SAAB Kult: Getting on the Saab 9-3 I

He is the last Saab with the classic hatchback. A Saab tradition that began with the iconic Saab 99 Combi Coupe found an unforeseen close with the first-generation Saab 9-3. Unforeseen, because there should have been a hatchback for the second 9-3 generation. This variant was deleted by owner GM at some point, and so was the 9-3 I (unintentionally) the last of its kind.

Saab 9-3 Viggen Coupe
Saab 9-3 Viggen Coupe

Its appearance in 1998 caused discussion. A new model or just a facelift? Saab had modified or revised over 1.000 parts and was right to believe that it had launched a new vehicle. The motor press did not see that, which is incomprehensible. The Japanese giant Toyota changes very few parts from generation, drags some components in the long run because they are good and reliable - and no one questions whether a new Toyota really is one. Unjust world !

Everything better and everything Saabiger!

The direct comparison between 902 and 9-3 I reveals the difference. The 902 drives like a charming, but aged Youngtimer. The 9-3 I does not take its age from at least 10 up to a maximum of 15 years. Too good, too young, he feels. Everything is easier and better than in 902, and the 9-3 I looks even more modern. He stands stockier on the street and just shows more presence. Another generation? Why, surely !

A Saab is a Saab is a Saab. This is true for 9-3 I. From the Saab classic par excellence, the classic 900, you've inherited the steep windshield, the split dashboard and the iconic hatchback shape. There is also a relatively large range of engines, for the first time with diesel. A beautiful cabriolet, and special versions complete the offer.

The 9-3 I was short-built, and 5 units were built in just over 326.370 years. It is no longer a real insider tip, because the scene has discovered the 9-3 for itself in the last few months and - with rising prices - secured good copies.

Saab 9-3 Coupe
Saab 9-3 Coupe

The cult models!

There are models of the first generation of the Saab 9-3 that have what it takes to be a cult from the factory. The Saab 9-3 Viggen was originally more than just a special model. The “Viggen” label, borrowed from the aircraft division, should stand for sporty high-end models, similar to the “M” series at BMW. At first glance, Saab made it very easy. The “thick” 2.3 liter four-cylinder was transplanted into the 9-3 and provided a brilliant driving experience with at least 230 hp at 1.450 kilograms. Unfortunately, at least by today's standards, the chassis technology was not in line with the engine power, so a Viggen is not considered easy to drive.

A by designer genius Ian Callum Designed body kit made for a better CW value, and special seats in the interior, high-quality leather covered and in different color variations, made visual difference to the series. Detailed information on the genius Viggen, which is still suitable today for hunting over the highway, and of which more than 6000 copies in Finnish Nystad ran off the line, is available in the Viggen Factfile.

Are 230 Turbo HP too little and 250 km / h too slow? There is a remedy for even more fun and more play instinct. Saab Werkstuner Hirsch delivered the Saab 9-3 Troll, completely revised and refined as a sensitive sports device. Up to 300 hp and more - accompanied by the turbo sound - turn the 9-3 into a wild troll and a Porsche hunter. The few trolls that still exist today are an absolute cult.

Saab 9-3 Viggen Coupe
Saab 9-3 Viggen Coupe

Saab 9-3 I buy.

Did he ever have an acceptance problem? Was there one of GM or Opel? Few are still doing it today, but there are supposed to be people who think that Saab has sold its soul by switching to the four-stroke principle. These people will never understand a 9-3 I and should not even try it. Everyone else has long recognized the qualities of the last hatchback from Trollhättan.

The workmanship is good, the copies from the Finnish Nystad are even better than those from Trollhättan. The 9-3 I combines everyday practicality, individuality and, depending on engine, economy and sportiness. The fact that in this generation of vehicles still cars were built, which did not proliferate unimpeded in the width, one notices with gratitude with each parking garage visit.

Specialist for Viggen, Troll and Co. Saab center Bamberg with 9-3 Aero and Turbo X.
Specialist for Viggen, Troll and Co. Saab center Bamberg with 9-3 Aero and Turbo X.

Where buy?

