standing apart from the crowd, and there arent many car companies willing to take that risk these days. Styling is a matter of opinion, but there is no debate that the 9-3s strong suits are its functionality and performance.
All models offer brisk acceleration, crisp handling and a full complement of safety features. If you want something a little different, check out the 9-3.