First drive: Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD

  • 9-3 gets a 157bhp 1.9-litre diesel engine
  • Averages 63mpg and costs £30 to tax
  • Costs £22,463 for entry-level model

For a car that has been around since the dawn of time - we jest - the Saab 9-3 is actually something of a guilty pleasure and an interesting, yet relatively cheap to run, alternative to a BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 or a Mercedes C-Class.

It's been with us in its current form since 2002, with a mild refresh in 2007, and the newest version features a line of updated diesel engines and minor changes. Under the bonnet of this particular 9-3 test car is a 1.9-litre diesel engine with 157bhp, which also packs 360Nm of pulling power - making overtaking slower traffic childs' play.

This engine will get the Saab to 60mph in 9.0 seconds and on to a top speed of 140mph - but the pulling power when in third gear and overtaking slower traffic is where this engine really impresses. The six-speed gearbox is a good unit although it is a little notchy when changing from first to second, making town driving a little frustrating.  

Take the 9-3 on a longer journey, however, and you'll enjoy it. It's very good in terms of economy and we achieved 629 miles on one tank of fuel despite a mix of driving and different roads. Saab claims that the 9-3 with this engine can average a wallet-friendly 63mpg.

It's a hit for motorists who want to be green, too. Emitting 119g/km of CO2 places the 9-3 in tax band of C, meaning yearly tax of £30. The P11D rating is also a sensible 13% for company car drivers. 

On the road the ride is excellent. The 9-3 is accomplished on the motorways and on B-roads the handling is fairly impressive. The front-end grips well but the driving enjoyment is let down by the steering, as the rack is a little slow and is not as well weighted as rivals like the BMW 3-Series.

Any fleet driver covering large distances is going to love the comfort levels in the 9-3 as the seats give the driver and front seat passenger brilliant lumbar and side support.

The only downside was the build quality. It's not as good as you'd expect from a 'premium' saloon and it was definitely not as well made as a 3-Series or a C-Class - but then this car has been around in roughly the same guise since 2002.

Boot space is also limited due to the saloon nature of the car. The Saab has 425 litres of boot space, larger than the Volvo S60 with 339 litres, but the German makers fare better in the space race with the BMW 3-Series saloon offering 460 litres and the Audi A4 a useful 480 litres.

Residually the 9-3 157bhp diesel in Vector Sport trim, with the six-speed manual gearbox, should retain around 60% of its value after one year and 10,000 miles of motoring. Add a further 20,000 miles and two years and the 9-3 should retain around 45% of its value - marginally better than the competition.

Our test car was in Vector Sport trim which costs £26,037 - but add the options to this price and it rockets to £30,378. Optional extras included metallic paint at £536, premium natural leather sport interior trim for £1378, 6.5-inch touchscreen with satnav and TMC voice control for £2022, and a Convenience pack, which adds electric folding mirrors, auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, and rain sensor wipers, for £403.

The new Saab 9-3 TTiD is available to order now, starting at £22,463 for the entry-level 128bhp Turbo Edition.

Also Consider

Volvo S60

The new small S60 has style, an innovative well-made interior, pioneering pedestrian-in-the-road sensing safety equipment and a new range of five-cylinder engines.

Honda Accord

It's good to drive with sharp steering and little body roll in corners while the interior is superbly built with high grade materials and a top quality finish.

BMW 3-Series

Fifth-generation 3-Series combines a high-quality cabin and decent equipment levels with the best drive among 'executive' saloon alternatives.