Fleet News

Saab 9-3 2.2 TiD Vector - 4,470 miles

Review

I HAVE to confess I've been a bit naughty the last week or so and have been driving around in the Saab 9-3 when in fact I was pencilled in to drive our Toyota Avensis.

But I like the Saab so much I was willing to risk the ire of road test editor and long-termers list organiser Simon Harris, so I kept the key stuffed deep in my pocket, kept my head down and decided to play the waiting game.

Why am I such a fan of the 9-3? For a start, I love the way it looks. There's no doubt it has many of the inherent features it needs to be a fully paid-up member of the Saab club, such as the grille and door handles, but with the deep side skirts, perfect proportions and funky alloys it has more purpose than any Saab has ever had.

And despite the fact there are some staggeringly awful pieces of plastic in the cabin – of which the plastic filler where the handbrake would be on a left-hand drive car is the prime culprit – I like the interior.

It has retained the high aircraft-style dash and the two-tone leather seats are comfortable, if not up to the sofa-like standards of the cars of yore, but the driving position is much improved.

But what Saab has managed to do is strike a balance between the quirkiness of previous models that made the brand a left-field alternative to the German manufacturers' but was put together in a much more logical and classier package than before.

Although it shares GM's Epsilon platform with the Vectra, revisions such as the widened track ensure the 9-3 feels a much less hefty car to move around than the Vauxhall.

It's not a natural charger, preferring to cruise, but it does have enough involvement and poise to be fun when pushed.

So while Saab has done a good job on the platform it shares with the Vectra, I'm not so sure about the engine they both have in common. The 2.2-litre diesel unit with 123bhp and 206lb-ft of torque is looking seriously dated against the common rail and pumpe duse competition.

The vibration at idle actually shivers the steering wheel, and that's not just when the engine is cold. Things don't get much better on the move and you need to work the engine through a pretty narrow and breathless band of torque to get much out of it. Unless your fleet has a diesel-only policy, I would recommend the 150bhp petrol 1.8t Vector. It costs about the same money and although it has lower fuel economy, 34.4mpg combined against the diesel's 42.8mpg, it is worth it for the extra refinement and added character.

And although the diesel has lower CO2 emissions (177g/km vs 199g/km), the difference in benefit-in-kind tax is just one band, thanks to the 3% penalty on non Euro IV-compliant diesels.

Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £88 per month

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CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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