Stylish, Swedish 9-3 so Saab

Iain Dooley checks out Saab's 9-3, an alternative choice for buyers on a budget seeking a compact premium saloon.

Engines – Over the years the 9-3 has been kitted out with a wide variety of both petrol and diesel engines. Recent years have seen a slimming down of that range, with the best options being medium-power four-cylinder motors. The diesels are great for long distances while the more refined petrol units are better suited for less intensive workouts.

Exterior – The 9-3 you see today has been around for a while and there's no mistaking its svelte looks. Its clean lines and understated appearance are highly regarded attributes in Saab circles.

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Interior – Like its exterior, the 9-3's cabin is a departure from the norm. Impressive ergonomics and supportive seats are just two standout features. It might lack the flashy gadgets of newer cars, but all the basics are covered well.

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Driving – Despite its racy-looking profile the 9-3 is more of an all-rounder than an all-out performance saloon. With easy-to-use controls, supportive seats and plenty of refinement, you're more likely to appreciate the car's abilities after a long, dull motorway journey.

Ownership – An easy car to drive and own, Saab's 9-3 offers buyers sensible running costs and a level of versatility and competence that easily matches that of more expensive cars in its sector.

What to look for – With its proven mechanicals and an extensive supporting cast of official dealers and knowledgeable independent garages, buying and running a 9-3 shouldn't prove problematic. It's important that more recent cars come with a detailed service history, while everything should work flawlessly on the test-drive. Signs of damage, no matter how minor, should have you looking elsewhere – there's no shortage of choice.

Model history – 2002, Saab introduces latest version of its popular compact executive 9-3 model. Engine choice focused on efficient four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, plus higher-performance six-cylinder petrol variants. Generous equipment levels and regular minor improvements help keep the car fresh over the course of the decade.

Reasons to buy – Competent alternative to mainstream options, image, good value.

Reasons to beware – Won't impress keen drivers, cabin lacks the polish of some rivals.

Pick of the range – Saab 9-3 1.8t Vector.

What to pay – 2003 03 �4,150; 2004 04 �4,975; 2005 05 �5,875; 2006 06 �6,775; 2007 07 �7,775; 2008 57 �8,650. Figures relate to showroom prices for cars in A1 condition.

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