His predecessor quickly became a cellar child. The 9-3 I was spared this fate, and even today you can find many first- or second-hand copies at the Saab dealer. Meanwhile, the traditional Saab dealerships offer partial restorations and engine overhauls for this model. Also on the Internet there are interesting copies on the usual platforms. However, the offer is no longer abundant, and patience is required.

For the powerful Viggen or Troll models, a knowledgeable hand and some knowledge is needed. Saab partners with tradition have a lot of experience here and can help with the purchase and maintenance. A good address in the south is that Saab center Bambergwhere until a while ago a fabulous 9-3 Troll was in the owner's fleet.

What to look out for?

Like the predecessor 902, so also the 9-3 I plague some problems on the body. Rust is now, after 15 years in the first copies, a topic. The wheel arches are often affected and the intake of the front shock absorbers. Sometimes the repair was not done expertly, and the look of a Saab expert helps with the purchase decision.

The turbo engines - here there is a wide range from 150 to 300 hp - are robust with expert care. A look into the checkbook helps and is advisable, because from the aero level there is a liter output of over 100 hp, and the 9-3 becomes a compact sports car. Leaky cylinder head gaskets can occur and should be repaired by the Saab partner. When the engine is already open, it is often advisable to carry out a revision according to the manufacturer's specification. Saab Parts AB currently supplies overhaul kits that have not been available for a long time at good prices.

In the interior Saab-typical flair and objectivity is announced. The material selection is high quality and robust. A wood dashboard is made of wood and not plastic, and the leather is thick and really animal. Only the usual pixel problem of the SID display disturbs the joy. But all manufacturers had these problems at that time, and Saab joins the company of BMW, Mercedes and Co.

Spare part & workshop

The turbos belong in knowledgeable hands, if you want to be happy in the long term. Saab has its own maintenance instructions that make sense, and in the strong variants it is recommended to change the oil every 10.000 kilometers. The spare parts situation is (still) good. Almost everything is available, even if some stocks are quite low. Is it replicated or not? We do not know and keep an eye on the situation.

The price situation

Troll, Viggen and good aeros are now priced differently. A good troll is traded, if at all, around € 20.000. The price is not representative because the offer is too thin. So it can also be a little more expensive. Viggens, please do not tinker, with a clear history and appropriately maintained, are somewhere between 10.000 and 20.000 €. The prices depend on personal taste, the modifications to the chassis and engine, and even a sought-after, rare color combination can cost a few notes more. A good aero with a clear history and checkbook? The trip starts at € 8.000 and can end anywhere at € 15.000.

Before now the "far too expensive ”group sniffs, I recommend the look on the Internet. The offer is thin, and Aero, Viggen and Co are currently being sought and bought throughout Europe. If you think you can make a gold mine out of your tampered Saab with maintenance backlog, then I have to disappoint you. The Saab Collector Group, which discovered the 9-3 I months ago, is demanding, which is clear. The more expensive the turbo-charged Swede is, the more equivalent is expected. Fans buy only really good copies and preferably in connection with one of the Saab specialists and traditional partners.

But there is not only Aero, Troll and Viggen. Even the small turbos are interesting and affordable.

Saab 9-3 Anniversary with sunroof. Sold!
Saab 9-3 Anniversary with sunroof. Sold!

Which buy?

Cabriolets, as always, are more expensive than closed ones, and coupes tend to be more expensive than 5s. Where the market in some variants is so tight that it is not really of interest, whether Coupe or two doors more. Today, one would probably market the sedan variant as an 5-door coupe. So who invented it? Saab, of course!

It makes no mistake who buys a Saab, whichever, with a Viggen, Troll or Aero label. Here, there have been rising prices in recent months, and promises at least Saab drive without loss of value. In the Aero series especially late specimens from 2001 with the Viggen Body Kit and the Viggen equipment are in demand.

If it is a version with a smaller turbo engine, then the SE variant is recommended. It offers everything you want, wood and leather and automatic climate control. The leather is pleasantly high quality and better than the successor. Driving in style, enjoying luxury and turbo ... the 9-3 makes it possible. Sometimes a little unnoticed - and maybe a little insider tip if the seller doesn't know what he has - are the anniversary models that were made in 2002 and can be recognized by the embossed Turbo lettering on the leather seats.

Saab first introduced a diesel in the 9-3. Developed by Steyr-Puch for GM, he is a rough guy. Rough but warm, it is robust - but you have to like it.

