Saab 9-3 (1998 – 2002) Review

Saab 9-3 (1998 – 2002) At A Glance


+A slightly better drive than previous Cavalier based 900. Stacks of safety kit and a good reliability record.

-Reports of bulkheads fracturing. Diesels can be heavy on the oil. Convertible suffers from scuttle shake.

By the time the Saab 9-3 was launched in 1998, the platform it was based on was getting a bit long in the tooth. After all, General Motor’s GM2900 had already given us the Mk3 Cavalier, the Calibra and the Vectra, not to mention the 1994-on Saab 900. But bosses figured it had a few more years in it yet. And besides, it was only a Saab…

So Saab was forced to replace an old car with a new car based on the old one. Unsurprisingly, the 9-3 was often referred to as a rebadged 900. Saab would take some issue with that, though, claiming at the time that its engineers made 1100 changes, including a revised suspension to tighten up the handling.

Available as a three- or five-door hatchback, and a two-door convertible, power came from low- or high- pressure 2.0-litre petrol engines or a 2.2-litre turbodiesel. All fairly mundane, I’m sure you’ll agree. But it was with the launch of the Viggen that things got interesting. Here, finally, was a link to Saab’s stonking 900 Turbo past. The Viggen’s 225bhp 2.3-litre engine came with a bodykit and a five-speed manual transmission. Sure, the chassis couldn’t quite manage the power but it was tremendous fun trying.

Ask Honest John

Does the Saab 9-3 convertible have a small boot?

"Saab 9-3, is the floor space altered with a convertible? "
We're assuming this is the latest model (2003-2011). If so, yes, the boot space is reduced by 75 litres in overall capacity compared with the saloon, although it's one of the roomier convertible boots around. the floor area is smaller but it's mainly intrusion from the roof mechanism.
Answered by Lawrence Allan

Cam belt failure - can I claim?

"I recently took my 2008 Saab 9-3 to my garage after it started making a rattling noise coming from the engine bay. On inspection the garage advised me that it need a new water pump and cam belt, plus some repairs on my exhaust. I agreed to all of the work (£660) and collected/paid for the work the next day. After driving the car the next day, it was fine for about 10 miles then the rattling noise came straight back. I immediately called the garage and told them about the noise. They explained that they couldn't see me today and come back Monday. Whilst driving the car home that same day, the cam belt failed and the car broke down, luckily I had recovery cover and got the car taken to the garage for inspection. The garage then confirmed that the bolt for the cam belt tensioner had failed and sheered off, resulting in the cam belt failing and causing damage to the values etc. The garaged stated that they tightened the bolt to the correct tension and it must be a manufacturing fault and have raised this with their supplier. My question is, where does all this leave me now? Where to I stand from a legal point of view and getting my car back in working order? "
Cam belt failure is usually terminal for an engine. But it will ultimately come down to the type of engine that's fitted to your car. If it is a non-interference engine then you may have been lucky, because there is a gap between the pistons and valves which prevent serious engine damage. However, if it's an interference engine (and most diesels are) the internal parts of the engine will have probably smashed themselves to bits. This means broken pistons, valves and a cracked cylinder block. Where does this leave you with the garage that changed the cam belt? Well, it's certainly suspicious for this to have happened right after the belt was replaced. And it could be the bolt was over tensioned or the part they fitted was indeed faulty. If the garage refuses to accept liability then you will need to pay for the car to be transported to another workshop for inspection, so you can get the proof you require to make a claim. But any potential legal claim will be against the garage that did the work and fitted the parts, not their supplier.
Answered by Dan Powell

Do you have any suggestions for obtaining a classic car insurance policy with an agreed value?

"Do you have any suggestions for obtaining an insurance policy with an agreed value of £8000 for a 1999 Saab 9-3 Viggen? It has done 81,000 miles, is completely unmodified and hasn't been used for track racing."
You will struggle. I do agreed valuation engineer reports to assist people with agreed valuation insurance policies and your car is not worth £8000. As an engineer, I have to substantiate the value I place on the vehicle, so the insurer can then be confident they are correctly indemnifying. If a car is overvalued, they see it as a "moral risk" because they may end up paying out more than the car is worth. This is called "unjust enrichment". Contact the Saab owners club ( and also try It's Classic Car Insurance ( I would suggest valuing it around the £6000 - £6500 mark.
Answered by Tim Kelly
More Questions