COAL: SAAB 9-3 Turbo X – The Black Beast

On the previous installment, you, dear readers, discovered the beginning of my special relation with Saab. When I turned 18, I quickly passed my driving license, and started my driving life like most European young drivers: with a small French car. I chose to end my Engineering studies with an apprenticeship. I had a regular wage, and it was time to switch toward more serious cars. German models are the epitome of car in Europe, so I was naturally attracted to BMWs and Audis.

After owning one of each, I saw an ad on our local equivalent of Craiglist for a 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X. Sedan. 19 inches alloys. Sunroof. 280hp turbocharged V6 with all-wheel-drive. 23900€ (around USD 27000). After a few calls to my bank for a loan, the car was mine within two weeks. It was an awakened dream. Of course, as a Saab fan, I loved this particular model, but it was way beyond my money when new. Two years later, it fits perfectly in my budget for the half of its sticker price. So my first Saab was also one of the most exclusive ever built: One of 2000.

The Turbo X was only available in Jet Black, inspired by the original and iconic 900 Turbo back in 1987. The overall design was sharp, menacing and had a kind of Batmobile look. In one word: gorgeous.

Saab premiered a few new things on this car. The engine, first. Based on the GM HF V6, it was previously available on the 9-3 with less power. The 280hp tune was new, and shared with the front-wheel-drive Opel Vectra OPC (for us, Europeans). Also new was the advanced all-wheel-drive system, designed with the Swedes from Haldex. The power was electronically distributed between front and rear, but also between the wheel of the rear axle. This feature was called Electronic Limited Slip Differential or eLSD. On the road, it worked well. The traction was always perfect, even in the corners. One could notice a bit of understeer when hammering on a corner, but this is the case for most of the AWD-cars. On the snow with proper tires, the only limit was the depth of snow.

The engine was not particularly sporty, with a pretty boring linear behavior and low noise. The amount of power was more than enough at every rpm, but there was no fun at high revving. The Saab was available either with a 6-speed stick or an Aisin Warner 6-speed automatic gearbox with buttons on the wheels for a manual mode. As with the engine, the gearbox was not great for sporty driving, with a lot of hesitation and delays during upshifting or downshifting. Actually, the manual mode was worse than the auto-sport mode.

The performance was great but not exceptional, with a few seconds (yes, full seconds) lost when you chose the automatic (0-60 in 5.7s with the stick, 7.2s with the auto). The fuel consumption was awful. I think by today’s standards of emission, you would have been put in jail. Beside the not-so-sporty but pleasant engine, this was the major issue with the car. With the 58 liters fuel tank, you were able to drive 350-400km, not more. My Fidelity card had never been so busy…and my purse never so empty!


Inside the cabin, you were welcomed by a lot of equipment, including navigation, BOSE sound system, power-everything and many more. The turbo gauge had the same design as the original 900 Turbo. The fit and finish was good, with a special mention to the high grade leather. Soft, perforated and resistant to wear, it was a great combo. All in black, to fit the body color. A few Saab quirks remained: the key, while electronic, was still located between the front seats. The cupholder mechanism was incredibly complicated. And you, the lucky driver, were welcomed by a message on the OBD you could personalize at your Saab dealer. But the last part of the message was not changeable: when you fired the engine, the screen displayed a funny « Ready for take-off ».

But there was another feature that was an absolute blast on this car: the exhaust tune. Saab engineers designed a special exhaust system for the Turbo X, not shared with other Aero V6 models. And the least you can say is that the guys at Saab hadn’t done half the job. The sound of a cold start is pure excitement (see Youtube for a minute of delight). The note was also joyful during the drive, at full throttle. And even some deflagrations when downshifting. My skin is still freezing while tapping those words…

Like other high-performance exotic vehicles, maintenance and parts were really expensive, as was the insurance. After a year or so, I traded it for my second Saab. Another epic story. For later…