Automatic or 5-speed transmission? Pure question of taste. The 4-speed automatic harmonizes very well with the turbos and was even available in the aero. To make driving smooth and to protect the automatic, Saab has reduced the maximum torque in the Aero from 280 to 250 Nm. Everyone has to find out what they like ...

Stay away from copies with unclear boost pressure ratios. Turbo promotes the play instinct and encourages boosting the boost pressure. Damage to the turbocharger, engine and transmission can be the result. Better to look for a copy with a clear history!

Saab factory tuner Hirsch Performance adopted the first 9-3 series and conjured up 2 HP to 230 HP from the 260 liter Aero engine. A liter output of 115 hp was rare at the time, and the performance-enhanced Aero, also in conjunction with automatic, brought significantly better performance in the medium speed range than the production version. The 260 horses with Hirsch-Step2 were only available with a manual gearbox. The result is superior performance development and pull-through. Be careful, the Saab - Turbo - Hirsch version is addictive! Fans consult your doctor and your bank account beforehand. Hirsch versions are very rare, are sought and are considered an alternative to Viggen.

The entry into the last hatchback Turbo Saab starts, with luck, at 5.000 €. Convertibles start a little higher. Naturally aspirated engines record lower, and cheap purchases are possible here. Good contacts with the Saab dealer help with the search. Many copies change hands in the Saab community without appearing on the internet as an ad. As the prices increase, lately copies for little money from England are brought again and again. Driving the steering wheel on the wrong side? A Viggen for less than half of the current price can be tempting. But you should plan the problems with the resale.

The 9-3 I is no longer an insider tip, but it is our recommendation to get started, to return to the cult brand or as a collector's item for the most beautiful hobby in the world.

The cult factor!

Saabiger and modern is none in the current list of Saab Youngtimer. The cult potential is high, and anything Aero, Viggen or Troll chooses is addictive.

The cult factor quick check:

+ Boarding. Because he is the last hatchback from Trollhättan.

- Get out. Get out? Who is talking about getting out?

+ Insider tip. The 185 PS variant. Not always offered in Germany, therefore rare. Not as intrusive as an Aero or Viggen. But fast and strong. A true Saab.

+ Cult ranking. Strong on the rise. Saab gets a second icon for the 900. Modern and comfortable and every inch a Saab.

Text: / Pictures: Saab Automobile AB (3),

More about Saab cult:

SAAB cult: Getting on the Saab 900 II

SAAB Kult: How crazy are we Saab?

13 thoughts on "SAAB Kult: Getting on the Saab 9-3 I"

  • blank

    Good morning, Herr Knecht,

    thanks for the comprehensive description. Since we - that is, my wife and I - own a 9-3 Coupé “Turbo Anniversary” (Bj. 2001) and just love it, we would like to know how we can tell which plant - Finland or Trollhättan - it comes from. Are there any references to this in the chassis number or elsewhere in the vehicle registration document? - Thanks for the quick info.

    A small correction: The Anniversary models were available from model year 2002, so from the end of the calendar year 2001. Otherwise we would have none; ours is first approved in Dec. 2001.

    • blank

      Gladly, the chassis numbers differ as follows:
      YS3: Sweden
      YK1: Finland
      However, 9-3 Aero were built in Finland under the YS3 code. Insiders recognize these at the better executed gaps.

  • blank

    The 9-3 I hooked me to Saab back then. I was 17, on a Sweden vacation with my parents, on a rainy summer day we drove to Trollhättan to visit the Innovatums. Where we were there were directly taken the Saabmuseum. And then there was this blue 9-3 and I was blown away and decided to make a lot of money to buy something so nice.
    A little later, after obtaining the driver's license, I found out that it was an Opel Vectra and instead bought a 900 turbo 16S from 1984 as Erstsaab and novice driver. 😉

    But I still like the 9-3 I.

