Likes: Comfortable front seats, stylish inside out, roomy and well insulated interior, strong turbo engines, decent fuel economy, very well equipped.
Dislikes: Expensive, needs a more powerful engine to cope with added weight, buying one seems rather risky.
Truck based 4x4s are being replaced by car-based 4x4s and crossovers. The Saab 9-3X is basically a 9-3 sports combi with a raised driving height. It's stylish, and offers more all-round versatility with a splash of off-road capability. But will this be enough to pull buyers from the much cheaper Subaru Outback?
Performance: There's only one engine available for the 9-3X, its the same engine used in the 9-3 range. A 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 210hp. It offers decent pace and is very flexible. Fuel economy is decent too, but a more powerful engine is desired to cope with the extra weight.
Ride & Handling: The ride comfort is good considering the higher driving position. Only the worst of potholes upsets the ride. The 9-3X feels more refined on the motorway than the standard 9-3. It's not a great handler, and the steering is rather numb. There's little confidence and will discourage drivers to push on through bends.
Refinement: The 9-3X is generally a quiet car, you can hear noise from the turbo engine. However, the noise is far from invasive. Saab has done an excellent job of insulating the cabin from road noise, although you can feel the suspension crash on the hardest of bumps, you'll never hear it. There's barely any wind noise either. The gearchanges are smooth, and the switchgear feel durable.
Behind the wheel: The 9-3X shares the same interior decor as the standard 9-3. The dashboard has a simple logical design, with many controls within easy reach of the driver's seat. Night Panel keeps eye strain to a minimal in night driving, and the front seats are the most comfortable in its class.
Space & Practicality: There's plenty of room in the front, and plenty of adjustments to get comfortable. Rear passengers have plenty of room, but shoulder room is tight for three passengers. The transmission tunnel intrudes into space too. The boot isn't as large as an Outback, but there's plenty of space to spare. The seats fold 60/40 for extra space.
Equipment: The 9-3X comes well equipped for the money. You get climate control, steering mounted audio controls, rain sensors and alloy wheels. All-wheel-drive is standard, as well as roof rails and a raised driving height.
Buying & Owning: The 9-3X isn't cheap to buy. Prices are higher than that of the Outback. But the 9-3X has more style and substance than the Outback. It's distinctly designed, and offers plenty of kit for the money. Resale vaule isn't its strongest point, and buying a 9-3X right now seems rather risky. With Saab being in the turmoil of problems its in right now. The fate of the company is still unknown.
Quality & Reliability: The cabin feels well put together. There's an attractive dashboard, but durability is a question. The standard 9-3 doesn't enjoy the best reliability record, and the 9-3X shares much of its mechanicals with the standard 9-3.
Safety & Security: Saab is known for safety and security. Top notch anti-theft alarm, engine immobiliser and deadlocks are all standard. ESP, side curtain airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings all come standard as well.
The 9-3X isn't the cheapest alternate to the Outback, but you do get a nicely appointed interior and many luxury features standard. The all-wheel-drive doesn't have a low-range, so off-road abilities are limited. Fuel economy is decent, and the turbo engine provides flexible driving performance. For the price, there are rivals that offer the same for less cash. However, the Saab has a charm that no other rival can offer. Distinctly designed and comfortable long journey vehicle.