  • blank

    Complete agreement! The 9-3 / I was the first Saab I ever drove to the rehearsal and it met the old slogan: "People who test drive a Saab usually buy one." For me, there's no question that this model is "Saabish "Is or not. Of course it is. It drives differently than any other car of that time. If someone does not want to switch from an 900, I can understand that. But that's not because the 9-3 / I is not a real Saab, just that it's a different Saab than the 900. The decisive question is: could any company other than Saab have built this car? And the answer is no. Only Saab could build this car.
    Even today, I would recommend anyone looking for a Saab for the first time to look for a well-maintained 9-3 / I. Yes, they have some weaknesses. But they are limited and verifiable. Yes, they do not emanate the same weight, solidity, and resilience as an 9000. But for beginners, they are probably the best compromise of contemporary driving comfort, practicality and independence.
    An 9-3 / I is economical, basically solid, comfortable, quiet and a thoroughly thought out, constantly improved design. I am now driving the second 9-3 / I. He has to take on the day-to-day work to spare the even rarer 9000 Aero. But at the same time I know: Actually, it's time to think about saving a good 9-3 / I too. There are still enough good copies on the market. It is only to be hoped that enough people will recognize their value, secure themselves in time and thus avoid the fate of the 9000, which has been underestimated for too long and too often carelessly worn out.

  • blank

    The 9-3 I is really nice. Unfortunately I had with my from 2. Hand an engine failure at 160.000 km. The oil pump (gear pump) was expired unilaterally, so the 4. Cylinder at high speed / speed (about 180 km / h) got too little oil. A look inside the engine revealed a completely black cylinder, the 3. Cylinder had also partially gotten something. But then had to wait 4 weeks for a new engine. That was 2010 in the fall. Even my Saab master thought that was a bit strange. In the new engine gabs first all 5000 km an oil change, then all 10.000 km.
    Really nice car.

  • blank

    Cool article about a cool car. I like the 9-3 I series! Keep it up

  • blank

    Dear Tom,
    even if you do not like it all, but for the model change I must give the motor press exceptionally and very reluctantly unfortunately right. We now have my 902 convertible from 97 and the 931 of my daughter 98 in the fleet and I always wonder where the 1100 changed parts are that SAAB then so advertised ???
    Sure, the 931 has improved and become more modern. He has got side airbags and I would like the multifunction steering wheel in the convertible, the tailgate is nicer. That's progress, of course, would be bad, if not. But in principle it is the same car.
    From the 97er 902 to the 98er 931, only minimal differences can be seen both in the engine compartment and in the interior.
    The comparison of our two limps a bit, because the convertible against the much stiffer cell of the five-door has no chance and is also louder through the roof. The brackets had to be renewed at both, it's worth it.
    For me, it's a facelift that has probably addressed many quality defects from the early days of the 902. At least the 902 convertible was apparently less affected - perhaps because it was built at Valmet in Uusikaupunki and the plant is known for quality. Back then, Porsche had the Boxter and later another model made there.
    Of course, the late 931, with its powerful turbos, big wheels and spoilers, has a completely different appearance than 902, which was several years older.
    Good SAAB are both.
    At the end of their term, all SAABs were very mature, as was the 901 or the 9000 CS.

    • blank

      We usually agree, but they do not always have to be. Fits already ;-)!

  • blank

    Very good article and when comes from the SAAB 9-5

    Greetings from the Emsland


  • blank

    The TiD is actually a harsh fellow, with the change from 115 to 125 PS also a little more smoothness introduced. He seems to be unbreakable!
    Otherwise, I still find our 9³ TiD Anniversary with its 17-inch double-spoke rims beautiful and find it a pleasant change from the usual monotony on German roads ...
    I have bought new 2002 and do not give it anymore! There is no better history

  • blank

    My fiancée and I also have a (red) 2-9I 3t Coupe, EZ 2.0 / 5, from 01 weeks ago. Hand bought and our enthusiasm is increasing daily.

  • blank

    The 9-3 with 185 PS was my first SAAB in 1998. Very best quality! Used the Troll up to 180.000 KM and sold it for a 9-3 Aero. The 20 hp more could be felt in a cultivated manner, pleasing…., The “old” Troll is still driving with more than 360.000 KM on the clock. With the first machine, of course! This is how I imagine longevity as a quality feature!

  • blank

    It is already noticeable how good and modern the 9-3 still looks on the street. Especially the AEROs are strong. In contrast, the 902 looks quite old. But somehow I like both

Comments are closed.